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Marijuana:  beyond the social biases



                                     Paul Andrew Bourne







Since men’s early recognition of self, and a basic understanding of the unbounded universe, they have used various plants in aid of their social development.   Be it as it may that the resulting experiences are oftentimes highly deceptive because of a particular epistemology, peoples continue to work assiduously in order to attain a particular lifestyle what Maslow called “self-actualization.” This reality is the thrust behind the increasing dependency on external stimuli. As a result, that experience has resulted in political administrators making some plants illegal, but the reality is this has not changed the magnetic dependency on those items.  Marijuana is just one of the plants that has been used by peoples worldwide to overcome their inadequacies and for some to deal with their surrounding.  Why is ganja censored as it is in most societies?  Although this plant has been labeled a “bad” by various social groupings, is it subjected to more social biases than scientific testing?

Based on the positions of many advocates Marijuana is seen as the second Satan. Why is this, a perception of those peoples?  Many peoples have come to accept

the cultural perspective of others without personally analyzing the issue with objectivity. Hmmm!  Some folks become nauseous and even boisterous at the very thought of ganja, but they oftentimes consume vast quantities of the plant in the form of tea and in other medicinal forms.  Another astounding fact is number of cigarette smokers and alcohol consumers who decry “weed” smoker.


In the book Ganja in Jamaica, Tim Boekhout van Solinge (1996) states, “approximately 60 to 70 percent of the population of Jamaica use cannabis.  [Is this a fact?]  Some 50 percent of men older than 15 years were found to have smoked cannabis, and 7 percent were initiated to have smoked in the past.  Women also smoke cannabis, albeit less than men and drinking ganja tea is common among non-smokers.”   Solinge identifies 50 percent of the lower class in the rural areas as being “herd” smokers while Rastafarians were high consumers of the substance as it is a part of their religious belief.

According to the PIOJ’s Report (2000), “the Caribbean experience is that the use of cannabis/marijuana [ganja, “herb”, or “weed”] is endemic in most countries in the region, and has been associated with psychosis and behavioural disorders (Mahy and Barnett, 1997).  A retrospective analysis of admission to psychiatric hospital in Barbados over a three-month period found that 26.3 percent of patients admitted that they were major users of the plant (UNDCP, 1993).   Household polls conducted in Jamaica in 1990 and 1991 indicated that, by socio-economic class, the following proportion of males and females had tried smoking ganja (PAHO, 1993).”

PIOJ Report (2000) prepared by Ken-Garfield Douglas states that “because of the rapid changes they are experiencing, adolescents are at risk of developing substance abuse more quickly than adults.  The initiation of substance use and early stages of abuse have their roots in adolescence.  Much of what is known about substance use among adolescents comes from the annual monitoring the Future Study and the Youth Risk Behaviour Surveillance.”  Many people who smoke marijuana claim that the experience relaxes them.  Some even say it can keep them high all day or even longer. 

Marijuana contains a chemical that substitutes for a natural brain chemical with a few differences and so significantly reduces psychomotor skills and short-term memory.  A first time user will find it extremely difficult to function effectively within his/her environment after its use.  The possibility exists that academic and other performance will be hindered in the future.  Since this substance ‘tickles’ brain cells and a particular chemical ingredient touches special ‘button’ on brain cells called ‘receptor’, with the increasing number of casual young users of the drug and previously mentioned consequences on the human body and mind, there is cause for concern.  The fact that children have a natural tendency to experiment with various items including illegal substances possibly because of curiosity this highlights the fuss over the large use of marijuana, and make a strong case of its illegalization.   As such, more research on the subject must be carried out, as we do not want to miscalculate the scientific fact because of social biases.  

Another interesting phenomenon is the ratio of men to women who are continuous marijuana (ganja) smokers.  Over the years the tendency is that, more men than women smoke cannabis.  Solinge (1996) discovers that 50 percent of marijuana smokers are older men and as such increase and influences younger men’s awareness and likelihood of experimenting with the drug. Based on evidence from past research, there are multiple factors influencing the prevalence of marijuana smoking in the Caribbean and particular in Jamaica.  Some include Rastafarianism, and the Dance Hall culture.  The matter is of fundamental importance in that with the drug impairment of one’s psychomotor skills and short-term memory, despite its positives, for example, being used the treatment for cancer and other diseases, we must thoroughly understand the substance so that we many properly inform our youth as to the truth about this plant.




