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Marihuana and Genetic Studies in Colombia: The Problem in the City and in the Country PDF Print E-mail
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Books - Cannabis and Culture
Written by B.R. Elejalde   

ABSTRACT
 

Colombia is a marihuana country. Cannabis is cultivated as a cash crop on a family basis and on plantations in the interior. Production has increased considerably within the past decade and is now an established export industry. Formerly used mainly by marginal unemployed groups, it has spread to the working class, students, and to the upper class. While marihuana smoking (principal form of use) was formerly rejected as socially undesirable, it is now considered acceptable in many circles.
 

Police,statistics indicate high percentages of use by urban high school and university students. The high percentage may be due to sampling errors, but it is apparent that university students are continuing use started in the third to fifth forms of secondary school. Use in rural areas, previously limited by religious factors and the social custom of drinking, has shifted with the easy availability of marihuana and increase in the price of alcohol. Although the majority in the urban as well as rural areas are occasional users, the number of regular high frequency users is increasing in the rural areas, due to low salaries and unemployment. Marihuana is also used, on a limited scale, for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and other clinical syndromes.

Several of our research findings are reported here. The number of abortions among marihuana users in the rural areas and in the urban low income population is higher than in the control groups, but the low levels of nutrition and other factors must be taken into consideration. The rate of congenital malformations is the same as that of non-marihuana users in control groups of the same social class. Chromosomal studies of regular marihuana users do not show any abnormality.

According to archaeological evidence, almost all the native tribes which still remain intact in Colombia have used hallucinogenic substances since long before the Spanish conquest. Coca, tobacco (yague), and others have long been used by those pre-Columbian cultures for ritual, magical, medicinal and commercial purposes; or they have been used simply as a means of escape from the fatigue of work or to attain psychological states of euphoria. Use of such substances has been one of the features of the initiation of males into social life.

While it is not known exactly how long coca has been used in the native towns of Latin America, it is thought to have been used since long before the arrival of the Spanish.

In the San Agustin culture, Preuss (1931) found a head in relief at a site called La Estrella. The features of the face, at the level of the cheekbones, very similar to that found in other prehistoric statues (Ibid.), have been interpreted by Pérez de Barradas (1941) as a representation of the act of chewing coca. Masculine figures found at the site depict individuals carrying a type of pouch or gourd which may have been used for depositing lime and tobacco, with which they mixed the coca (Lunardi 1935).

Other archaeological discoveries prove that coca has been used since the time of the Incan empire which passed it on to its descendants and neighbors. Nevertheless, no evidence of the use of marihuana has been found in any of these civilizations.

The history of marihuana in Colombia is especially interesting owing to the fact that for many years no publicity was given to the effects it produced on the human species. During this period from 1950 to 1955, marihuana was used only by persons of a low social class without any known occupation. But marihuana then spread rapidly, with a dramatic change after 1955 in the type of person who began taking it orally. Until then the majority of users of marihuana were arrested by the police and generally sent to jail with sentences varying from months to years. At that time punishment was mainly for the consumer and not the trafficker, who was not known.

During this period cultivation of marihuana was uncommon, and there were only a few small plots used by addicts who knew how to grow it. But the most common manner of obtaining it was from wild plants. These were found in various places in the country, including regions of natural vegetation within the cities themselves. Thus, it could be said that it was quite a common plant throughout the country.
With the spread of its use after 1955, small plots began to be converted into larger ones. And what previously had no economic significance began to be increasingly important because of its internal consumption. As a result, a small quantity of marihuana produced an appreciable amount of money.

Later, marihuana growing was carried out in a "family manner," that is to say, on land which the family cultivated. This was generally in places close to cities, where distribution to users was easy. As time passed and its effects became better known, marihuana was losing the myth of tragic consequences which had been attributed to it in previous years, and massive use started.

Colombian society was protected by high moral (principally religious) values which kept it within strict social rules that threatened violators with repudiation and punishment. However, the increase of information and access by a larger number of persons to the University as in other parts of the world created a rapid change in the last years of the 1950's.

Previously marihuana consumers were few in number and were severely punished. But with the change of attitudes, especially among the youth, the number of consumers was increasing steadily to the point where they became uncontrollable by the police. Given the limitations of the latter and the great increase of consumption and distribution, the result was that demand could not be met by wild plants. It was necessary to have recourse to its cultivation; this started with small areas near the cities which were easily detectable by the police. As a result, cultivation was initiated in rural areas and in greater amounts, making the enterprise a veritable commercial entity outside the law.

