“Chhotte where are you? I need to talk to your brother”
“Bhai, we are behind badka’s shop, smoking a “mota wala”, I will get back to you in a while”
As a doctor I have witnessed the marijuana menace grow but ironically as a youngster with a diverse friend circle, I have seen it spread like a cancer, right down to the pre-teen age bracket.
The palpable excitement in the voice of the 11th grader on the phone surprised me more than it shocked me. A simple question pops up in the mind.
But before moving on to that, lets allay the voices that say marijuana is safe as it is natural/god’s plant/shiva’s herb, that it doesn’t cause cancer like cigarettes do, it’s non addictive and a user can be quit any time. In our hill state, it is consumed almost exclusively in the resinous form of Hashish/kaala maal mixed with tobacco adn therefore, all the ill effects of tobacco use remain, shadowed but present.
Anecdotes and stories about that one uncle in the gaon, who is 85 and still smokes and is healthy, wealthy and wise are many but hard medical facts remain.
Marijuana has been known to cause a host of psychiatric ailments including but not limited to amotivational syndrome which, as the name implies, is characterised by lethargy, lack of drive to achieve and procrastination (romantically called babagiri). Even clinical depression has been observed in chronic cases and yes, marijuana IS a ‘gateway drug’ to other heavier drugs (fluid, bond, smack etc.).
Sooner they begin, deeper they sink. But, staying away from enumerating its ill effects, let’s get back to the central theme and let me give you my two cents on why I think we are asking the wrong questions in our war on marijuana.
The question: How to keep kids from smoking up?
Our answer: Reduce the product supply via effective police work (lol) and educate youngsters on why smoking it, (or anything else for that matter) is bad and harmful so that they will (hopefully) see reason stop or not start in the first place.
Our assumption: People make rational judgements and choices when they buy or use a product.
The fallacy: Behavioral economics has adequately brought to light the fact that people don’t make purchasing decisions rationally; as a matter of fact, people are predictably irrational about consumption.
The other behavioral shortcoming of this approach, which in my opinion has been strategized by some very mature and elderly policymakers, is that it doesn’t engage the young cohort. It assumes the youth is naive, doesn’t know better and we need to teach them. Scientific research has proven that the collective IQ of humanity is only rising with passing generations and closer home, most of us know kids these days are smarter than ever.
The issue is the moment you assume the fatherly, instructive, didactic position, youngsters stop listening to you. Aversion to authority is quite a normal psychological response at this age. I think most of us have had our we-don’t-need-no-education phase.
What we missed though, was the revelation that just because we are wiser with age now doesn’t mean we were stupid back then.
What were we? We were impressionable, which I believe is the question we SHOULD be asking.
Why, WHY are the young so impressionable when it comes to smoking up?
Marijuana as a drug has almost nil physical dependence which means that you won’t throw up fits and start foaming at the corner of your mouth if you don’t get your daily fix. So, why would a youth pay anywhere between Rs. 500 to 1000 for half a T (Street lingo. T= Tola equivalent to 10 grams).
(The farther you go from himachal the rates rise exponentially; so much so that out of state taxi drivers who were earlier paid a royalty for bringing tourists to a particular hotel or shawl showroom have now started asking for payment in hashish).
I think the answer can be found in its other aspect namely ‘the psychological dependence,’ which makes the question of WHY ever so important.
Is there a connecting undercurrent in the drug seeking behavior? In the consumption patterns or among peer groups?
In what context is marijuana consumed?
While empirical research can only answer the first three questions, the context more often than not, is to be cool. To be in, to be the vanguard vagabond, the maverick boy, the careless sole rider – the baba log.
What makes smoking it such an impression forming force for the young mind? What makes the habit stick? Apart from chasing the high and the practice of cutting/doping of hash with more potent habit forming chemicals, I believe a big part is played by the symbolism of the stoners’ cult.
I have seen most smokers believe that to be a stoner is to be in a different league, to be a class apart from the ordinary people slaving in the rat race. Great pride is taken in wearing the rasta tricolors, listening to psychedelic trance and associating with and quoting free thinking pot heads like bob marley.
Traveling to banjar valley or malana village assumes a spiritual meaning like holy travel to the chaar dham.
Rolling a joint becomes an art.
Raves become mass meditative experiences.
The mysticism associated with such people, places and things is psychologically a deeply corrupting influence. Many fall prey, some never crawl back.
If we could take the context out of smoking marijuana and attach that to a constructive activity say athletic excellence or creative expression. If we could attack and destroy the very symbols that stand for being part of an esoteric club. Make them uncool say through a public advertisement campaign and destroy the very stickiness factor, I believe we can help many a 11th graders grow up outside of the confounding haze and fume.
Stem this epidemic before it reaches an ungodly tipping point.
Image Credits: TrekEarth.in