This is an article by Helen Fraser
Using drugs to fight drugs? It may sound strange, but reports from the USA seem to show that marijuana – technically an illegal substance in Zimbabwe – can lead to a marked decrease in opioid abuse. Given that Zimbabwe is currently suffering something of a crisis when it comes to drug abuse, with opioids like heroin being particularly problematic, could marijuana be used in a medicinal capacity to reduce opioid addiction within our country?
Opioid Addiction In Zimbabwe
Opioid addiction is something of a scourge the world over. Opioids like heroin are highly addictive, wreak havoc on bodies and minds, and destroy lives as people plunge to ever lower depths in their quest to obtain these illegal substances. Youth unemployment is exacerbating the problem within Zimbabwe, with some reports claiming that up to 65% of Zimbabwean youths may have drug-induced mental health problems. While opioids do no make up the entirety of Zimbabwe’s drug problem, they are certainly very much in evidence, and cause an awful lot of damage. Worryingly, because they adhere so closely to the brain’s own mechanisms, opioids are very hard to get ‘clean’ from. Rehabilitating an opioid addict is very hard work, which requires an awful lot of willpower and determination both on the part of the addict and those surrounding them. So it is little wonder that governments and health authorities around the world are looking with great interest at the apparent potential of marijuana to limit opioid abuse in the USA. But is it really worth using one drug to treat another? And will the American situation really be replicated in the very different circumstances of Zimbabwe?
Marijuana, long considered a bete noir of drug squads everywhere, is currently experiencing something of a renaissance. A great many American states have fully legalised the substance, with many more legalising it for medicinal usage. Calls for the decriminalization of marijuana are currently sweeping the Western world. This follows the publication of substantial evidence suggesting that marijuana is not nearly as harmful as even alcohol, and can have a great many positive effects on human health. According to the recent science, marijuana is neither addictive nor directly damaging to human health. What is more, it can help to alleviate chronic pain, and be effective in the treatment of certain mental health disorders. Little wonder, therefore, that many governments are relaxing their anti-marijuana legislation. However, some maintain that there are definite problems with making marijuana illegal, and hold that doing so simply promotes irresponsible, intoxicated behavior. The debate rages on. However, where the drug has been licenced for medical usage in the USA, there has been a marked drop in opioid abuse.
Marijuana For Zimbabwe’s Addictions?
So, if America is seeing opioid addiction fall in areas where marijuana has been legalised, could the same work in Zimbabwe? Well, it’s a bit complicated. One of the main reasons for the opioid addiction drop in the USA is America’s phenomenal love of pharmaceuticals. A huge 80% of the world’s pharmaceutical drugs are consumed by Americans – and opioid painkillers are prominent in that number. The majority of opioid addicts within America are not addicted to illegal substances like heroin. They are instead addicted to prescription opioid analgesics like vicodin. Where medical marijuana has been legalised, the theory runs that people are choosing to take marijuana to manage their pain rather than opioid painkillers, thus resulting in a general drop in opioid addiction. Within Zimbabwe, of course, the prescription painkiller problem is not nearly so emphatic as it is in the USA, meaning that offering medical marijuana as an alternative option would not have quite the same effect. However, this is not to say that marijuana could not help at all. Marijuana, if used in a managed, supervised manner, has been proven to help with a variety of mental health conditions. Given that much drug abuse is related to mental health problems, and that mental health treatments are almost always a crucial aspect of drug treatment, it is not inconceivable that medical marijuana could be brought in to help Zimbabwean addicts to deal with their issues and kick their habits. However, the Zimbabwean attitude towards marijuana would first have to change significantly.