The global crime industry in particular the trafficking of illegal drugs and narcotics is of fundamental concerns to all nations as evidence suggests a linkage between that industry and high murders. Many subjective arguments have been purported that the Commonwealth Caribbean, in particular Jamaica, has been experiencing a dramatic increase in murders simultaneously with cocaine trafficking that intensified in late 1980s.  Although cannabis exportation was a known fact in the 1970s, some argued that this did not see the wanton killing of people in particular women, children and babies until cocaine and other illegal drugs were transshipped though our waters.    It should be noted that although heroin and cocaine fetch a higher unit price and profits, cannabis (ganja) is the leader in terms of consumption of illegal substances – (UNODCP, 1993).

Marijuana is the most popular illegal drug worldwide, with an estimate 147 million users, compared to 13 million for cocaine and 9 million for heroine – (Sunday Gleaner, March 9, 2003).  With that as a given, a percent of that is youth which cannot continue to go unnoticed.  As an increasing number of young people are falling prey to hard drugs and they are oftentimes involved in illegal and criminal activities, the issue of marijuana consumption via way of smoking must be of concern to all parents in Jamaica.


Table 1

Percentage of Males and Females in Jamaica who had tried Ganja, 1990

Income Level

Male (%)

Female (%)


Upper income




Middle income




Lower income




Source:  PIOJ, 2000

In Table 1, in each income category, more than 40 percent of the peoples within have smoke marijuana, and this is a scientific fact. Within those figures, there are a number of youth.  The data show that the upper and lower income individuals are the main smokers of marijuana.  With this information, a study is critical as a large percent of the population falls within the latter category.  A study must be carried out to ascertain the reasons why lower income and high-income earners consume more marijuana than middle-income earners. 

Because children are imitators, with the more than 70 percent of the Jamaican populace being in the lower class, we should expect high prevalence of ganja smoking in that social class.  The National Council on Drug Abuse (1987) indicates that more than 50 percent of youths below 31 years are smokers (see table 2, below).


Table 2

Percentage of smokers in the Jamaican

Population by Age and Gender,







10 to 15




16 to 21




22 to 31




32 to 41




42 to 51




51 +








Source:  PIOJ, 2000

The author has been a teacher for the past 10 years in an innercity community in the Downtown Kingston district and has firsthand experienced with youth.  He has seen boys being ruined because of the influence of smoking ganja. The smoking of marijuana is seen in many innercity communities as a macho man involvement.  As such, this stereotype continues to attract many young boys.


Many smokers in particular “herd” consumers blatantly disregard the constitutional rights of non-smokers.  The disregard is in respect to “puffing” “weed’s” fumes in the faces of non-smokers.  As such, they totally find “herd” smokers as repulsive. This is one of the reasons for non-smokers having a great dislike for them.  For many peoples, the biases against the legalization of ganja are on the premise of social biases rather than on scientific fact.




Other factors that enhance the social biases

In the Sunday Gleaner of March 9, 2003, Professor Norman Girvan identified cannabis (ganja) as the most popular illegal drug worldwide with an estimated 147 million users.  The number of user with respect to the globe’s human population is approximately 6.0 percent.  The PIOJ Report (2000) prepared by Ken-Garfield Douglas substantiated the popularity of cannabis smoking, identifying overall that 26.2 percent of the students reported having smoked the substance in their lifetime.  The Report revealed that 39.6 percent of the students had use illicit drug in their lifetime with some 38.9 percent of the Grade 9, 41.3 percent of the Grade 11 and 32.1 percent of the Grade 13 students indicating that they had used illicit drug in their lifetime. 

Furthermore, Norman Girvan’s article stated that “an OAS report on Maritime Drug Trafficking Routes and Methods in the Americas (CICAD/Doc. 984/98) identified two major routing areas:  the Amazon corridor and the Caribbean corridor.”  With the Caribbean being a transshipment point for illegal drug trafficking, further literature on illegal drugs and shipment make for more understanding of the technicalities of the market.

Professor Girvan who is the Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) identified that cocaine is the second most popular drug to marijuana with 13 million people consuming that substance while there are 9 million heroin users.  Continuing, he noted that ganja is grown in all regions of the world, the United States itself being the major producer of the substance.

