Bhang Smokers Doubled Between 2017 & 2022 - NACADA

Isiolo police boss Joseph Kigen and Isiolo Chief Magistrate Samuel Mungai destroy bhang on June 23, 2020.
National Police Service

The National Authority for the Campaign Against Drug Abuse (NACADA), on Friday, May 12, released the national survey on the Status of Drugs and Substance Use (DSU) in 2022.

The survey covered the last five years, from 2017 to 2022. NACADA used various evaluation tools to assess the effectiveness of drug and substance use reduction programmes implemented in the previous five years.

According to NACADA, in the last five years, an increase in the uptake of illegal drugs, especially, bhang or marijuana, also scientifically known as cannabis sativa, was witnessed. 

"Results showed that the prevalence of cannabis use almost doubled over the last five years. The growing demand for cannabis, especially among the youth, could be attributed to the low perception of harm due to myths, misinformation, and misconceptions," the NACADA report revealed.

Victor Okioma, CEO (left), welcoming Rev. Dr. Stephen K. Mairori, new Board Chair at NACADA offices on January 24, 2023.

"Nairobi region had the highest prevalence of current use of cannabis (6.3 per cent) followed by Nyanza (2.4 per cent) and Coast (1.9 per cent)," NACADA stated in a report that Interior Principal Secretary Dr Raymond Omollo released.

While bhang remains a controlled and illegal substance, its abuse was prevalent in the country. It was also cited as a significant transit point for the drug, often smuggled from neighbouring countries.

Further, the report indicated that one in every 53 Kenyans aged 15 – 65 years (518,807) was currently using cannabis, while one in every 26 males aged 15 – 65 years (475,770) and 1 in every 333 females (43,037) were currently using cannabis.

The report indicated that bhang abuse was particularly widespread among young people in urban areas. The drug was said to be smoked in social settings or to cope with stress or anxiety - one of its myths and misconceptions. 

Bhang was also cited as a medication for various medical conditions, including chronic pain and epilepsy. However, scientific evidence does not support its efficacy in treating such conditions.

"Deliberate measures to be put in place to address the myths, misinformation, and misconceptions of cannabis use among the youth," NACADA assured Kenyans, especially parents.

One in every 48 youths aged 25 – 35 years (174,142) was currently using cannabis; hence the risk of depressive disorder among users of cannabis was 2.3 times higher.

"One in every 111 Kenyans aged 15 – 65 years (234,855) were addicted to cannabis while one in every 77 youths aged 15 – 24 years (90,531) were addicted to cannabis," NACADA stated.

At the same time, one in every 83 youths aged 25 – 35 years (100,468) was addicted to cannabis, and 47.4 per cent of current users of cannabis were addicted to cannabis use.

Bhang leads to various negative health outcomes, including addiction, impaired cognitive function, respiratory problems, and increased risk of mental illness.

Additionally, the illegal trade in Bhang contributes to organised crime and undermines the rule of law. Efforts to combat its abuse in Kenya have included law enforcement operations to disrupt drug trafficking networks, awareness campaigns to educate the public about the risks of drug abuse, and providing treatment services for individuals struggling with addiction.

However, the effectiveness of these efforts has been limited by factors such as corruption, inadequate resources, and social stigma.

At the same time, NACADA stated that 39 per cent of Kenyans perceived that production of illicit brews was widespread in their community, with the Western region recording the highest perception level of 68.2 per cent, followed by Nyanza 53.2 per cent and Rift Valley 41.5 per cent.

It was also reported that 48.5 per cent of Kenyans had the perception that there was an increase in the number of bars in the last five years in their community, with the Central region recording the highest perception level of 74.1 per cent, followed by Nairobi 65.3 per cent and Eastern 47.8 per cent.

"Data shows that the average age category for initiation of tobacco, alcohol, khat, cannabis, prescription drugs, cocaine and heroin was 16 – 20 years.

"However, the minimum age of initiation for tobacco was 6 years, alcohol (7 years), cannabis (8 years), khat (9 years), prescription drugs (8 years), heroin (18 years) and cocaine (20 years)," NACADA observed. 

President William Ruto's government enforced measures to curb the growing alcohol and substance abuse in Central Kenya's Counties of Kiambu, Murang'a, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, and Nyandarua. 

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, who is spearheading the campaign, noted abuse of drugs and alcohol in Central Kenya is driven by various factors, including poverty, unemployment, social dislocation, and easy access to drugs and alcohol.

Alcohol abuse is particularly widespread in Central Kenya, where traditional brews such as busaa, muratina, and chang'aa are popular. 

The Deputy President noted that local brews were often made using unhygienic methods and can be contaminated with toxic substances, leading to various health problems, including liver disease and alcohol poisoning. 

"The abuse of alcohol is associated with a range of social problems, including domestic violence, road accidents, and crime," Gachagua told local leaders during a meeting on Wednesday, May 3, 2023.

However, he indicated that the efforts were paying off, as the cost of Bhang reportedly rose to Ksh400 from Ksh100 owing to its scarcity. 

Evangelical Association of Kenya (EAK)
The Evangelical Association of Kenya (EAK) on July 26, 2022, struck a partnership with NACADA to promote sobriety, peace, and accountability among the elected leaders before, during, and after the general elections.
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