Yvonne McCalla Sobers | Youth and ganja: resolving mixed messages
A youth in his early 20s, Carlton (not his real name) lost a job opportunity because a drug test showed traces of ganja in his system. Until now, he had no idea that ganja would remain in the blood for so long, especially as he smoked it on rare social occasions only.
In addition, Carlton believes the potential employer was sending a mixed message because he was puzzled that the employer would still see ganja as prohibited for employees when:
- No one is any longer criminally charged for possessing two ounces or less of ganja.
- Rastafarians can legally use ganja as a sacrament.
- Persons who meet given criteria can go into designated shops and buy ganja legally.
- Anyone can grow five ganja plants.
- Four of the world's oldest civilisations have proved the benefits of the ganja tea that Carlton's grandmother used to cure his asthma.
- Doctors can prescribe ganja to treat some ailments.
- Anyone who meets all the licensing criteria can enter the legal ganja industry.
Carlton noted that there were no tests for alcohol, the psychoactive drug that was the leading risk factor for death in 2016. Studies have shown that there is no 'safe' level of alcohol consumption. On the other hand, there have been no deaths attributed to ganja use.
Being seen as credible to youth means addressing the inconsistencies and mixed messages. The world is moving too quickly from demonising to legalising ganja to rely on data that were of questionable value even when it was current. The War on Drugs propaganda no longer applies.
Youth have access to information that shows them that all drugs are both good and bad. They have the means to inform themselves that the effect of any drug can depend on the age of the individual, amount and frequency of use, place and time of use, and activities before, during, and after use. No matter the drug, the risks will vary by person, family medical history, and development of brain and body.
Youth can also be aware that all drugs carry risk, whether they are legal or illegal, prescribed or bought over the counter. Psychoactive drugs include ganja and range from coffee and cocaine to Tylenol (containing codeine) and Benadryl. These drugs impact on the central nervous system and can change mood, perception, cognition, or behaviour.
A basic rule for patients is to take no drugs unless the benefits outweigh the risks, as even prescribed drugs are known to have side effects that pose dangers to well-being. Prescription misuse can result in misuse, addiction, overdose, and death.
Understanding Ganja Use
Guiding youth toward making their best decisions on drugs means understanding why youth use ganja and other drugs. Reasons may include:
- Curiosity and desire to experiment.
- Search for coping mechanisms especially when problems (such as abuse or poverty) seem insoluble.
- Need to 'feel good'.
- Need to fit in with peers.
- Self-medication for insomnia or mental health issues.
- Feelings of being uncared for or not validated by family, school, or wider community.
- Feelings of being isolated, marginalised, or otherwise excluded from society.
- Lack of practice in problem-solving and decision-making.
As adults, we need to equip ourselves with the best possible information, knowing that youth have the means to fact-check us instantly with their smartphones. Lectures based on outdated or biased information will be a waste of time. Talking down or providing misinformation is also likely to damage the trust that is so essential of we want to guide youth toward making their best choices. Accurate and balanced information will show that there are no simple answers. For example:
1) Driving after using ganja has a short-term effect. Users need to allow three to four hours to pass before driving a car or using heavy equipment. Mixing ganja and alcohol can have unpredictable results and may lead to death
2) Ganja use can affect learning and memory. The impact is usually felt short term and has been shown to be minimal in the long term.
3) There is debate on whether or not ganja is addictive or can cause dependence. On the other hand, the addictive nature of substances such as nicotine and alcohol is well established.
4) Dropping out of school has been shown to be less related to ganja use than to personality traits, school policies and methodologies, punitive approaches to discipline (suspensions and expulsions), and a search for a sense of belonging.
5) Ganja has not been proved to be a gateway drug. Youth are shown to move on to other drugs because of the availability and acceptability of these drugs, or personal and social factors in the youth's environment.
6) Existing studies show that ganja can create good or bad experiences; and cause or relieve diseases such as cancer, anxiety or depression.
So how do adults help youth to make better choices as regards drugs? Setting the example of responsible drug use seems a helpful place to start. Further, we need to question what we think we know as the youth will tune us out if what we say sounds like rubbish to them.
We must, therefore, clarify our feelings, identifying assumptions that may be out of date. If we decide to try to help the youth to navigate a complex and unpredictable world, we need to build strong open relationships with youth whom we hope to influence.
If Carlton is lucky, he will have a second chance to gain employment if a repeat test shows him to be clean. In general, however, misinformation and mixed messages risk leaving our youth adrift without a map in sight. Our youth deserve better. Much better.
- Yvonne McCalla Sobers is an educator, human-rights activist, aquaponics farmer, and member of the Ganja Growers and Producers Association. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.