Girvan’s article “Narcotics and Security” showed clearly that cannabis drug trafficking exceeds cocaine trafficking by 3.4 percent in absolute quantity.  He said that, “the big difference between cannabis and other illegal drugs is in unit prices and profits.  In the United States the average price of cannabis herb is roughly one-eighth that of cocaine on wholesale and retail markets.”  In that, “the price differential reflects the considerably greater narcotic effects of cocaine (demand factor) and the concentration of control efforts on this drug (supply factor).”

On the other hand, Boekhout van Solinge (1996) noted that Jamaica is a country that appeals to one’s imagination.  The tropical island in the Caribbean Sea, once mainly famous for its rum, is nowadays more associated with reggae, Rastas, and ganja, i.e. marijuana.  No other country supposedly has a higher consumption that Jamaica.  As such, this explains the high prevalence of cannabis consumption by the Rastas, as it is apart of their religiosity.


 Rastas are the only smokers of cannabis; marijuana is a widely consumed stimulant in Jamaican Society especially among the lower classes (Boekhout van Solinge, 1996).  PIOJ Report (2000) refutes the position on Solinge. He states, “estimates given in this states that about 60 to 70 percent of the population occasionally use (or used) ganja.” 

Solinge (1996) continues, when he writes that:

“In reality there is little reliable information to support those estimates.  However, it is certain that Jamaica is one of the countries where the use of cannabis has existed for many generations and occurs very frequently.  This was the very reason why a team of American researchers traveled to Jamaica in the 1970s to carry out a prolonged and extensive study on the effects of chronic (long-term) cannabis use.”


Nevertheless, Boekhout van solinge states, “the fact that today’s ganja is stronger than 20 years ago has probably led to the fact that people smoke fewer joints per day.  The daily amount of joints (spliffs) that was consumed by ganja smokers according to Rubin and Comitas, namely even on average, (low use was defined as less than four joints per day, high use as more than eight), no longer appears to apply to present day Jamaica.”

A small percent of the entire population are marijuana smokers, however.  It is clear that many people are advocates against the smoking of cannabis while they were ardent consumers of the drug by way of tea.  For some people, the consumption of the “weed” tea is as frequent as daily.  The difference is that marijuana for drinking and for smoking is mainly from young green plant or ripened dried plants respectively.  Because ganja consumption is of a high prevalence in Jamaican society, it follows, therefore, that its production must be equally high. 

Ganja became a big business in the 1970s, as it was exported on a large-scale basis to the United States.  It was no secret that many upper class peoples and other high-ranking peoples were involved in its exportation.  Since George Bush, after the Reagan regime ended, started the ‘War on Drugs Campaign’ in the 1980s, the nature of the production as well as the nature of the exportation changed dramatically from previous (Boekhout van Solinge).

The word ‘marijuana’ was originated in Mexico.  This Mexican slang term became popular in the late 1930s in America, during a series of media and government programme that we now refer to as the ‘Reefer Madness Movement’.  It refers specifically to the medicine part of cannabis that Mexican soldiers used to smoke for stimulation, relaxation and for depression attacks.

Marijuana has thousands of possible uses in medicine.  Ganja (actually cannabis extract) was available as a medicine legally in America until 1937, and was sold as a nerve tonic but humankind has been using cannabis medicine much longer than that.


Scientific facts

Scientific scholars have identified that cannabis is a cure for such diseases as:  multiple sclerosis, cancer treatment, AIDS treatment, glaucoma, depression, epilepsy, migraine headaches, asthma, pruritis, sclerodoma, severe pain, and dystonia.  Pharmacologists and Chemists have identified that the part of cannabis (ganja) that gets one high is known as ‘Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinal’.  They have claimed the THC that is the abbreviation for ‘Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinal’ gets stored in the fat cells and later leaks out like one of those ‘time release capsules’ advertised on television.  As such, studies have shown that marijuana only keeps an individual high for the most a few hours, and it is not right to think that a person who fails a drug test is always high on drugs, either.

There is one school of thought that purports that marijuana can impair memory perception and judgement by destroying brain cells, while another school has shown that, this is absurd and scientifically fallacious.  The former being Rhesus and the latter is Reefer Madness II and P.R.I.D.E with Dr. Gabriel Nahas as the distinguished chemist – (Iversen, 2000).

