Monday, February 1, 2010

Intellectual ganja

Attired in designer suit, George Ironuma (not real names) looked startlingly out of place amidst the scruffy looking characters that lurked around the entrance to an uncompleted building located on Itire Road, Surulere. The building has served as a hang-out for marijuana dealers and smokers since 2005.
The middle-aged banker said he has been addicted to marijuana for over 10 years, and is unsuccessfully struggling to quit.

“I started the whole thing in my second year in the university, and it has been hell for me since then,” he said as he took off his jacket, loosened his tie, and sat on one of the concrete blocks lying around the floor of the building. “The stuff helps me relax. If I don’t smoke before going home, I won’t eat, and can’t sleep.”
“Then I buy the one that I need in the morning before taking my shower, because it helps me start the day in the right mood, and also keeps my senses alert through the day’s work at the office.”

Intellectual ganja?
In a side street off Pako-Aguda, in Surulere, a ramshackle wooden bar sits in front of the filthy canal that runs through the middle of the street. The bar also serves as a joint for hundreds of youth in the area who congregate regularly to smoke marijuana. The proprietor is a gaunt old woman known as Iya Raufu.

A dreadlock-wearing gangling young man of about 25 sat in a corner; bare-chested and swaying to the music from his headphones. He seemed to distance himself from the rough looking men and women that lounged about smoking or drinking. He gave his name as Encrypt.

“I smoke ganja because na im dey give me inspiration,” he said while he delicately licked the tips of the soft paper he used in wrapping the marijuana. “I don already release two singles (music tracks) and very soon Eko go hear my album.”
“This,” he said as he lit up and took a deep drag, “na wetin (popular hip-hop musician) Terry G call ‘intellectual ganja.’”

Mr. Ironuma also believes this view, but is battling his addiction. “God knows I have tried to stop, but my brother the pull is too much,” he said. “I even told my pastor about it, and he has been on my neck since then. But, I am afraid that is I stop it, I will lose the creativity that it has helped me impact on my job.”

Marijuana as aid to creativity: Fact or myth.

The two men are examples of a substantial number of Lagos youth who are addicted to marijuana use, and have remained under the illusion that the drug enhances creativity. These youth are regular patrons of joints were the sale of marijuana thrives in the metropolis.

Uncompleted buildings, brothels, motor parks, and seedy bars in suspect neighbourhoods are some of the favourite haunts of dope dealers in the metropolis.

Niran Okewole, a Senior Registrar at the Federal Neuro Psychiatric Hospital Yaba, reveals that marijuana usage induces an illusion of enhanced imagination, but points out that the negative consequences can be dangerous.

“Marijuana is known to heighten the user's sensitivity to external stimuli, make colours seem brighter and sounds seem richer, and more details become vivid,” he said. “Appreciation of time is also subjectively slowed. All these could make an individual 'feel' artistic concepts more.”

“There is a culture especially in the entertainment industry which encourages impressionable, identity-seeking youth to indulge in marijuana and other psychoactive substances; think of the impact of lyrics like 'Nothin do me becos I dey shayo.’ (However), Cannabis use could lead to intoxication, manifesting as impairment of memory, motor skills, and level of consciousness. Anxiety, behavioural disturbances and frank psychosis could also be consequences of cannabis use.”

Any refuge?
House of Refuge is a rehabilitation centre run by Freedom Foundation, a nongovernmental organization. The centre, located on Alpha Beach, Lekki, was established in 2001 and has succeeded in rehabilitating 1000 former drug addicts since then.

“We have a group of men who go out to the streets and identify addicts that really need help, and we also partner with NGOs and doctors who refer people to us, and then we profile to see if the person is qualified for admittance,” said Ayo Awoyemi, the Programme Officer of the centre.

One of such is Piriye Kalaiwe, a 42-year-old database administrator who got hooked on drugs while studying in the United Kingdom, but is now weaned of his addition. “It takes you to decide that ‘look I am tired of it’, and I needed somewhere like a sanctuary to go and chill out,” he said. “A place like House of Refuge only contributes mentally and spiritually, but it is always your decision to stop it.”

Mr. Okewole shares this view, and advices repentant addicts to be committed to quitting the habit. “A lot has to do with the level of motivation of the individual,” he said. “Rehabilitation programmes like we have at Yaba and Aro are excellent. (And) there are also some private rehab facilities.”

For addicts like Mr. Ironuma, who are desirous of quitting the habit, and are finding it difficult to make the decision to seek professional help, something needs to trigger them into taking the leap.

“Maybe when I get married, hopefully before the end of the year, I will now be forced to stop this stupid habit,” he said.

This piece was previously published in NextonSunday.

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