Calls for Kenya to legalise bhang have been growing and the recent announcement by US company, Bangi Inc, that it plans to cross-list on the Nairobi Securities Exchange, looks set to put to test the country’s resolve to continue putting the drug among banned substances.
Cannabis, as bhang is called in part by its scientific name has gained has recently gained support in the high corridors of Parliament with some MPs pushing for it to be legalised to allow for its trade.
The late Kibra MP Ken Okoth split opinions mid this year when he said he was working on a draft bill to change the legal status of the drug.
The campaign comes even as a United Nations report shows that bhang is responsible for more than half of the people undergoing drug abuse treatment in Africa, raising concerns that if the legislators have their way the situation will move from bad to worse.
“In most countries, cannabis is the most widely used drug, both among the general population and young people, and most people in drug treatment in Africa, the Americas and Oceania are being treated for cannabis use,” the UN report points out.
The report, which is based on data from 130 countries globally, suggests that 192.2 million people aged 15-64 used cannabis at least once in 2016, this is equivalent to 3.9 per cent of the population in this age range.
Cannabis use among young people aged 15-16 years stood at 13.8 million, representing 5.6 per cent of the population in this age range.
Locally the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse puts this consumption at about 0.8 per cent of Kenyans aged 15-65 years, noting that most have health disorders arising from cannabis use.
According to the World Health Organisation, the most obvious short-term health effect of cannabis is intoxication marked by disturbances in the level of consciousness, cognition, perception, affect or behaviour, and other psychophysiological functions and responses.
“First-time cannabis users become very anxious, have panic attacks, experience hallucinations and vomit. These symptoms may be sufficiently distressing to prompt affected users to seek medical care,’’ says WHO.
Regular cannabis users can develop dependence on the drug. The risk may be around 1 in 10 among those who ever use cannabis, 1 in 6 among adolescent users, and 1 in 3 among daily users.
On the other hand, cannabis use is acclaimed in the medical world for its pain-relieving qualities for patients suffering from such terminal illnesses as cancer. Recent studies also show it helps in lowering the age of onset of schizophrenia, a mental illness common among black people.
Convinced of the benefits, Lesotho and Zimbabwe were among the first to legalize cannabis cultivation for medicinal purposes.
However, other African countries have been reluctant to walk the liberal path. South Africa went as far as to decriminalised cannabis use for personal consumption by adults in private. Laws prohibiting the use of the narcotic outside of one’s private dwelling and buying and selling cannabis still remain.
Despite illegalisation of cannabis, the UN report shows that its production continues with output estimated at 38,000 tonnes, an observation often cited by pro-campaigners in their calls for the drug to be embraced, both for its medicinal use and as a potential source of revenue.
But a recent BBC report urges caution. The plant is used to extract cannabidiol, a component that fostering general wellness, eases anxiety as well as reduces sleeping problems.
The reports notes a proliferation of cannabis products with potentially harmful products.
Critics are concerned that CBD products are not all they claim to be, but as an the industry continues to lure major players and legal recreational use risers could bring sky high returns for investors.
“Do we know what’s in these products found in the form of oil to be dropped under the tongue or e-liquids to be vaped? With the hype being helped along by celebrities, it’s also found its way into products from lip balm to hummus, cappuccinos to sparkling water,” said the BBC report.
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