These phenomena (which took place starting from the beginning of the 1960's) and the increase in the number of consumers, created an immense network of producers who were growing it and middlemen. This network now extends throughout the Republic: not only in the large cities, but also in the country. It has been increased by exports to various countries of the world.

There are very few studies about the extent of the crops, dealers and consumers, and those which do exist only reflect some circumstances in the urban areas. In the country there are only a few indications of its trade and use.

The above phemonena led to an increase of production designed to increase local consumption and, basically, to infiltrate areas of the population where profits could be higher. After some time (1963-65), it began to be found that there were large crops of marihuana in very remote regions. Like those existing today they were principally devoted to export because of the demand in various countries of the world, mainly the United States. It increased business by making it profitable.

Along with the exporting there was wide internal distribution of marihuana. Previously its use had been limited to individuals without known occupations, many with social and psychic disorders or mental conditions of different kinds. It now began to be used by students, at first those of the lower class. Numbers increased and the use of marihuana spread to secondary schools. Here one noted an increase of marihuana starting with its use by small groups of the lower socioeconomic class. The drug's use by these groups of students was spreading and it began to penetrate the middle and upper social classes. This was due principally to the ease of obtaining it, as well as the abundance of literature publicizing the use of hallucinogenic drugs and marihuana. This was accompanied by the students' knowledge not only of the ease of obtaining it but also of the effects produced by the drug. Today a high percentage of students of the secondary schools of the large Colombian cities, varying according to the city, are occasional or frequent consumers of the drug.

Meanwhile, the lower socioeconomic classes, at the level of the worker, began to use the drug just like the middle and upper classes (principally the upper class). We can say that at this moment the highest centers of marihuana consumption in Colombia are students in all social classes, workers of the lower social class, and the upper class. All varieties of users exist in each of the groups.

From 1965 on, various amounts of marihuana began to be confiscated from cultivators and distributors. However, at that time deposits of it were not as large as those found in the last two or three years, produced for export to various countries of the world.

The purpose of this work is to present the various findings made about the types of marihuana distributed in Colombia, the manner in which they are distributed, the groups of population affected, the law's attitude concerning its use, and in addition, possible genetic effects produced by marihuana and its consequences for the species.

GROUPS OF POPULATION AFFECTED

As has been mentioned, the use of marihuana has been increasing in all groups of the population, principally among students and the lower and upper classes. The middle class still remains comparatively unaffected by the use of marihuana, although it is increasing every day. There are no clear statistics, nor have investigations been carried out of the different social strata which can provide fully accurate data. The few facts we know have been provided by the police and courts, who have partial statistics concerning individuals who have been found in possession, use or production of marihuana.

The use of marihuana by social class, according to these very partial and limited sources, is distributed as follows (Quinones 1972):

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According to the statistics of the judicial authorities, the above data may be subdivided in the following manner: 66.1% were arrested for possessing marihuana; 11.6% were arrested for trafficking; 21.4% were arrested for consumption; no one was arrested for growing it; and only 1.9% for sponsoring the use of marihuana. These facts are especially significant, as only a fifth of the arrests were for consuming marihuana. As is obvious from the above data, no one was arrested between 1969 and 1972 for growing marihuana.

The use of marihuana is greater in large cities, and it is very difficult to find it in small towns which still uphold traditional cultural values.

The known age at which consumption started for various persons apprehended by the police may be subdivided as follows:

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These statistics, though not a representative sample of the general population, are the only ones available to us.1 They show a greater frequency of initiation into marihuana consumption during the ages corresporiding to secondary school. As concerns the individual's position in the family it was found that .9% were only children, 12.5% the youngest child, 33% intermediate or middle children, 6.2% the oldest child, while no information is available for the remaining 47.4%.

Frequently, owing to the position of individuals arrested for using marihuana in the streets or distributing it openly, the crime is repeated. It is found that 6.2% reappear for the same crime, 26.8% reappear for another crime and 67% are not rearrested. This means a high percentage (26%) are arrested because of being involved in crimes other than using marihuana. This indicates that the legal finding and action on the use, consumption and production of marihuana occur only by chance, and the number of new dealers increases daily.

