Hemp as a "drug"
Drug risks: How dangerous are the most common drugs?
Alcohol is widely used in Japan. About 70% of all alcohol is consumed
as beer, with the remainder used in the form of sake (rice wine),
shochu, wine, fruit wines and spirits.
Grapes were introduced by the Portuguese about
400 years ago because wine was needed for sacramental purposes by
Christians. Beer only arrived in Japan about 100 years ago but
has become by far the most popular alcoholic beverage.
Hops and Hemp
We all know that beer is made from water and malts. There is an
important third ingredient, hops, which acts as a preservative and
as flavouring (it's responsible for the bitter taste in beers).
Hops also contains a slightly psychoactive substance, lupulin.
Few beer drinkers know that amongst all plants the closest relative
of hops is cannabis hemp, marijuana. Most domestic Japanese hops
is grown in Hokkaido, the Tohoku region or Nagano. All of these
are former hemp growing areas, since both plants thrive in a similar
In the United States and in Germany, some beers are brewed from crushed
hemp seeds. They have a nutty taste and full flavour. The hemp
seeds do not act as an intoxicant, only the alcohol.
In Japanese society alcohol serves an important function as a release valve
for social pressures. Many business negotiations are conducted in bars and
restaurants under the influence of alcohol. Getting drunk can be an
integral part of one's career path. It can be difficult to avoid alcohol
altogether and often there is pressure to drink to join a group.
Drinking used to be pretty much a male domain in Japan, but now
sales of alcohol to men are so saturated that recent ads for plum
wine and beer are specifically targeting young women. And there
are a few young ladies around that go through a couple of bottles
of wine a week. When they have babies they really have to change
their habits or the babies may suffer from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
The baby might be mentally retardated. Alcohol should be avoided
Public drunkenness amongst men, especially late at night, is quite
common (and unlike in the USA, legal) though unlike many other
countries it is not often related to violence. There is no great
embarassment involved in being seen drunk by other people, so as
long as you don't make a fool of yourself all the time. You have
to be a pretty hard drinker before people treat you as a nuisance.
Like cigarettes alcohol is available from outdoors vending machines
that perform no age verification, so the legal barriers against
under-age drinking are somewhat theoretical.
While most people who drink alcohol do so in moderation and without
doing any damage to their health, a minority of alcohol users does
get addicted. It is estimated that there are several million Japanese
with a serious alcohol problem. The health damage from excessive
alcohol use is largely ignored by Japanese society.
Habituation to heavy drinking is very harmful, as alcohol is a
relatively toxic drug when used in higher doses. A blood alcohol
level of about 0.4% is lethal. An adult can reach it by drinking
from about 300 ml of pure alcohol (100%), equivalent to 0.75 l of
spirits (40%), 2 l of wine or sake (15% ) or 6 l of beer (5%).
Immoderate alcohol use causes damage to most internal organs
including the liver, stomach, esophagus, bladder, nervous system and the brain.
Esophageal cancer is the sixth leading cause of cancer deaths amongst men in Japan.
About 36% of Japanese have an enzyme deficiency (ALDH2 deficiency) that makes
it difficult for their body to process alcohol, which causes
symptoms like reddened skin and nausea. If they drink anyway their
cancer risk is much higher than for other alcohol drinkers.
Alcohol can also cause Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
in unborn babies of pregnant drinkers.
The only other group of intoxicant drugs that is so clearly linked
to brain damage as alcohol are the solvents (acetone, toluene, etc.
in glue, nail varnish remover, etc.). This is not surprising since
alcohol (ethanol) and its metabolites in the liver are all substances
that are used as solvents in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry.
When alcohol is broken down in the liver it turns into a toxic
substance that has the same effect as inhaled solvents. Chronic
alcohol abuse is the major source of liver disease.
Especially during the year-end season the police gets very active
catching drunk drivers. Alcohol affects the ability to operate
machinery and operate motor vehicles quite seriously, more so than
most illegal recreational substances do. It is involved in
approximately 4000 traffic deaths
a year in Japan, almost half of all traffic accident deaths
in the country.
One measure of addictiveness of a drug is the severity of
withdrawal symptoms when drug use is stopped. By that
measure alcohol can be quite addictive.
If alcohol use is very heavy for an extended period then
physical addiction, a serious medical condition, occurs.
Sudden withdrawal of alcohol in an addict can produce
physical withdrawal symptoms so severe as to be
life-threatening. If the addict is not given either
alcohol or valium he may die. Few other drugs, legal or
otherwise, lead to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.
Sudden abstinence from marijuana, even after long term
heavy use does not lead to any physical withdrawal symptoms.
Talking about drug problems but excluding alcohol and tobacco
is like talking about oceans but ignoring the Atlantic and the
Pacific. Alcohol abuse is probably the second worst drug-related
health problem after tobacco, in terms of disease it causes
and premature deaths.
