Legalization of ‘weed’ not a ticket to abuse

Cannabis legalization is fast gaining momentum – about 30 countries have legalized medical marijuana in some capacity over the last few years, as well as a small handful of others that allow medical weed use within very strict guidelines, such as in the form of cannabis-derived pharmaceuticals.

The good news is that our country, Nigeria has joined the growing number of countries waving the green flag on medical cannabis, as attitudes towards the drug slowly change and investments in its medical benefits grow.

Cannabis, known as  marijuana, weed or ‘igbo’, among others has been one of the most contentious issues in the Nigerian society, both from a legal and health perspective. It is held in disdain by most Nigerians because it is believed to create socio-psychiatric problems, especially among the youths.

However, it seems the tide has turned as the lower chamber of the Legislature is set to decriminalize the cultivation, possession, availability, use and trade of cannabis, which until now is a contraband, for medical and scientific research purposes to bolster the country’s economy.

If this bill sees the light of the day, in a few months, Nigeria will join the league of 30 other countries that have legalised the use of cannabis.

The countries which have legalized the medicinal use of cannabis include Argentina, Australia, Barbados, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

It is amazing that today, ‘weed’ is being reevaluated on a cultural and legal level after being considered an illegal substance for decades. What an evolution!

Notwithstanding, the beneficial medicinal properties of cannabis and it’s economic benefits, opposition to its legal backing within the country may be difficult to overcome. Someone told me plainly that the legalization could result in a high potential for abuse. He went further to state that the move was a ploy to legalize it for general purposes, including smoking.

No doubt, the acceptance of medical cannabis could have a dangerous impact on the way that youths perceive the risks of cannabis abuse. It is, therefore, essential to clearly separate the medical use of cannabis as a drug delivered in a controlled dose from its recreational abuse through smoking.

This would, I believe, send an educational message to the public that cannabis, like any therapeutic drug, can have serious side effects if it is not properly prescribed and administered. Thus, the recreational consumers and medical users just aren’t the same. The goal of use is totally different.

Medically, cannabis is an effective drug in the treatment of a number of conditions, including chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chemotherapy-induced nausea, glaucoma, among others. On the other hand, using the drug for recreational purposes (smoking) does not provide any therapeutic benefit. In fact, the contrary is true: smoking cannabis is associated with a progressive loss of cognitive abilities and an increased predisposition to psychiatric illness, such as schizophrenia.

The legalization of cannabis solely for medical purposes in the country is not a ploy to legalize it in general. Cannabis for recreational use remains illegal. Indeed, in the majority of the countries where the use of medical cannabis has been legalized, the free cultivation and/or recreational use of cannabis through smoking is still prohibited.

The public acceptance of cannabis for medicinal purposes should, therefore, be based and nurtured entirely on clinical evidence of its efficacy and safety. Weed smoke is still smoke and still has health risks.

Ezinwanne Onwuka, Cross River State.




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