According to educational level they may be classified as follows: 59% of those arrested by the police for possessing marihuana finished their primary education; 27% completed secondary school; 8.9% had no education; and there is no information for 5.1%. This statistic also obviously contains errors, because as the cultural level increases it becomes more difficult for the police to arrest individuals using marihuana. For example, at the university level where probably the greatest consumption occurs, it nevertheless appears that no one is arrested by the police.

One of the most important findings concerning those arrested is that 0.9% displayed verbal aggressiveness; 77.7% were passive; 8% made an attempt at flight; 2.7% tried to bribe their way out; another 4.5% behaved in an "anti-social" manner; and there is no information for 6.2%.

Of the sentences received, 30.3% were acquitted; 1.8% were fined; 5.3% were placed on supervised probation; 4.5% were sent to a work school; 13% were sent for reeducation; the parents of 4.5% were notified; 3.6% were sent for help; 25.9% were placed under their parents' care; 1.8% under the care of other relatives; 6.2% were placed in institutions; 1.8% were pending; and no information is available for 1.3%.

The majority of individuals between 12 and 16 years of age were not punished for the use of marihuana; nevertheless, many of them were traffickers as well as users. It is important to mention that the law has been changed dramatically with regard to marihuana dealers since 1962. Trafficking is now only considered a misdemeanor, whereas it was previously cause for imprisonment.

The following data on individuals arrested under the effects'of marihuana show how the social structure conceals the involvement of the different social classes: lower class, 49%; lower middle class, 20%; middle social class, 19%; upper middle social class, 1%. Eleven percent of those interviewed had no data concerning residence. No one belonging to the upper class was arrested, although it is known that they consume a large amount.

One of the few well controlled studies on the use of marihuana by students reveals that nearly 30% of the students in four main cities of Colombia (Bogota, Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla) have used marihuana at least once. At first the use of marihuana was almost restricted to small groups of university students. Those who did so acted mainly out of curiosity. But "then its use expanded until now 75% of university students have used marihuana on some occasion. The age at which they began to use it varies from 10 to 35, but 51% began between 15 and 17, corresponding to the third and fifth class of secondary school, thus localizing the problem at this level.

The difference in our population as compared to others is that in Colombia, university students use almost solely marihuana among the drugs which could be used. In the United States, according to Blumenfield et al. (1972) only 20% of the students interviewed used marihuana, and the rest other drugs.

It is important to mention that the use of alcohol is more moderate than would be expected in this student population: 43% of secondary school students partake occasionally of alcohol; 7% use alcohol regularly; and only 2% use it chronically and habitually.

One of the main problems in studying the incidence of use of marihuana in Colombia is to establish the occupations of those using it. According to police statistics (Quiflones 1972), 45.4% are students and 18.2% are persons whose job is unknown; the rest include various activities. However, these facts are somewhat remote from reality, since it is known that the number of regular adult users of marihuana is much higher; and yet these have not been detected.

Rural Areas

In rural areas the plant's use was long limited to only a few people. However, in recent years the number of persons using it has been increasing. At first they were emigrants from the cities to small towns. They began to implant not only the use, but also the cultivation of marihuana in rural communities. As the police were searching for these plants, crops were moved to more remote places, and its use in remote rural communities became more common. Nevertheless, there are no clear statistics providing concise information on its use.

The use of alcohol has been a cultural value of rural communities, where most men consumed alcohol on the weekends. With the increasing cost of alcohol and reduction of peasants' income the possibility of using marihuana has increased, particularly because it is grown locally. Furthermore, it is much cheaper and easier to obtain than alcohol, as it can easily be produced on one's own parcel of land.

It may be said that 90% of Colombian peasants use alcohol habitually and routinely about once a week, when it is generally consumed in abundant quantities.

One of the circumstances which has influenced the control of marihuana consumption in rural areas has been the retention of social values which, like religion, are static and have changed little.

In the last two years the migration of young North American tourists to Colombia has introduced the use of mushrooms and other types of hallucinogenic substances to the rural population and students of our cities. Many of the visitors come in search of these plants and have taught the natives not only how to find and recognize them, but also how to use them. This is why the use of hallucinogens is increasing in the Colombian Republic.

GENETIC STUDIES

The widespread use of marihuana and the need to study the possible teratogenic effects of new substances used by man have created special interest in knowing the possible genetic actions of this drug and its derivatives.