Alcoholism and Smoking are our biggest drug problems
Of course with alcohol there are "drug overdoses" too:
"Hanami" merrymakers hit by alcohol poisoning
"Cannabis or alcohol? Observations on their use in Jamaica"|
UNDCP Bulletin on Narcotics, 1972, Issue 1, Page 2:
One of the striking features of the patient population of Bellevue, the large mental hospital in Kingston, Jamaica, is the infrequency of
disturbances associated with alcohol. Of 600 admissions to one typical ward over a two-year period, less than 2 % suffered such problems; not a single case of chronic brain syndrome associated with alcoholism was seen and we encountered neither delirium tremens nor alcoholic hallucinosis. The few alcohol-linked disturbances that did occur were, moreover, in patients who contrasted sharply with the predominantly low-income ward population in that they were from higher income levels or were highly acculturated, having spent several years in England or the United States or Canada.
This picture is unexpected first because in Jamaica, a major sugar producing country, rum is relatively cheap; and second, because it is
in marked contrast with what we know of most other Caribbean islands. For example, annual returns indicate some 47% of admissions to mental hospital in Nassau and 53% in Martinique are alcohol-linked  . Murphy and Sam-path  found 50% of admissions in St. Thomas (to general hospital psychiatric unit in an area without a mental hospital) were related to alcohol use. These figures may be compared to Chafetz's  estimate of 30% alcohol-linked admissions to American mental hospitals and 40 % to mental hospitals in Santiago, Chile  .
Although many of these statistics are approximate, such a gross contrast with Jamaica's 2 % of alcohol-linked admissions calls for some attempt at explanation. The hypothesis we wish to explore here is one that has already been hinted at by Beaubrun  . In his pioneer field survey of alcohol consumption in five Kingston suburbs, he found that heavy drinking was more prevalent in higher income groups. He suggested that for low-income groups "... ganja (marihuana) smoking is widespread ... and may play a role as an alcohol substitute."
Our hypothesis is that the use of ganja as a euphoriant by low-income Jamaicans is a benevolent alternative to alcohol and may protect them against the consequences of' alcohol consumption-alcohol addiction, delirium tremens, chronic brain syndromes, Korsakoff psychosis and physical sequelae such as cirrhosis of the liver.
To return to the comparison of hospitalized men with their neighbours in the community, it will be recalled that the percentage of heavy ganja users at large was, if anything, higher than the percentage of ganja users on the ward. This finding would support our opinion that ganja use is not a significant cause of psychosis. The so called "ganja psychosis" is schizophrenia occurring in a ganja-using population.
In general this study supports the view that ganja is used as an alternative to alcohol by low income Jamaicans. Whether it is a "benevolent" alternative is less clear: we found no evidence however that ganja was an important cause of mental hospitalization.
"Cannabis or alcohol? Observations on their use in Jamaica"
M.D. Raymond PRINCE,
M.Ed Rochelle GREENFIELD
M.D John MARRIOTT
UNDCP Bulletin on Narcotics, 1972, Issue 1, Page 2
"The Cannabis Habit"
UNDCP Bulletin on Narcotics, 1963, Issue 1:
"In this light it is clear that the free availability of cannabis
can be harmful, but it is not so clear that this is more harmful
than the free availability of alcohol. The question arises,
therefore, why cannabis is so regularly banned in countries where
alcohol is permitted. One reason may be that, having little direct
experience with the drug and hearing the alarming picture reported
from countries such as Egypt, these other countries have decided
simply to be on the safe side. Another reason may be that the
causes of cannabis habituation are confused with its effects. A
third reason may be that, because few other pleasures are
available to a mass of the people in certain countries, recourse
to cannabis there follows the disastrous pattern of the recourse
to alcohol in eighteenth-century Britain. One cannot read Benabud's
sympathetic description of the Moroccan urban proletariat
without realizing that life offers such people very few
inducements not to drown themselves in a cannabis illusion.
However, there is yet another reason why, I think, alcohol is
tolerated in Anglo-Saxon countries while cannabis is feared. It
derives from the work ethic of Protestantism and its hostility
towards inaction. In India, cannabis can be tolerated and even
used by the Brahmin priesthood because social inaction can have a
positive connotation, whereas alcohol, with its potential release
of repressed impulses, is disapproved of as a disturber and
distracter. In Anglo-Saxon cultures inaction is looked down on and
often feared, whereas over-activity, aided by alcohol or
independently of alcohol, is considerably tolerated despite the
social disturbance produced. It may be that we can ban cannabis
simply because the people who use it, or would do so, carry little
weight in social matters and are relatively easy to control,
whereas the alcohol user often carries plenty of weight in social
matters and is difficult to control, as the U.S. prohibition era
showed. It has yet to be shown, however, that the one is more
socially or personally disruptive than the other."
"The Cannabis Habit",
Ph. D. H.B.M MURPHY, M.D.
Department of Psychiatry, McGill University,
Bulletin on Narcotics, 1963, Issue 1
Hemp as a "drug"
Drug risks: How dangerous are the most common drugs?