Ganja, though, contains a chemical that substitutes for a natural brain chemical, with a few differences.  The chemical composition touches special ‘buttons’ on the brain cells called ‘receptors’.  It must be noted that cannabis ‘tickles’ brain cells, but it will damage and kill them by producing toxins (poisons) and sometimes mini-seizures.  The smoking of marijuana dramatically effects the memory of young people easily.  Many inexperienced marijuana users find that they have very strange, sudden and unexpected memory lapses.  These usually take the form of completely forgetting what you were talking about when you were right in the middle of saying something important.  However, the symptoms only occur while the person is ‘high’.  They do not carry over or become permanent, and examination of extremely heavy user has not shown any memory or thinking problems.  More experienced marijuana users seem to be able to remember about as well as they do when they are not ‘high’.  This illegal drug does slow reaction time slightly, and this effect has sometimes been misconstrued as a memory problem.

Since children have a natural tendency to do things that they are not suppose to do, the issue of curiosity of the smoking of marijuana is one of the reasons why many of them initiate the process in the first place.  Adults, in particular the police, making such a big fuss over ganja, make it interesting (some call it the ‘forbidden fruit’ factor).  In many ways, the hysteria about drugs causes the most harm.  When ganja users do any of the horrible things they are supposed to, children may think that other more harmful drugs are okay, too.  Your children will not respect you unless you are calm and can provide them with good reason for your purporting none smoking or the taking of any foreign substance for that matter.

According to Iverson (2000), “the sudden popularity of marijuana use among young people in the 1960s America prompted an upsurge of scientific research on the drug’s effect.”  It should be note that the drug was legal up until 1937 in the same United States.  Nevertheless, the earlier position does not stipulate error or the latter for than matter but a shift in social policy.   He continued, “A large and often confusing literature emerged, partly because the topic was politically charged from the outset and bias undoubtedly coloured some of the investigations.”

Iverson (2000) identified the effects of THC the major component of cannabis on the ability of animal subjects.  It was noted, however, that many of the subjects were ‘clumsy’ after high doses of marijuana. Similarly, marijuana affects human subjects, impairing their performance in tests of balance, and reducing their performance in tests that require fine psychomotor control or manual dexterity – (John W. Commissiong, 1978).

Alcohol and marijuana are both drugs usually taken in social context for recreational purposes.  As such, alcohol may be described as the intoxicant for the older generation, while marijuana for the younger people, although both drugs are quite often consumed simultaneously.  In many respects, they are quite similar in terms of effect.  A number of studies performed find it difficult to distinguish between the immediate subjective effects of acute intoxication with the two drugs – (Iverson).

Furthermore, like marijuana, alcohol causes psychomotor impairments, a loss of balance, and a feeling of dizziness or light-headedness.  In terms of cognitive performance, both drugs cause impairments in short-term memory while leaving the recall of long-term memories intact – (Braude PhD., 1976 et al).



Despite the fact that marijuana usage and possession is illegal in the Caribbean and in, particular Jamaica, many Jamaicans – (Iversen 2000, pp. 2), use cannabis regularly.  This report is confirmed by PIOJ’s Report (2000) that at least approximately 40 percent of each social class within Jamaica had smoked marijuana.  This alarming revelation did not begin in 2000 as in 1987 Drug Abuse Centre indicated that in excess of 10 percent of post-primary school students smoked marijuana in their lifetime with over 4 percent of them smoked the substance over the last 30-day when the survey was carried out.

            In men, cannabis causes relaxation of psychic tension, euphoria and talkativness(Iversen, 2000 and Zimmer 1997).  In 1982, an unpublished thesis carried out by a Master of Philosophy student in Medical Sciences Department (UWI, Mona Campus) reveals that increased doses induce perceptional abnormalities, distribution of the senses of time and space disturbances of thought process, changes in emotionality and in high doses, hallucination – (Dreher 1982, pp.25).  With those finding as indicated by Dreher (1982), it follows that while men smokers have lost time of reality, their jobs suffer in the process, as they are temporarily unable to function equally and effective as before its use. 

            Since the sensation of meditation normally follows the smoking of marijuana, many consumers of the substance, thereof, are withdrawn from society during that period.  In that process social interaction is hampered among themselves and the rest of the society and often times destroy relationship between themselves and their immediate family and later by society as a whole.  With this withdrawal syndrome, children feel rejected and the process this triggers the need for comfort that usually begins the quest for external support.  This psychological behavioural problem affects children and later see them seeking comfort from friends who may be users and abusers of illegal or licit substance to satisfy that inner loneliness caused initial by parent(s).