In 1965 Miras published his observations on rats taking an extract of cannabis in their diet: on the reduction of the growth rate and diarrhea. No congenital or hereditary abnormality was found. Since then some works have been published such as the one by Persaud and Ellington (1968). The latter describe the teratogenic effects of Cannabis sativa extract when administered daily in the 1st to 6th days of the gestation period, producing various deformities such as encephalocele, amelia, phakomelia (facomelia), syndactyly and ventral hernia, but principally growth retardation and reabsorption• of the ovum.These observations have been corroborated in part by Geber and Schramm (1969).

Recently, in a well-conducted experiment, Pace, Davis and Borgen (1972) studied the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol and marihuana extract, as well as the previous compounds marked with C14. They found a complete absence of congenital defects in the animals studied with the two synthetics, cannabidiol and cannabino1.2 According to the experiments conducted, they do not cross the placenta barrier by themselves, in quantities sufficient to affect the embryo. Studies carried out by others, Idanpaan-Heikkila et al. (1969) show that THC H3 passes the placenta barrier with a maximum level of activity in the fetus in 30 minutes. From this we should be able to conclude, as do Pace, Davis and Borgen (1972), that marihuana is not teratogenic, at least in rats and hamsters.

Nevertheless, they found a reduction in the total weight of the litter and in the survival rate of the newborn. This last point, carefully studied, proved that the high rate of mortality of the newborn rats is due to the reduction of production of maternal milk, which disappeared when the rats were fed by "wet-nurses."

Another of the studies described in the publication by Pace, Davis and Borgen is the effect of THC on the maternal and fetal chromosomes of rats receiving different doses before and during gestation. They found no evidence of chromosomal abnormalities. This has been corroborated by studies carried out in vitro by Stenchever and Allen (1972), who put different amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol in a culture of human leucocytes, and found no structural or numerical abnormality in the metaphase studied. It is also described how amounts larger than 100 micrograms of tetrahydrocannabinol do not allow cell growth.

We have studied the rate of fertility, frequency of abortions, number of abnormal fetuses, and chromosome abnormalities in different groups of persons in the city of Medellin who smoke marihuana regularly.

1. Chromosome Studies

One group of 10 individuals (5 men and 5 women) have been consuming marihuana for periods varying between one and three years, for an average frequency of 1.3 times per week. They are all university students who are healthy from the medical point of view and have received no medical treatment of any kind for the last five years. None have consumed any hallucinogenic drug other than marihuana. Three of them have been exposed to very low doses of x-ray radiation (3.3 scans of the thorax), the most recent four years ago. All of them are psychologically normal individuals and have done well in their studies.

The chromosome study was made on peripheral blood following the normal methods (Moorhead et al. 1960), and no evidence of chromosome abnormalities was found in any of the 100 cells studied in each of the ten patients.

On the other hand, a study was made of a group of three students who, besides taking marihuana, have used LSD. An incidence was found of 30 gaps per one hundred complete metaphases (4600 chromosomes) studied and 15 breaks of chromatids with displacement.

Similar abnormalities were found in a couple which had only used LSD. We are able to deduce from this that the chromosome damage in the group which consumed both was probably caused by LSD, and not marihuana.

2. Studies on Reproductive Capacity and Fertility

The following groups were studied:

Six young couples of an average age of 26.5 years, each couple conceiving their first child which terminated in abortion before the first three months. They all used marihuana at least five times in the last two years, with an average of 7.8 times. Some of the wives smoked marihuana after knowing they were pregnant. The products of all the abortions were studied. No evidence of congenital deformities was found in any of the fetuses. One of the abortions was a shapeless mass, where only dead areas of placenta and membranes were seen. In chromosome studies carried out on cells originating from tissue cultures from the aborted fetuses no evidence was found of structural or numerical abnormalities of chromosomes. (There was one exception, where there was a large number of gaps and breaks in the chromatids. However, during the week when the latter conception occurred, the mother had had a bad attack of flu. She was treated with different drugs, principally aspirin and caffeine. This woman had been using tranquillizers of different types, particularly diazepam, for a number of years.)

