As debate continues in the Caribbean over the decriminalization of marijuana, at least one local practitioner in the field of mental health believes the issue may prove divisive in the medical fraternity.
During a discussion on Exploring Suicide in Barbados at the Cave Hill Wesleyan Holiness Church, Queen’s Counsel Ralph Thorne noted that the laws regarding marijuana were shifting more responsibility to doctors, and it was becoming a medical issue rather than a legal one.
In response to a query from Thorne about the stance local doctors would take, Senior Registrar in the Department of Psychiatry at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) Dr Tonya Holder said she believed there would be differing opinions among mental health specialists and those dealing with internal medicine.
She pointed out that arguments in favour of decriminalizing marijuana were similar to those raised when alcohol was illegal many years ago.
“The legal end looked at the burden on the legal system, the burden on the prison, and the costs to the country for having people in prison and having to care for them over a small offence. But for doctors in psychiatry, early cannabis use leads to early onset schizophrenia, more mental health issues, and an increase in substance abuse in general, which can lead to forensic cases, disinhibition, and we can see suicide attempts increasing as well,” Dr Holder said.
“However, internal medicine doctors may want to look at medicinal marijuana and what they see as positives, such as extracting a few cannabinoids from the plant and using them to treat glaucoma, and to assist in pain management with cancer. So, you will get mixed answers to this for sure, but from a psychiatrist’s end my answer would be ‘no.’”
In recent years, Jamaica and several states in the United States of America have decriminalized marijuana and have sanctioned it for medicinal use.
A number of other Caribbean countries are still unsure whether they will follow suit.