“Weed isn’t a drug. It’s a plant, it grows like that. If you just happen to set it on fire, it has some effects. You become happy, sleepy and hungry – that’s all.”

These are the words of comedian (and weed-smoker) Katt Williams.

Eighteen of the 20 students interviewed about the issue by Perdeby seem to share Williams’s implied sentiment that marijuana is a harmless substance with some admitting to writing tests, exams and studying high.

The debate on weed is almost as old as the drug itself, but over the past few weeks, there seems to have been renewed interest on the matter. A recent study conducted in the Netherlands linked smoking weed to the development of mental disorders. A News24 article states that, “The study, which […]involved 18 500 people, found that 20% of male cannabis users complained of mental problems, compared to 10% among non-users. Smokers complained of mental problems such as anxiety, melancholy, sadness and impatience, but the physical health of users and non-users barely differed.”

In some states in the United States, marijuana is legal when prescribed for medical reasons but doctors are wary of administering it. American doctor Dr Andrew Adelson explains, “[Marijuana] affects your central nervous system so it impairs your ability to think, so the side effects outweigh the benefits. We have other forms of treatment that don’t affect your ability to think.”

A first-year BCom Financial Management student, who wishes to remain anonymous, says he accepts the fact that marijuana does affect your ability to think, but that this is not necessarily a negative thing. “When you’re sober-minded,” he says, “your thinking pattern is too comfortable. Weed allows you to have different patterns of thinking that are not detrimental to you – it gives you the ability to sort of be aware of subliminal messaging. When you’re high, you realise the ridiculousness of life. It relaxes you – aggression does not exist.”

A  journal article published in 2010 entitled “Neurophysiological and cognitive effects of smoked marijuana in frequent users” says that people who smoke marijuana less frequently are more susceptible to the effects of marijuana on the brain than frequent users. Evidence suggests that frequent marijuana smokers have a higher level of tolerance for the performance-impairing effects of the drug. For example, scientific studies conducted for the reports showed that the drug produced “minimal” effects on the working memory of near-daily smokers. The test conducted required the participants to identify words and remember them. The researchers concluded that “the overall response accuracy on the word recognition and working memory tasks was unaffected by marijuana, although smoked marijuana did increase the amount of time participants needed to complete these tasks.”

4/20 is a term used in North America to describe the community of people who are in support of the full legalisation of marijuana. 4/20 also indicates the date (20 April each year) on which these people gather to celebrate and consume it. Websites like CannabisCulture.com promote these events and people turn up in their thousands to attend. Taking this evidence into account, it seems that smoking marijuana might be more than just a pastime – rather, it forms part of an alternative sub-culture. In his article for Times Colonist, Shannon Corregan writes, “No other illegal activity enjoys such mainstream ubiquity, let alone acceptance.”

Omolemo Maphanga, a BSc Physical Sciences student, is unashamed of his smoking habit. He admits to being high during his interview with Perdeby but believes that his statements would be no different if he were not. He says it started as an experiment and he initially stayed away from weed after that because of people’s negative perceptions about it. “My second joint was sort of a reminiscent moment on having that sensation again and from then on it became more regular,” he says. Although he smokes daily, Maphanga does not consider himself to be a drug addict because he does not consider marijuana to be a drug. He believes that the scientific studies that list the dangers of smoking marijuana are wrong. “Most things in the pharmacy can kill you, but you’ve never heard of anyone dying from marijuana – and it’s illegal?” he asks.

A second-year BIS Publishing student is against the use of marijuana after seeing the effects it had on her brother. She says, “He is unlike me and our other sibling. He’s inconsiderate, selfish and reckless. Growing up in the same household and hanging around the same friends, the only logical explanation for how amplified these negative characteristics are in him is his smoking habit.”

Thulani Bango, a second-year Unisa student, used to be a regular smoker but quit a month ago. He says, “Weed’s only flaw is the ability to make a person say ‘f**k it’ to everything. When you’re high, you just don’t care, everything seems trivial and you lose track of what’s important. What’s worse is, as long as you’re still blunting, you’ll gladly live with your decision.”

Experimentation is a common start for most users and marijuana is believed by some to be a gateway drug that can lead users to trying other, harder drugs. It’s not lethal to your physical being, but does that necessarily mean that other areas of your life go unaffected too?


Photo: Gloria Mbogoma

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