Five young couples (average age 27.2) who used marihuana prior'to the conception of the child (with a frequency varying from 1 to 15 times in the last twelve months before conception, with an average of 7.4 times) had perfectly normal pregnancies. The children (two male and three female) were normal, with no evidence of congenital deformities or hereditary illnesses. The chromosome study of these children showed no numerical or structural abnormality. Only one of the couples used marihuana in the first three months of pregnancy, through ignorance of her condition.

One group of fifty-one young couples, average age 28.4 years, used marihuana at least once during the five months prior to pregnancy, with an average of 4.7 times. The course of their pregnancy was followed and the products of the pregnancy examined.

These people belonged to the group with the largest incidence of spontaneous abortions in the city of Medellin. They were all from the upper middle and upper socioeconomic classes, and were of a high cultural level. They had an abortion rate which was 25.4% of the total number of spontaneous ones in the city. However, the abortion rate in this group was only 16.7%. Although the small size of this group does not allow us to draw any conclusions, it is important to note the significance of this observation. None of the children which did not abort had any kind of congenital deformity.

One group of fifteen couples was sent for genetic study after exhaustive gynecological-obstetrical studies for infertility, where no evidence was found of congenital deformities or detectable hereditary illnesses. Three of the women started to use marihuana after the end of the gynecological study and while still under genetic study, without telling the doctor. They became pregnant in the months following the end of the study, the latter not having shown any abnormality. Two of them gave birth to normal children in whom no abnormality could be identified. The third aborted when two and a half months pregnant, with a fetus which was behind schedule in its development, but without evidence of congenital deformities.

Like Pace, Davis and Borgen (1972), we are able to conclude that we have not detected any teratogenic effects: they came to this conclusion in rats and hamsters, and we in various human groups exposed to marihuana. Neither were we able to find chromosome abnormalities in users of the drug, nor in their offspring conceived after using cannabis.

Pace, Davis and Borgen used semi-synthetic alkaloids in their experiments and believe that the discrepancy between their results and others published in the literature on the subject may be due to the fact that the teratogenic substance present in marihuana is different from those they used. However, we studied couples who made more or less frequent use (normal for that social group) of the drug, all by means of inhalation, and no evidence can be found of any teratogenic effect.

In couples studied for infertility it is important to mention the great psychological tension they undergo because of their sense of reproductive frustration. One should also note the start of pregnancy after the use of marihuana, which both couples described as quite agreeable and as liberating them from their daily problems.

FACTORS WHICH HAVE INCREASED AND CONTROLLED THE USE OF MARIHUANA IN OUR COUNTRY

Colombia is a country where the different sociocultural groups correspond to geographic divisions. We can speak of the Atlantic Coast group, the Pacific Coast group, the Antioquia, Cundiboya (Cundinamarca-Boyaci) and Nariiio groups. These groups are well defined and each has different cultural and social values. However, they also have common characteristics, such as religion and the importance of the family. In some areas, as on the Atlantic Coast, this is a polygamous matriarchal type of family, while in the central part of the Republic, CundinamarcaBoyaci and Antioquia, it is a monogamous patriarchal type. One of the most important values is the attitude toward social realities. This is broadminded and overt on the Atlantic Coast, where a man may have two or three wives and conceive children by them with the full knowledge of the others. This situation of openness and clear knowledge of the men's extramarital relations and procreation of children outside marriage is looked upon without suspicion on the Coast. On the other hand, although the same phenomena occur in the Cundinamarca and Antioquia cultures (i.e., the men father children outside marriage by one or several women), it is not accepted by society and is kept hidden. Thus we should be able to classify the reaction to these cultural values on the Atlantic Coast as one of openness and sincerity. On the other hand, the Antioquia and Cundinamarca cultures in the center of the country have a hypocritical attitude to the situation.

his also expresses two distinct attitudes to the use of hallucinogenic substances (principally marihuana), in different parts of the country. Its use is high on the Atlantic Coast, though no accurate data exists. People of the Atlantic Coast are characterized by their excessive vivacity, love for parties and high consumption of alcohol. It is a society without high cultural or religious values, unaccustomed to steady work. The 'use of marihuana has been increasing and it is believed that 72% of the people between 18 and 24 have used it at least occasionally. Some use marihuana for rituals of the Afro-Cuban and Haitian types, for religious acts in which they claim to be following voodoo rites. Marihuana has been used for such pseudo-religious purposes in this part of the country. Its use has been extended to minors, who use it repeatedly. No great incidence of problems of any type has been found within the few medical centers existing in the region.

