Pubdate: Wed, 05 Jul 2006
Source: Jamaica Gleaner, The (Jamaica)
Copyright: 2006 The Gleaner Company Limited
Author: Wendel Abel
Note: Dr. Wendel Abel is a consultant psychiatrist and senior 
lecturer, University of the West Indies.
Bookmark: (Marijuana)


THERE IS a long-standing debate as to whether cannabis (ganja) use
causes persons to become mad. I have deliberately avoided this
discussion but almost every day, as a mental health professional, I am
confronted with the issue.

How extensive is cannabis use in Jamaica? The last survey, done in
1997 among students in school, indicates that one-third of students
'have ever used cannabis in one form or other over a lifetime'. In
terms of recent use (use in the past 30 days) only 10 per cent of
students admitted to this.

The mental disorder that some persons contend is associated with
cannabis smoking is schizophrenia. Yet, only about two per cent of the
population has this condition in Jamaica and in most countries where
this disorder has been studied. So, from these figures we can say that
most persons who use cannabis do not become mentally ill.

What then are the facts? It is becoming clear that a lot of young
people develop mental illness early in their lives. This early
manifestation of mental illness results in behavioural problems and
deterioration in school performance. In addition, a lot of these young
people have major adjustment problems at home and school.


Increasingly, research is showing that it is this early development of
mental illness that leads some young persons to smoke cannabis. By
using the cannabis they seem to be self-medicating themselves.

What we also know is that in some persons who may be predisposed to
having mental illness, the cannabis use will worsen the condition.


So we are dealing with a two-edged sword - some persons with mental
illness use cannabis to feel better but the cannabis may also worsen
the mental illness.

There is help for persons who are mentally ill and are using cannabis.
The most important aspect of the care for these persons is to ensure
that their mental illness is properly treated. Stop focusing on just
the cannabis use and focus more on the treatment of the mental
illness. When we do this we achieve better outcomes.

Below is a list of recommendations.

1. Stop the preaching and teaching. The excessive preaching does not

2. Seek professional help early if your child is experiencing problems
at home, not performing well in school and gets involved in major
conflicts and problems. The fact is that many of our children are
unhappy and have difficulty coping and they may resort to cannabis

3. If you have a youngster using cannabis, seek professional help
early. Have the youngster properly evaluated for mental illness and
ensure that all is well at home.

4. New interventions are available. A new programme is being
introduced at the Detox Unit at the University Hospital of the West
Indies for young persons who are using cannabis. For more information
please call 977- 0705.

5. For persons who are mentally ill and are using cannabis, call 977-
1108 for more information.

Dr. Wendel Abel is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer,
University of the West Indies; email:  ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake