Olufemi, is a 22 year old 300 Level medical student who was rushed to Jaja (the University Clinic), on account of sudden abnormal behavior. He was talking and laughing by himself while wearing 3 different types of clothes on top of each other. His roommate quickly called for help from other students and they took him to Jaja. The room-mate explained that Olufemi had been worrying about the forthcoming MBBS exams, as he was poorly prepared and he could never manage to stay awake at night to read – like most of his other classmates. He complained regularly that he was sleeping too much and could not remember anything he has studied. He became increasingly agitated and troubled, and sought advice from friends about how to cope. He did not want to fail and disappoint his family. He had never failed an exam in his life, but he now feared that it was a very real possibility that he will fail this exam. There was just too much to read and too little time.
One of his friends advised Olufemi to try indian hemp (cannabis), in order to keep him alert and to boost his retentive memory. The friend re-assured him that he will be fine, as he had been taking it since secondary school without any problems.
Olufemi tried it the first time, but did not notice any difference. So, he continued to take it in increasing amounts, out of frustration. He was now taking it daily and sometimes several times a day for the remaining 4 weeks until themorning of the exams, when he started behaving abnormally.
He was sedated at Jaja and referred to the Department of Psychiatry in UCH, where his family was informed that his problems was not as a result of spiritual attack from enemies who did not want him to write his exams and go on to become a doctor. But rather, the psychiatrist explained that the problems started as a result of his experimentation with indian hemp which has caused his abnormal behavior. The parents were shocked and insist that there must be a mistake as their son is a god-fearing, brilliant and responsible lad. But when they were shown the result of the urine drug test, the mother started weeping. She lamented that it was the enemies’ strategy to make her son run mad through indian hemp. She started raining curses and prayers against the enemies of her family’s progress.
Olufemi recovered after 2 weeks and was allowed to write the resit exams after 3 months, which he passed. He had learnt his lessons the hard way, about the dangers of experimenting with drug abuse. He vowed never again and became an advocate of drug abuse prevention on campus.
Do not look down on people with drug abuse problems: We should not pass judgement on people who take drugs. Individuals who take drugs, especially young persons, are not bad or irresponsible persons. If we knew their circumstances and how they arrived at where they are, we are more likely to feel pity, rather than blame them – in most cases.
Individuals may take drugs for a variety of reasons, some of which includes:
a). To feel good and happy
b). To ‘belong’ and create a ‘tough’ image
c). To be alert, reduce fatigue and improve memory
d). To help forget or overcome problems and stressful situations, such as a chaotic family background or parental divorce and instability, and
e). To cope with low self-esteem or feelings of sadness
Of course, all of the above reasons may feel good at the time, but they are never true solutions to the underlying problems. In fact, as we saw in the case of Olufemi above, it may even worsen the problems.
Drug abuse is not a spiritual attack: The tendency is to try and deflect the blame to external causes, and the easiest one that does not need justification is to lay the blame at the doorstep of ‘imaginary’ enemies; or blame the devil. This is not helpful and also does not allow room to address practical problems that may be present such as family instability, resulting in low self-esteem, or bad friends who give harmful advice e.t.c.
Responsible family background and high socio-economic status means nothing: As seen in the story of Olufemi, being a responsible and hardworking medical student from a responsible family background was not sufficient to protect him from falling into drug abuse. It can happen to anybody – our children, brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, e.t.c. are all at risk. So,we should constantly educate and encourage them not to experiment with drugs.
Dr Jibril Abdulmalik
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 10th February 2022