No care for the law. Smoking marijuana is illegal in the country. However, many young people in universities are taking on the vice with no care for the law or the health risks involved in smoking the illicit drug, writes Jonathan Adengo
There is no plant that has been more condemned on this planet like marijuana. Weed is illegal in most countries. In some countries like China, possession of the drug could lead to a death sentence. Despite its ban, it is very popular among users and is a lucrative trade for those who traffic it to or through different countries.
In Uganda, marijuana smoking has been associated with musicians, with Bobi Wine seeming to be the poster child. The singer, a self-confessed user, later released a song Depo Ze Sadda, saying he had quit smoking marijuana. However, the drug is worryingly gaining popularity among young people especially in universities.
Marijuana, also known as weed or cannabis has different slangs in the campuses where students use it. Some call it kush, ganja, dagga, pot, green tea and some just call them joints.
James (named withheld), a social smoker says he does weed to release stress. According to him, puffing brings about a sense of peace.
But most young people get sucked into the habit due to peer influence and to try to fit in.
“The first time I did it was not pleasant. It made my nostrils itch and also made me sweat profusely,” says Tom. The student adds that he had to continue with the habit to fit in or his friends would say he was “not cool.”
A first-time experience usually leads to another and before you know it, it has graduated in to a habit which is dangerous. Dr. Ben Khingi of Mulago Hospital says the experience is addictive and soon one will be a slave to the drug.
Students in different campuses have sessions termed “mash ups” where they gather to just smoke. For as low as Shs500, you can buy a joint (weed) from suppliers who are usually within the hostels of residence, due to the high demand from the students.
Daniel, a university student, says he has “mashed up” several times with his colleagues because it is relaxing and makes them high at a low cost. “We don’t need beer, which is expensive in most hangouts, to get high,” he says.
Most students don’t think weed is dangerous to their health. Norman, also a university student, argues, “Just like any other drug, weed once done in the right place and reasonable quantity is okay. However, those that continue smoking it end up abusing the drug which is dangerous.”
Marijuana smoking was popularised by the late reggae legend Bob Marley, who even sang songs asking for it to be legalised. Marley was a Rastafarian and smoking “the holy herb” is considered a religious sacrament. Marijuana is used by Rastafarians to heighten feelings of community and to meditate. They also laud its medicinal value. However, the Rastafarian movement disassociates with deviants who usually smoke weed and do evil deeds.
Several international musicians especially the dancehall stars, hailing from Bob Marley’s country, Jamaica, also publicly use marijuana. They have also sang songs about its benefits and why it should be legalised. These musicians are idols of many young people, therefore, it is not surprising when they take on the vice.
Considering that it is illegal in the country, those who use weed are devising means of disguising it in other legal substances. Today, with the growing popularity of shisha, many of the weed smokers conceal it in the tobacco.
Besides, shisha comes in several fruity flavours that can help disguise the distinct marijuana scent.
Some will not smoke the weed, but they will simply eat it and get high. We are not talking about eating the leaves, but weed cake, where marijuana is one of the ingredients used to bake the cakes, popularly known as brownies.
The cakes are usually on order and one becomes a customer through referral from a previous customer. The prices start from Shs80,000 onwards depending on the size. These cakes are very popular especially at birthday parties.
Anne, is a university student who has eaten a weed cake before. “I ordered for one for my birthday and we liked it,” she says before adding “Weed cake is nice, it excites people. It makes many people happy, which makes hanging out more fun and exciting,”
She says that consuming this cake in huge quantities makes you high.
Smoking weed has lasting effects to people. According to Dr Khingi, most common is the fact that it makes one lose their sense of inhibition, because it impairs brain functioning.
A story is told of a student who having fixed himself really well ran out of his room half naked screaming on top of his voice. He claimed to have been chased by an assailant. However, unknown to those who looked on in shock was the fact that the weed that had “disorganised” him. Such effects are due to alterations of the normal functioning of the brain.
Perhaps the strongest of all is becoming a social nuisance. A person who is high on the substance is usually violent. But some will become very dull and as such just sit, staring into space and imagining themselves as masters in their own world.
Fortunately, the habit has not caught every student and there are very many that condemn the acts of their peers.
Herbert Onena, a student at Makerere University, says smoking weed is dangerous due to its effect when one is high. He says that some people he knows who have smoked the drug easily lost their sense of judgment and sometimes did things they were to later regret.
Dr. Khingi adds that one’s mental capacity is affected over time for those who think they can easily puff their problems away.
But what is intriguing is the fact that in spite of the police’s hard stance on the drug, it is sold cheaply around different parts of town. A “joint” (weed wrapped in paper to look like a cigarette) at Kataza in Bugolobi costs just Shs500. And this goes for many areas especially slums where smoking is quite rampant.
Though discouraged in most hostels around campus, smoking weed has managed to penetrate and continues to attract many students who find it cool.