We can say that the use of marihuana on the Atlantic Coast exists at all social levels. Although it is not limited to any one level, it is found principally in the working class. Perhaps there may be a small group of people devoted to farming who still do not use marihuana to any great extent.

One may say that the lack of self-control and strict social values on the Atlantic Coast has caused its use to be more extensive and freer than in other parts of the country.

In the Cundiboya (Cundinamarca-Boyacá) and Antioquia cultures, moral values are stricter and religion has a stronger hold. This has resulted in a more restricted use of marihuana, as the Catholic Church has criticized it, maintaining the point of view that it is very harmful and belongs to the group of hallucinogenic substances. This has created a feeling of fear and respect, thus restricting the use of marihuana. Nevertheless, in the last five years the use of this drug has been increasing alarmingly. From the lower social strata, which were the first to use it, it has spread to students, and finally to the upper social strata of young people, who use it instead of alcohol.

On the Atlantic Coast the use of alcohol continues to be on the same scale as before. Its use is indiscriminate and generally associated with festive celebrations. On the other hand, the Cundiboya and Antioquia cultures have a tradition of weekend use of alcohol. The majority of the men meet in the town to imbibe. This also occurs in the cities, where the working class males meet on weekends to consume alcohol. The introduction of marihuana into these social groups has exchanged the use of one for the other, due principally to the high cost of alcohol and low cost of marihuana. They find they obtain similar results with marihuana as with alcohol, and at a lower cost.

In these last two cultures the use of marihuana is concealed and is not acknowledged or accepted socially, even though in practice the number using it is quite large.

The statistics given are based on the number of persons arrested for transporting or selling marihuana, but not on the number of users, which is much higher. The number of persons in universities who have used marihuana at least once is growing increasingly.

If we compare the use of marihuana and other drugs by university students, we find great differences in relation to the statistics of other countries, as very few people in our society use drugs other than marihuana. These observations are quite different from those made in the United States in the works of Millman and Wen Huey (1973) and Blumenfield arid co-workers (1972). The latter show that besides marihuana, other drugs, such as darvon, LSD, mescaline, peyote, amphetamines, codeine, barbiturates and other compounds are used by college and university students. However, we have found nothing comparable to this among students surveyed in the city of Medellin, nor in the secondary colleges or university (Quinones n.d.). The use of alcohol on a habitual basis among students is limited to small groups. This is true even though it may be said that 92% of students use alcohol at least sporadically after 15, and a small group of 7% do so habitually both in university and college (Quinones 1972).

We believe that the factors influencing the increase of marihuana consumption have been mainly the publicity given to the pleasant sensations it produces, its actual use, and knowledge of the lack of harmful effects caused by it as compared with other drugs. The Catholic religion has also lost much influence, which is increasingly obvious at the different levels of society. This means that the religious sanctions which used to exist concerning the drug have fallen into disrepute, and very few people really believe in the problems pointed out by Catholic priests concerning the use of drugs.

The feeling of rebellion (mainly in youth) against established structures (mainly religion) has not only passively influenced its use, but also positively influenced marihuana use. The latter has become a demonstration of rebellion against structures they reject as being outmoded and against the people's interests. The increased use of marihuana has also been influenced by the ease with which it is obtained and its low cost compared to the use of alcohol. Alcohol is easier to acquire, but it costs more to obtain comparable results.

The statistiscs previously mentioned indicate that a larger number of students as well as individuals of the lower classes are marihuana users. Nevertheless these statistics are clearly vitiated because of the fact that no complete detection program has been carried out in the various social spheres where one would probably find a different incidence of the use of marihuana. It may be said that all individuals have been exposed to its use at least once.

Another factor contributing to the increased use of marihuana is the lack of control by authorities. This has been limited to the arrest of some distributors, but very rarely of large-scale producers. This has given rise to a state of impunity for growers and traffickers; they are rarely detected and very rarely punished or even imprisoned. Large quantities of marihuana are frequently found, ready for retail sale or export; nevertheless, the person implicated never appears and even less often does he receive any punishment.

Recently the Colombian Institute for Family Welfare sponsored a seminar on the study of hallucinogenic drugs and their use in Colombia. The Seminar's conclusion is simple: it shows the enormous lack of knowledge of the problem and the lack of policies for treatment. This applies principally to the use of marihuana, as other drugs are still not used to an extent which might be considered alarming.

