The cannabis problem among prisoners in Lagos
Author: T. DARAMOLA, J. J. GRANGE,
Pages: 5 to 10
Creation Date: 1971/01/01
Dr.M.B., B.S. (London), M.R.C.S., L.R.C.P., J. J. GRANGE, Formerly Senior House Officer, Surgical Department, General Hospital, Lagos, Prison Medical Officer
The purpose of this study is to investigate the social and psychological background of the patients serving sentences for smoking and selling cannabis in the maximum security prison in Lagos, the Federal Capital of the Republic of Nigeria, and to observe the facilities available for reforming and rehabilitating them.
In Nigeria, cannabis is alleged to be smoked by a wide cross-section of the population. At present there is no scientific study to show the incidence in the general population. In a seminar on cannabis smoking reported in the Society of Health (1967), the speakers expressed fear that cannabis is becoming a threat to Nigeria because of the increasing number of police seizures of cannabis in Nigeria over the years, and the increasing number of patients with psychiatric disorders which could be casually related to the use of cannabis. It was the expressed fear of the danger of cannabis in Nigeria that led to the passage of Decree No. 19, April 1966, by the Federal Military Government changing the usual short-term imprisonment to a long term of ten to twenty-one years for anyone illegally found in possession of cannabis.
The base of the survey was the Medical Clinic of the Maximum Security Prison, Kirikiri, Lagos. All the 101 prisoners serving sentences for smoking, selling or being in possession of cannabis were interviewed and a questionnaire completed for each person. There was a total of 800 prisoners in the prison at the time of the survey (May 1967).
67 per cent were between the ages of 20 and 29 years. No one was below the age of 15 in the series (table 1).
54 per cent were married, 45 per cent single and 1 per cent separated. 64 per cent were Yorubas, 9 per cent Ibos, 7 per cent Hausas and the rest distributed among all other ethnic groups in the country. All were Nigerians. Our study (Daramola, 1968) and the last census figure, which is for 1964, point to the fact that about 70 per cent of Lagos inhabitants are Yorubas. Though there is a large difference between 64 per cent Yorubas, 9 per cent Ibos and 7 per cent Hausas, in fact this figure is just a reflection of ethnic representation in the city. In other words, there is no correlation between the abuse of cannabis and ethnic group.
Age of Lagos prisoners using cannabis
|Number of cases||Percentage of cases|
15 to 19
20 to 24
25 to 29
30 to 34
35 to 39
40 to 45
50 and above
34 per cent were illiterate; 56 per cent of them had attended or completed primary school; 9 per cent attended secondary school and only 1 per cent completed high school. 41 per cent said they were bright at school, 21 per cent average and 5 per cent poor. The general level of education of the group seems to be much lower than that of Lagos (Daramola, 1968), but similar to that of the whole country.
93 per cent of them had regular employment before their conviction; 4 per cent unemployed and about 3 per cent were either students or undergoing some types of training. 54 per cent had skilled job, 20 per cent unskilled jobs, 12 per cent professional jobs, 8 per cent operated a business, 2 per cent were musicians and the rest were unemployed. Most of them appear to have been quite stable, as 88 per cent had not changed jobs in two years.
Occupational record of prisoners using cannabis
|Occupation||Number of cases||Percentage of cases|
Student or on training
Changes of employment amongst prisoners
|How many times have you changed your job in the last 2 years ?||Number of cases||Percentage of cases|
Once or twice
3 to 4 times
More than 4 times
Most of the respondents (82 per cent) were permanent residents of Lagos: 54 per cent have been in Lagos for over ten years; and 6 per cent for few weeks to few months. When questioned of their reasons for coming to or being in Lagos, 52 per cent said it was for employment, 10 per cent were invited by their friends, 8 per cent by their relatives and the rest were born in Lagos. None admitted accessibility to cannabis as their reason. When asked about their address in Lagos, 30 per cent of them lived in Mushin, 20 per cent in Lagos Island, 14 per cent in Ajegunle, 13 per cent lived outside Lagos. The rest were distributed throughout the Lagos mainland. It is interesting to note that about half of the patients were from the slum areas of the city (Mushin, Ajegunle, Shomolu.)
Residence record of prisoners
|How long have you been in Lagos ?||Number of cases||Percentage of cases|
All my life
Over 20 years
10 to 19 years
5 to 9 years
1 to 4 years
A few months
A few weeks
Breakdown of residence areas of prisoners using cannabis
|Address in Lagos||Numberof cases||Percentage of cases|
58 per cent came from a polygamous home and 42 per cent from a monogamous home. 14 per cent said they were separated from their family before the age of ten. 76 per cent said they were reared by parents, 7 per cent reared by mothers only, 5 per cent by fathers, 7 per cent by relatives and 5 per cent by family friends. None was reared in the institution. 97 per cent claimed they were happy as a child, against 3 per cent who were not.
47 per cent admitted of previous convictions for various offences; of these 18 per cent was for assault, 5 per cent for wandering, 2 per cent for smuggling, 2 per cent for tax defaulting, and 20 per cent for other offences. 39 per cent of them admitted to having been imprisoned before, and 61 per cent said they had never been imprisoned.
74 per cent said the conviction they were serving was for smoking, 13 per cent for selling and 13 per cent denied either selling or smoking cannabis. When asked whether the charge against them was correct, 74 per cent admitted having smoked cannabis, 13 per cent having sold it but 13 per cent denied ever having handled cannabis in any form.
4 per cent had served a previous conviction for smoking cannabis, whereas 1 per cent had served a sentence for selling cannabis. The rest (95 per cent) had never been convicted for any cannabis offence before.
58 per cent said they were introduced to cannabis by their friends, 6 per cent by their relatives, 2 per cent by prostitutes and 20 per cent mentioned other sources. 13 per cent again denied ever having been introduced to cannabis in any form. 25 per cent had introduced someone else to cannabis smoking. Among those who introduced cannabis smoking within the community, "friends" top the list with 58 per cent. The prostitutes are at the bottom of the ladder with only 2 per cent.
2 per cent started smoking cannabis before the age of ten years, the youngest age being six years, and 68 per cent started smoking between the ages of 10 to 29 years (table 6). 22 per cent had tried to stop smoking cannabis, while 65 per cent had never tried; the question did not apply to 13 per cent, who claimed they neither smoked nor sold cannabis. Out of the 74 per cent who admitted having smoked cannabis, 41 per cent expressed the desire to stop and 33 per cent said they would not stop. 3 per cent, out of the 13 per cent who admitted having sold cannabis, said they would continue to sell after serving the present sentence. 35 per cent thought they would definitely not resume smoking after having served their sentence. Only 9 per cent said that people should be punished for handling cannabis. Most members of this group recommended a maximum punishment of 6 months to 1 year.
|At what age did you first smoke cannabis ?||Number of cases||Percentageof cases|
10 to 14
15 to 19
20 to 24
25 to 29
30 to 34
35 to 39
40 and over
Has never handled cannabis
The effects after the use of cannabis on respondents were given as: inducing happiness (euphoria), removing fatigue, increased appreciation for music, and increased learning power. About 3 per cent believed cannabis induces feeling to commit crime (fig. 1).
Reported psychic effects
Does cannabis smoking make you experience the following?
45 per cent got their supply from Lagos Territory; 17 per cent from Western Nigeria; 13 per cent from the East; 6 per cent from outside Nigeria; 5 per cent from Midwest and 1 per cent from Northern Nigeria. 12 per cent did not handle cannabis. 30 per cent said they had been arrested red-handed by the police, 37 per cent as a result of information given by friends, 2 per cent as a result of information given by customers, 21 per cent said they had been "framed" by friends and 10 per cent by the police.
82 per cent smoked cigarettes, 18 per cent did not. Out of those who smoked, 40 per cent said they smoked under 10 cigarettes a day; 21 per cent from 10 to 19 sticks; 17 per cent from 20 to 24 sticks; about 5 per cent smoked 25 or more (table 7). 55 per cent admitted drinking alcohol and 45 per cent denied any alcohol intake. 26 per cent of those taking alcohol took palm wine, 18 per cent stout, 11 per cent beer, 1 per cent illicit gin. Neither whisky nor brandy was mentioned. Only 2 per cent rated themselves as heavy drinkers, 17 per cent moderate and 37 per cent light. 4 per cent of them said they have taken one type of narcotic drug or the other, 3 per cent have taken opium before, 1 per cent heroin. None admitted ever having taken barbiturates or cocaine (table 8).
TABLE 7 Number of cigarettes smoked daily
|How many cigarettes do you smoke in a day ?||Number of cases||Percentage of cases|
10 to 19
20 to 24
25 to 29
Abuse of other drugs
|Have you taken any of these drugs ?||Number of cases||Percentage of cases|
51 per cent of the respondents said they knew of others smoking cannabis while serving a sentence in the prison; 49 per cent denied such knowledge. 20 per cent of the respondents admitted having smoked cannabis while in prison. When asked from where the inmates got their supply 85 per cent did not know; 12 per cent said it was through "gangs "; 1 per cent sources outside the hospital, courts and over the prison wall.
91 per cent of the respondents stated that the food in the prison was inadequate both in quality and in quantity; 90 per cent rated the prison accommodation as bad, 6 per cent fair and 4 per cent good. 61 per cent claimed they had no bed facility in the prison. They slept on the mat. 76 per cent stated that they were humanely treated by the warders. 39 per cent had regular visits from their relatives while in prison, the rest had no such visits. Among the religious and other bodies interested in the welfare of the prisoners, the Moslems topped the list with 54 per cent, followed by Catholics and Protestants each with 20.7 per cent, the Aladuras (faith healers) 2 per cent and welfare organization 2 per cent.
When asked what job they would return to after serving their sentence, 78 per cent would return to their old job, 18 per cent to a new job, 1 per cent did not know, and 3 per cent said they would set up a trade learnt in prison.
Whether the continued use of cannabis represents a menace to the individual and to the society is a currently disputed subject. The sociological, psychiatric and criminological aspects of cannabis were studied and reviewed by Bromberg (1939) and Shoenfeld (1944), and no positive relation could be found between violent crime and the use of the drug. Shoenfeld concluded that the smoking of cannabis was not associated with juvenile delinquency. The American Medical Association Council on Mental Health (1967), commenting on the use of this drug among high school students in the United States, noted that its use is disproportionally higher among young persons with psychiatric problems than among those without them. In a seminar reported in the Society of Health (Nigeria 1967), Dr. Asunni, the psychiatrist in charge of the Mental Hospital Aro, reported a similar observation. Between 1961 and 1965, Borroffka (1966) reported 219 cases admitted to Yaba Mental Hospital in Lagos, with a history of cannabis smoking. He stated that he has seen patients in whom repeated schizophrenic-like psychoses were precipitated (or caused) by the smoking of cannabis in every episode. In his opinion, cannabis constitutes a danger to the individual as well as to society. Our survey shows a rather high involvement of teenagers and young adults: 83 per cent. The age of starting the smoking of cannabis shows a similar pattern. This probably bears out the observation that the period of virility, excitement and experimentation among young adults is the same everywhere.
As regards the criminological implication of cannabis smoking, this is suggested by the high incidence of previous convictions among the respondents, 47 per cent, and previous imprisonment, 39 per cent.
The only other significant associated social habit displayed by the cannabis users was cigarette smoking by 82 per cent of the respondents. The fact that only 4 per cent of respondents admitted ever having taken any other narcotic drugs seems to deny any significant relationship between cannabis smoking and other forms of addiction. This is particularly borne out in the case of alcohol, where only 2 per cent could be considered to be heavy drinkers. In point of fact, a large percentage, 45 per cent, were teetotallers. This may be due to the generally expressed feeling by the users of cannabis that strong liquor neutralizes its effect. The American Medical Association Council on Mental Health (1967), commenting on dependence of cannabis, noted that no physical dependence or tolerance has been demonstrated. Neither has it been demonstrated that cannabis causes any lasting mental or physical changes. The Council observed that most persons who experiment on cannabis do not go on to stimulants, narcotics or hallucinogens. Andrew T. Weil et al (1968), in their experiment disigned to measure the physiological and psychological effects of cannabis, observed that the chronic users after smoking the drug performed on some tests as well or better than they did before taking the drug. This reinforced the argument advanced by chronic users that maintaining effective levels of performance for many tasks-driving, for example-is much easier under the influence of cannabis than other psychoactive drugs. In our study, 97 per cent believed cannabis removes fatigue. Soueif (1967), commenting on the temperamental traits of the cannabis users, found that they were more anxious than non-users and that the personality characteristics of the users oscillate a good deal between two opposite poles both when drugged and when deprived of the drug. In this study, we did not observe any signs of withdrawal reactions on those respondents denied access to the drug.
Friends were the most common source of introduction of cannabis within the community. Illiteracy, poor education and low social status undoubtedly aggravate the problem of cannabis. To bear this out one need only note the high illiteracy rate, 34 per cent, while 56 per cent, about half, only attained primary school level of education. Only one subject completed high school. A significant percentage, about 50 per cent, were drawn from the slum areas of the city while only one subject (a houseboy) came from Ikoyi, the area of Lagos elite. Soueif (1967) and Borroffka (1966), however, found most of their cases were people with average or above average income and that cannabis is not generally a problem of the illiterates and the underprivileged. In this study, there was no evidence of any adverse effects of cannabis on the health of the respondents, or of withdrawal reactions on those denied access to the drug.
In order that prison should serve one of its most important functions, which is not just to punish but to reform the criminal, there are certain basic standards to be expected. From time to time, there is a discussion all over the world on how to improve the prison facilities. The information obtained here shows that the present environment does not provide these basic standards or an avenue for change and rehabilitation necessary for these patients. Fifty-one per cent of the respondents admitted that they knew of other prisoners smoking cannabis within prison. The accommodation is poor, food is poor, and the rehabilitation programme is grossly inadequate, For instance, only 3 per cent of the respondents replied that they would set up the trade learnt in prison.
Every attempt should be made to prevent unscrupulous and uncontrolled use of any drug in the community. The survey shows, however, that respondents are treated as criminals, not as sick people. To put a teenager in prison for ten to twenty years in the same environment as the most hardened criminal could be expected to produce more hardened criminals in the community. One would hope that those serving sentences for cannabis could have a different programme from other prisoners, under the care of those who are sympathetic to their problems. The period required to rehabilitate each patient will vary; but for most of them it may be achieved in a short period. Others could be observed as long as possible by a physician. Ten years confinement in the prison for these patients is not only too long a period for the individual and would distort his personality, but it also puts an unnecessary economic burden on the State.
In a country like Nigeria, with a high rate of illiteracy, unemployment and poverty among large segments of the people, the control of the use of cannabis may be a difficult one. Even in advanced countries with a well organized and effective law-enforcing agency, the result has not been satisfactory. It is known, however, that keeping children in school longer, at least to finish high school, will prevent earlier frustration, ensure better jobs and probably a more stable life afterwards.
Every community should have a well organized programme for the youth. At present in Nigeria, particularly in urban areas, these facilities are grossly lacking. Health education among school children and industrial workers about the problem of cannabis smoking will be a step in the right direction.
Finally, the time has come to state categorically that prohibition is merely banning a product and that it has no effect whatsoever on the use of the product except to cause it to show up in the underworld. The problem of cannabis is old and widespread in many parts of the world. The effort to control the use of cannabis by legislation and imprisonment has not solved the problem anywhere. Carter McMorris (1966) noted the lack of affirmative and effective control by leaving a sociological problem to law enforcement, which is ill-equipped to deal with it. Our suggestion is to substitute the intelligent approach of educating the populace for the abortive attempt to control public behaviour by a mere "thou-shalt-not"
One hundred and one convicts serving sentences for smoking, selling or handling cannabis in the maximum security prison in Lagos, have been studied to examine the psychological and social factors involved in the use of this drug.
A near-majority of them are teenagers and young adults with a high illiteracy rate, living in the slum areas of the city. Their criminal record of 47 per cent with previous conviction is quite high.
The users of cannabis are convinced of the benefits derived from it. All of them claimed it gave them happiness, 97 per cent said it removed fatigue and 90 per cent claimed it increased appreciation for music. Only 3 per cent claimed it gave them the urge to commit crime.
The condition in the prison and facilities available for rehabilitating the prisoners are reviewed. Interdisciplinary approach is recommended for dealing with this sociological problem.
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