Columns

Can ganja use lead to 'madness'?

Mark WIGNALL

Thursday, June 19, 2014    

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IF the election campaign which began in early 1980 transformed that year into the year of the high-powered M-16 rifle, then certainly four years before, in the 1976 election campaign, the apprenticeship which made 1980 into the worst that we were politically capable of would make 1976 into the year of 'the fire'.

In 1976 entire blocks of housing and small business operators, especially in the west of Kingston's dense inner-city areas, were deliberately burnt out by political thugs and marauders from 'the other side'.

But 1976 was also known for the year that the illegal export of Jamaican ganja into Florida, the US Gulf coastal areas, and the metropolis New York was at its peak. Many rich men in Jamaica now owe their big trip to affluence to that period.

One mid-morning in 1976 saw me with Tim and Tom, then two 'friends' and business associates who had just returned from a successful trip to New York where they had sold 1,000 lb of ganja at US$1,000 lb.

We were on Duke Street in Tim's 1975 Dodge Challenger -- then one of the fastest and most powerful cars in Jamaica. They were visiting a lawyer's office and, according to what they had told me, the lawyer was a silent partner in their business, whose job it was to fully make their money legal. In 1976 Jamaica it was a cinch to launder drug money.

A few months before I had met them at a nightclub and we had befriended each other. They were somewhat coarse and I was the bright youngster who would provide them with answers about matters which they knew little of but were always asking about. Philosophy, science, electronics, religion, and just about anything that had nothing to do with illegal export of ganja.

As they returned, Tom said that they had carried back a small stash of something called 'Colombian Gold', then a strain of ganja that was fetching more than the Jamaican 'sensi' on the US mainland. Tom made up a spliff, drew on it and handed it to me. I dearly wanted to prove to these 'thugs' that I was fully up to what they were up to. I dragged hard on it, two or three times, fully inhaling.

In 1976, the traffic on Duke Street ran two ways as most streets downtown did. As fancy as the car was, a particular grating anomaly (to me) was that the audio set was quite cheap and had a tinny sound.

As the ganja seeped into my system the song from the radio (the Chilites) made me feel as if I was in the studio with the singers and the backing band. I felt it inside me, really deep inside. I took another drag on the spliff, gave it to Tom and opened the car and stepped outside. I saw the cars coming up and down Duke Street and told myself that I could walk out in the middle of the road and not a single car could touch me.

At just about the same time that Tom and Tim were inside the car laughing at me and telling me to get back inside there was another voice, one in a small sector of my brain saying to me: "Mark, you are under the influence of a drug which you do not fully understand. Do not give in to it. Fight it!"

For what could have been about two minutes the effects of the weed egging me to walk out into the road and the battle with that voice continued. In the end, the voice won and as I entered the car and sat back in relief, sweating, Tom and Tim were still laughing at me and telling me that: "It lick you hard, hard." That day, that incident made me extremely scared.

Professionals at Jamaica's main mental hospital seem to be at odds with policymakers, who have decided to 'free up' the weed, and the man at street level who believes it is long overdue.

They seem to know something which a lot us have not been seeing or are unwilling to admit -- that there are some people in the population who simply cannot handle the effects of the THC in ganja. As I have observed, the majority of the young men at street level who smoke ganja seem to handle it quite well. But, there is an obvious caveat. I only see them in relatively small time periods of their lives. I do not see them operating in their homes among those close to them.

Years ago, a Rasta man told me he had to stop smoking his chalice because he began to see things and was far advanced in 'talking to' the things he saw. He too had the power to turn away.

Another young man involved at a high technical level in the construction industry spent time at Ward 21 at the UHWI for severe mental problems after spending many years smoking weed right throughout his days. He had the sense to turn his back on it.

I am not trying to scare anyone, seeing that I have been among those who, over the years, have been harshly criticising the authorities for criminalising youngsters for possession and use of a spliff. It is still my belief that alcohol use and abuse are much worse than the same applied to ganja.

In that same year, 1976, I performed a simple experiment on myself. I got two similar sheets of foolscap paper. On both I set out a simple arithmetic expression: 1,728 divided by 144. We all know the answer is 12, but on the first sheet I worked out the simple division. On the second sheet I set out the same expression but didn't solve it. I smoked ordinary Jamaican 'bush' weed, waited about ten minutes then attempted to solve the problem.

In the following ten minutes I was on the flip side of the page still trying to solve the simple division. I was mentally discombobulated. Again, that told me something. Something quite scary!

I have already deduced that children who smoke weed do not do well in school. In fact, they fail miserably. Incredibly, when I worked in the shipping industry in the 1970s, most of the operators of heavy machinery smoked weed while they worked and hardly ever made mistakes.

What this told me was, there are people who can handle the effects of THC and others who cannot and who may respond either violently or go off into catatonic states.

We need to listen to the professionals as we go off in our rush to cash in on what we may believe are cash windfalls to come.

We need to pay attention to the many personal downfalls in the making. The time is ripe to open up the conversation between our professionals involved in treating mental disorders, and those of us who believe that in freeing up the weed, such conversations should be closed off.

observemark@gmail.com

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