Cannabis smoking-a risk factor for lung cancer

Zehru Nissa, Jammu and Kashmir
(First published in The Greater Kashmir
Cannabis abuse is reaching alarming levels across Kashmir. According to data maintained by De-addiction Centre at SMHS Hospital, 71% of people being treated for substance abuse are using multiple drugs, of which cannabis is the most commonly abused.

The Psychiatric Diseases Hospital (PDH) in Srinagar has also witnessed the same trend. Dr. Maqbool Ahmed Dar, HoD at the hospital said, “We are witnessing a tremendous increase in the abuse of cannabis in the state. And there is not much noise that is being made about it.” Dr. Arshid Hussain, Associate Professor Psychiatry said, “It is alarming that a huge number of patients admitted at PDH with aggressive behaviour have been found to be abusing cannabis.”

Addiction in youth

 “It starts with a puff or two for fun. People use it to get into some world of fantasy. But the drug is highly addictive, they simply lose touch with reality,” Dr. Hussain said. He stated that although there is not much literature available on the topic but the team at SMHS Hospital De-Addiction Centre has seen a strong link between psychosis and cannabis abuse.

Experts believe that there is a need for intensive and in-depth research into the reasons for surge in cannabis use in Kashmir. There is a growing support and lobbying for marijuana (cannabis derivative) worldwide and doctors believe that this is encouraging the young generation to ‘try’ it out.

Stakeholders are alarmed that young people in their productive years are succumbing to substance abuse. The data at SMHS Hospital also vetts this as it reveals that 86% patients being treated for substance abuse were less than 35 years old.

Psychiatrists are concerned at the fact that a growing availability of online support and literature lauding cannabis use. A psychiatrist said, “Recently I received a young and educated patient who was abusing cannabis in dangerously high quantity. He rubbished all my arguments to motivate him for giving it up and cited the example of many foreign countries where this drug was legal.”

Harsh but Hidden Facts

Recently, researchers from Northwestern University, USA, found a link between cannabis use and long-term memory loss. The study says, ‘young adults who abused cannabis as teens performed about 18% worse on long-term memory tests than young adults who never abused cannabis.’ The research also found  brain abnormalities and memory problems in individuals in their  early twenties, two years after they stopped smoking marijuana.

There is also a growing evidence of link between marijuana and lung cancer. “Cannabis is usually smoked. Though we talk a lot about smoking and lung cancer, somehow, this link is being missed in our messages against cannabis smoking,” a doctor said.

British Lung Foundation while warning against the harmful effects of cannabis and tobacco individually, says that if smoked together, the harmful effects are significantly worse. According to its research findings, young cannabis smokers may also be at greater risk of throat cancers.

A mental health expert said, “They are befooling kids out there. They need to be made to understand that cannabis wreaks havoc with mental health also, unlike other drugs, which usually have more of physical effects.”

Tip of Ice Berg

Doctors believe that the patients coming to De-Addiction Centres in Kashmir represent just the tip of the ice-berg. A majority of these patients (about 60%) are from Srinagar and its adjoining areas of Budgam and Ganderbal. Experts point out that this huge influx of patients from Srinagar and its peripheral districts does not indicate that the gravity of the problem is more in these areas but rather points to the inaccessibility of these de addiction facilities to people from other regions.

“A huge population in remote districts lack awareness about and access to de-addiction facilities. Plus, our society has still not been able to appreciate the role of a medical practitioner and counsellor in de-addiction. Addiction is seen as a legal and social problem only,” Dr.Arif Maghribi, a mental health expert said.

“A lot needs to be done, and we all have a responsibility” Dr. Maghribi said. He feared that we might be losing an un-estimated number to the ‘weed’. “We are not even sure of the extent of the problem,” another psychiatrist said. Perhaps, it is high time to focus on cannabis smoking (along with tobacco smoking) as a risk factor for many diseases, and make efforts to curb its use not only in Kashmir but globally too.

(First published in The Greater Kashmir

Zehru Nissa, Jammu and Kashmir

8 June 2015