Addiction is a very slow, cunning, baffling and powerful disease that has the ability to destroy lives across socio-economic backgrounds. I was one of the victims of addiction and am now a recovered addict for the past two years. I currently work with the Muktangan Mitra Centre as a counsellor. Anonymity is one of the main aspects of the NA (Narcotics Anonymous) programme.
Coming to Union Minister Maneka Gandhi’s suggestion about legalising marijuana for medical purposes, I feel that India is not yet ready for such a drastic step. The youth makes up 65 per cent of India’s population. Marijuana is already easily available and hence many are getting easily hooked on to it. Marijuana also is a “gateway drug” and that increases the chances of an individual trying out many other drugs.
When I talk to young people at Muktangan Mitra who are admitted for marijuana abuse, they often ask why marijuana is not legal in India when it is legal in many western countries. The answer is that we are not literate enough to know the ill-effects that marijuana can cause to our brain.
I’d like to know what marijuana is going to be adding to or substituting for in medical treatment. What diseases is it aiming to cure? Cancer? I’m assuming that the use of marijuana will be primarily for dealing with pain. However, medicine has progressed and is progressing to such an extent that I’m sure there are far better and more effective drugs that can be used to control pain, as for instance, morphine. There is also hydromorphone, methadone, oxycodone, and tramadol, and many other such drugs for pain reduction. So, why do we need a medicinal/recreational drug like marijuana to deal with or cure cancer?
Moreover, is there a guarantee that people won’t use it for recreational purposes under the pretext of medicinal use? We have approximately two per cent cancer patients in India and we cannot jeopardise the future of the youth that comprises 65 per cent of the population, who will celebrate legalising marijuana in India because being an addict in the past, that’s what I secretly wished for.
I was an addict for six years and I had multiple addictions — marijuana, hashish, cocaine, meth, MDMA, LSD, and other hallucinating drugs. They helped me in that moment to escape reality because they provided me with a different reality that I chose to be in because I did not want to face the reality that life was then providing me.
Marijuana mainly provided me with this escape into a different world that was fascinating and all I ever wanted was to stay in that high all my life. All I could think of was how I could grow my own marijuana and sell it and get others high so that they could experience what I was experiencing. This made me go to Manali and visit the farmers there who cultivated marijuana. I would smoke a lot of marijuana with them and eventually got hooked on to it. Money at this point played a huge role because I was still a teenager and was not earning at all, so sustaining my highs was getting costly. As pocket money was not sufficient, this led me to gambling and all kinds of illegal activities that would eventually jeopardise my future and put me behind bars. However, I never understood this back then because THC, a chemical in marijuana — be it medicinal or adulterated — causes permanent damage to an individual’s cognitive functions, with irreversible damage to memory and learning abilities over a period of time.
Memory impairment from marijuana use occurs because THC alters how the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for memory formation, processes information.
Most of the evidence supporting this assertion comes from animal studies. For example, rats exposed to THC in utero, soon after birth, or during adolescence, show notable problems with specific learning/memory tasks later in life.
(Abhijit Kakad is a model, former drug addict and counsellor, who helps people quit drugs at the Muktangan Mitra Centre.)