            Furthermore, while smoking is designated as an adult male activity in Jamaica, women and children commonly share in the consumption by way of tea and tonic to begin with – (Dreher, 1982).  Because some parents do frequently introduced marijuana to their children at an early stage through teas or tonics and-or drink, the practice of marijuana consumption is widely used in different forms throughout the island irrespective of the gender and demographic locale – (Dreher, 1982 and Zimmer, 1997).  It is through this construct that many religious peoples use the substance with a different conviction based on it preparation and early adoption.

            Users and non-users alike discriminate between the effects of ganja tea and those of ganja smoking.  It is because of this social ambiguity why many adolescents youth are drawn to experimenting with the substance.  Dreher, 1982, indicated that marijuana smoking was limited mainly to the lower class, labourers and Ras Tafarians in its inception but that this has changed significantly since – (Dreher pp. 84).  She agreed with other research that ganja smoking is a social act which normally is carried out in different social settings.  This explained why the substance becomes so highly attractive to young adolescence and in particular boys with this period the search for self.


Because of the high rise of Reggae artistes since the 1970s and more so in the 1990s advocating the purities of marijuana smoking and the open practice thereof, many youth have been motivate to partake in smoking the substance as their idols continue to partake thereof.

            According to Zimmer et al. (1997), “the cognitive side effects of marijuana smoking are as such temporary memory lapses, impairments, slower psychomotor skills, withdrawal, talkativeness this explains the dooming generation of young people to academic failure.”  They went on further that, “heavy ganja smokers were also more likely than occasionally users or non-user to drop out of school before graduation” - (Zimmer, 1997, pp.64).  The researcher supports this without any doubt as he has been teaching for over ten (10) years.

            Some researchers have indicated that there is convincing scientific evidence that marijuana causes psychological damage or mental illness in teenagers and young adults – (Zimmer, 1997, pp. 70).  They argued that, “marijuana smokers from the ingestion usually experience psychological distress which include panic feelings, anxiety, and paranoia.”

            Marijuana (Delta-nine—THC) does have an ‘immunosuppressive effect’.  It acts on certain cells in the liver, called macrophages, in much the same way that its acts on brain cells.  Instead of stimulating those cells, though, it shuts them off.  This effect is temporary (just like the ‘high’) and goes away quickly; people who suffer from multiple sclerosis may actually find this effect useful in fighting the disease.

Recent research has also found that marijuana metabolites are left over in the lungs for up to seven months after the smoking has stopped.  While they are there, the immune system of the lungs may be affected (but the macrophages do not get “turned off” like in the liver.)  The effects of smoking itself are probably worse than the effects of the THC, and last just as long.

            Today, doctors are treating AIDS patients with the use of marijuana.  Some studies suggest that marijuana may actually stimulate certain forms of immunity.  Researchers have tried to show major effects on the healthy human’s immune system, but if marijuana does have any substantial effects, good or bad, they are either too subtle or too small to notice. This is exactly why this paper would undoubtedly seek to unearth truths, clarify issues, dispel myths, and add a new dimension on the issue of marijuana.


The final reports on the “weed”


            The prevalence of marijuana smoking and other uses indicate social, psychological and physiological issues surround the substance.  The plant still must be tried within the context of scientific fact and a wholesome society and not on the merit of some influential peoples’ biases. Because the issue is of utmost importance to all concern, let us not totally use social biases to determine the illegality of the “herd’.  This article, however, does not support any researchers’ hypotheses but forwards the many social biases and scientific facts surrounding the “weed”.  Some of the findings do substantiate peoples’ social biases but the issue has presented here is done in such a different manner to provide all the sides. In that, like all products in our society cannabis is both good and harmful.  Based on literature, “weed” smoking is predominated a males phenomenon but that does not explain male’s marginalization in the Jamaican context.  Therefore, society members should not take another bias stance in determining a position on ganja hereafter. 

            Marijuana smoking and possession is still illegal in the Western Hemisphere and equally so in Jamaica, the numbers of post-primary school students smoking the substance are increasing over the years and for this we must be concern.  Nevertheless, the response to that should not be the wholesale illegalization of marijuana. Otherwise, a similar position needs to be taken against alcohol, cigarettes, and other double-barreled products.      




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