Wednesday, May 4, 2016

"What children don't realise is that marijuana is a gateway drug. It's the doorway to higher drugs.. says Suneel Vatsyayan

Heady childhood
Doctor, have you tried marijuana?"
"Then how do you know it is bad?"

Brahmdeep Sindhu, senior psychiatrist at the Civil Hospital in Gurgaon, was stumped when a 14-year-old from a prominent school threw this question at him. "The child then went to great lengths, quoting blogs he had read on the internet, to convince me why he, many of his classmates and some of his juniors, children as young as 12, thought it was harmless, even beneficial, to smoke up."

Every month, 15 to 20 new cases of schoolchildren, boys and girls, are brought by their parents to Sindhu for counselling. They are all hooked to cannabis: often(the leaf of the plant) and sometimes hashish (extracted from the plant's resin).

Far away from Gurgaon, in the fields past Navi Mumbai, children, in school uniform, can occasionally be seen purchasing weed that is grown here, hidden from the authorities by the other crop growing around it. With prices as low as Rs 50 to Rs 100 a pop, it is hardly out of reach for these kids.

In Bengaluru, Gambetta da Costa, co-founder of and Higher Power Foundation, is dealing with an unprecedented number of 10- to 16-year-olds who are doing cannabis and party drugs. "We take in 25 people at the most. Today, at least 10 of them, or 40 per cent, are children from primary and high school," he says.

The harsh reality is that an increasing number of boys and girls, some as young as 11, are experimenting with cannabis which also goes by names like weed, pot, grass, herb and boom. Medicinal drugs and smelling agents like whiteners and nail paint removers that give a high are losing out to marijuana.

More than parents, schoolteachers and classmates are the ones to notice the changes first that take place in a child high on marijuana. "A perfectly normal child will suddenly stop caring about his appearance, his eyes will be red and his expression aloof," says Laxmi Prasad Jaiswal, senior counsellor at Yuva, a toll-free helpline run by the Delhi government for students, parents and teachers. He puts the age of initiation into marijuana at as low as 9.

Teachers have observed children addicted to marijuana dropping out of sports and their friends' circle changing. "It's like they are in some kind of a zone, a world of their own, instantly happy or totally distracted," says Swati Marwah, a college student many of whose schoolmates had started smoking weed by the time they were in Class IX or X.

This is dangerous: marijuana impairs the person's cognitive abilities and its long-term use damages the brain irreversibly. Most children start with the belief that they can opt out anytime, which is easier said than done.

The argument that children most often present in support of cannabis is that it is not a drug. "How can something that comes from a plant and is organic be a drug?" says a 15-year-old. "Would responsible adults have it if it were harmful?" His reference is to bhang, another form of cannabis, which will be consumed in copious amounts in households next week on Holi.

Other arguments in their arsenal, thanks to the internet, include the old assertion that every year more people die from alcohol than cannabis, and that marijuana is legal in some parts of the US.
"What children don't realise is that marijuana is a gateway drug. It's the doorway to higher, stronger and more dangerous drugs," says Suneel Vatsyayan, psychotherapist and director of Delhi-based Nada India Foundation that works on child-related issues. A child hooked to marijuana will eventually get bored of its subtle effects and will want to move to something harder like or heroin.

Vijay Simha, an independent therapist in Delhi, is dealing with one such case: a 19-year-old heroin addict who started with marijuana when he was in Class VII. Now, while he is getting weaned away from heroin, he still smokes a joint of marijuana every night before going to sleep. "'Marijuana to nasha hi nahin hai (marijuana isn't a drug),' he tells me," says Simha....

Is social media making you lonely?

Is social media making you lonely?After nine years of being a heavy Facebook user, Kishore Dhiman suddenly deactivated his account. The 32-year-old Delhi resident says that the long hours spent on the social networking site were beginning to take a toll on his mental health. The absence of human touch on Facebook was slowly gnawing at his state of mind. Though he had many "friends" on the medium and got plenty of "likes" and comments on his posts and pictures, he did not feel any real connection with these people. He was miserable.

At 15, Samrat Kohli would spend nearly his entire day on social networking sites, to the extent that he had started retreating from real-life friendships. He had also become unusually violent. The psychologist who counselled him says the boy was exhibiting symptoms of social media related depression.

Though social media platforms, like Facebook, have made the world more connected, they have also led to some worrying trends. Loneliness and depression are among those.

A 2012 report published in The Atlantic, titled "Is Facebook making us lonely?", reads, "The beauty of Facebook, the source of its power, is that it enables us to be social while sparing us the embarrassing reality of society." The article goes on to say that what we have now is the "lovely smoothness of a seemingly social machine".

The constant need to show oneself as being happy and fulfilled all the time, to attempt and pretend to be happy all the time is eventually exhausting, according to The Atlantic report.

Shyam Goyal, 23, would know. He is one of the victims of this "smooth social machine". Seeing the wonderful lives his friends portrayed of themselves on Facebook, Goyal went into an overdrive making luxury purchases that betrayed his financial status. As feelings of envy, insecurity and low self-esteem set in, he also turned to addictions like alcohol and drugs.

Suneel Vatsyayan, psychotherapist and director of Delhi-based Nada India Foundation, says Goyal realised that his depression was stemming from the virtual world he had started living in. Goyal has currently left Facebook. Vatsyayan says though he is on a sabbatical, or a detox, from social media, he expects him to return to it soon, hopefully after he "recovers".

Goyal was lucky to have recognised the source of his problem. There are many who do not.

Anil Sethi, a retired army general in his 60s, was an alcoholic. After a paralytic attack, he gave up drinking and instead found a substitute in Facebook. He would spend four to five hours a day on it. He became detached from his family. His social life shrunk. Worried, his family brought him to Vatsyayan for counselling, who found that his dependency on social media was no less than his dependency on alcohol. The heavy social media usage, which Sethi had thought would be a solution to his loneliness, had only aggravated it further.

Through counselling, Sethi has cut his Facebook time down to less than an hour a day. Vatsyayan, who initially observed him as a reclusive person hiding his insecurities behind his social media profile, after treatment found him to be a far more enhanced individual who has managed to find a balance between the real and the virtual world.

Sethi's example shows that even older, mature people are ending up lonely and depressed because of their social media habits.

Social media offers an easy solution to forge relationships, but at the same time could be a dangerous phenomenon, as Kohli's parents found. Vatsyayan says had there been timely intervention and better parenting, the child would not have landed in this situation. While getting him back to normalcy was far from easy, Kohli is today in a better mental space than he was when he was brought in for counselling. Regulating his social media usage has played a critical role in his well-being.

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