The Government is interested in initiating campaigns to improve this situation. However, since previous campaigns in other fields have been ineffective, it makes one fear that there is little possibility of success in this one. Furthermore, the spread of scientific knowledge about the use of marihuana makes it increasingly difficult for exaggerated concepts to be accepted with any likelihood of curbing its use by young people.

Some such groups do exist. For example, "Unity against Marihuana" is made up of a few individuals trying to do something akin to Alcoholics Anonymous. It has been completely ineffective because of its reactionary nature. Those involved exaggerate marihuana's harmful conditions and by this very exaggeration have been completely discredited. They claim that marihuana produces an addiction leading to escalation to other drugs, as well as grave toxic reactions and sociological effects. They insist that individuals who smoke marihuana are especially dangerous and aggressive. This is contrary to the actual situation, for it has been shown that these individuals are passive (Ibid.) and less aggressive than normal persons, given the state of tranquility produced by the drug. The group also exaggerates the psychological effects of marihuana alleging that it is a grave hallucinogen and comparing it with LSD. Such reactionary and extreme claims turn out to be counterproductive: individuals who might have been influenced by such societies totally reject them. They regard the latter's effects as negative rather than positive.

BELIEFS

There are an endless number of popular beliefs about marihuana. There are those who believe that terrible harm is caused by marihuana, that it leads to antisocial behavior and causes a degeneration of the nervous system, turning the users into assassins and individuals with abnormal behavior. However, there are people, principally among the middle and lower classes, who attribute medicinal powers to marihuana. This belief was increased by a pseudoscientific use of marihuana in the form of liniments for application with ethyl alcohol, with curative powers against rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. There are those who continue to use it in this form, although it is now prohibited.

Other curative powers are attributed to marihuana mainly among herbalists who prepare infusions of different plants for cures of chronic illnesses.

RESEARCH

There are very few studies of marihuana in our country. They are limited to the few carried out by Dr. Richard Evans Schultes (in press) on the psychopharmacological drugs in the Colombian Amazon and in the country, and those by Dr. Alvaro Fernández Pérez on the botanical inventory of marihuana and other drugs in Colombia (personal communication). There has been research at the Universidad del Valle in Cali, by Drs. Argota and Guerra on the effects of marihuana on the level of cerebral amines (n.d.). They found that the psychopharmacological effects of marihuana are probably due to alterations of the subcortical amines in rats. They compared amounts of epinephrine, norepinephrine and cerotonine in four subcortical areas. By means of a tracheostomy they made the rats inhale marihuana smoke a number of times. The rats were then beheaded and their brains frozen, and an analysis was made of the above-mentioned substances. Considerable increases were found in the levels of norepinephrine and epinephrine in the hypothalamus and thalamus, and cerotonine in the grooved nucleus. The results obtained reinforce the possibility that the various effects of marihuana may be measured through the increases of the levels of these amines. An attempt has been made to carry out an epidemiological study of the general population. Most projects, however, suffer from grave defects and have up to now received no government support.

CONCLUSION

The use of marihuana has been increasing rapidly in all spheres of Colombian society. No study has been made of the size and implications of the problem, one that is aggravated by the profitable nature of the production, sale and export of marihuana.

In the studies we carried out we found no evidence of chromosome abnormalities in chronic smokers, nor has there been any increase in the number of abortions or abnormal children in couples who have consumed the drug.

There are still values in society which restrict the speed of the spread of the use of marihuana.

Although the legislation is strong, in practice it is weak and rarely applied, especially to large traffickers.

It is necessary to continue and initiate more extensive research to examine the long term effects of cannabis on different generations.

Marihuana, given its low cost in comparison with alcohol, is replacing the latter in its social function.

1 It is important to note that the statistics presented refer only to a small sample of the population, that does not actually represent the numbers of consumers, as it only refers to cases detected by the police. These are very few in number compared to the immense use of marihuana in society.

2 Translator's note. The Spanish text refers to "the two synthetic cannabinodioles." Analysis of hashish has yielded "three types of related compounds: cannabidiol, cannabinol, and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)." (Leech, Kenneth. 1973. A practical guide to the drug scene. London: SPCK, 42). The Spanish word appears to have contracted the first two of these compounds.

 

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