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Gino Raidy

Drug Busts Push Teens Towards Hard Drugs in Lebanon

Marijuana field in the Bekaa Valley (Image courtesy of Reuters)

The relentless and widespread crackdown by security forces on the mainly cannabis-smoking youth in Beirut has had several obvious negative repercussions on the Lebanese economy and society. Nightlife businesses struggling to make ends meet in the lax security situation have had tough times convincing their patrons to venture out into the nightlife districts surrounded by impromptu, camouflaged checkpoints. It's also created palpable angst among the average citizen, not just drug users, who feel frustrated immense effort is put into drug busts when more pressing issues like car bombings and street clashes are allowed to manifest themselves with little if any resistance by governmental institutions.


However, there are far more serious side effects, beyond the distrust and hopelessness for reform which comes as a result of the environment of bribery and corruption inherent in the security apparatus and judiciary. Young, impressionable teenagers in Beirut are increasingly getting drawn to what is called "synthetic cannabis" or otherwise known as "K2" or "spice." A mixture of herbs is usually laced with cannabinoids such as cannabicyclohexanol. The exact effects of this mixture are still not well understood, but early studies suggest a severe increase in chances of psychosis (both in exacerbating existing conditions or causing one in otherwise mentally healthy individuals).


The problem is not just the lack of research on these mixtures, but the fact that dealers and suppliers often lace them with different kinds of drugs to increase their "high" and foster an addiction, something natural cannabis doesn't cause. Phencyclidine (PCP/angel dust) is one drug used to lace these mixtures, making them all the more dangerous and unhealthy. Other drugs like Ketamine (Special K) have also been used to increase the high caused by these "synthetic cannabis" product.


The reason why cannabis smokers switch to this synthetic form is because it is not detectable in the standard urine tests administered by security forces. Cannabis on the other hand, stays in a user's system for several weeks and since no credible evidence is needed to test a user, a young person might just be at the wrong place at the wrong time and get penalized for something he or she had done weeks ago.


The urge to cheat these drug tests also pushes recreational cannabis smokers into experimenting with harder drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines (speed), MDMA (ecstasy/molly) and heroin that dissipate from a user's system in 2 to 4 days. Cannabis is not a gateway drug, at least in strict scientific terms, but the risk cannabis poses in terms of urine testing is helping steer users away from it towards hard drugs.


In other words, the aim of these drug busts is severely backfiring. The government's campaign to crack down on drug use to protect users' health is actually encouraging the use of harder, more dangerous drugs that are still not properly understood. At a time when many countries in the world are decriminalizing and even legalizing cannabis use, it might be time to reconsider its status in Lebanon (which doesn't differentiate between it and dangerous substances such as heroin and cocaine). If not to sanctify an individual's right to consume whatever substance they wish to (and doesn't pose a threat to others like alcohol and hard drugs do), at least to curb the ever-growing menace of addictive, harmful substances users experiment with to avoid detection by the security forces' mandatory urine tests.

 

You can follow the author on Twitter @Ginoraidy.

Marijuana field in the Bekaa Valley (Image courtesy of Reuters)

The problem is not just the lack of research on these mixtures, but the fact that dealers and suppliers often lace them with different kinds of drugs to increase their "high" and foster an addiction, something natural cannabis doesn't cause."

  • Poindexter

    I have an idea: politicize cannabis, make sure every strain or breed is represented by one or the other sect. That way, law enforcement won't be able to interfere on the ground that it may ignite civil war...? We're this far down the rabbit hole of Lebanese absurdity, it really isn't too far out there.

    January 31, 2014