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Religion and Psychoactive Sacraments:
An Entheogen Chrestomathy

Thomas B. Roberts, Ph.D. and Paula Jo Hruby, Ed.D.
Author Index | Title Index


Ganja in Jamaica: The Effects of Marijuana Use.

Rubin, Vera, and Comitas, Lambros.(1976).
Garden City, NY: Anchor.


ISBN: 0-385-12172-5


Description: Paperback, xxii + 217 pages.


Contents: Foreword by Raymond Philip National [US] Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, preface, acknowledgements, Jamaica Project Staff, 12 chapters, 8 appendices: A. " Ganja Smoking as a Danger to the Natives of this Colony," (Editorial from Daily Gleaner, Jamaica, June 10, 1913); B. Summary of ganja legislation in Jamaica, 1913-1972; C. Laboratory Analyses of ganja samples; D. Demographic profile of clinical sample based on life histories; E. Chromosome studies, steroid excretion and peripheral thyroid hormone levels; F. Estimated THC content of cannabis used in the U.S. and other countries; G. Responses to questions concerning reaction to first experiences with ganja & Responses to questions concerning subsequent experiences with ganja; H. Life expectancy table; bibliography.


Note: This book was originally published in hardcover as Ganja in Jamaica: A Medical Anthropological Study of Chronic Marijuana Use in 1975 by Mouton & Co.


Excerpt(s): Dragons in dark caves, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once reminded us, are far more fearsome than when they are seen in daylight. How refreshing it is, therefore, to have available an objective study which not only exposes but also demolishes many emotional and "fright-symbolic" dragons which have clouded our perspective in recent years with reference to cannabis. It is refreshing, also, to see the results of so many individuals and institutions working together, scientifically, separating "fact from fiction" in an area so important to human beings everywhere, namely, the use of a psychotropic substance such as marihuana.

The Jamaica study, sponsored by the Center for Studies of Narcotic and Drug Abuse, National Institute of Mental Health, was the first project in medical anthropology to be undertaken and is the first intensive, multidisciplinary study of marihuana use and users to be published. (Foreword, Raymond Philip Shafer, pages v-vi)


... Almost unanimously, informants categorically stated that ganja, particularly in spliff form, enabled them to work harder, faster and longer. For energy, ganja is taken in the morning, during breaks in the work routine or immediately before particularly onerous work.

The belief that ganja acts as a work stimulant and the behavior that this induces casts considerable doubt on the universality of what has been described in the literature as "the amotivational syndrome," or a "loss of desire to work, to compete, to face challenges. Interests and major concerns of the individual become centered around marijuana and drug use becomes compulsive." In Jamaica, and one would suspect other cannabis-using agricultural countries, ganja is central to a "motivational syndrome," at least on the ideational level. Ganja, in the cultural setting of rural Jamaica, rather than hindering, permits its users to face, start and carry through the most difficult and distasteful manual labor. (page 58)


In addition, ganja, unlike alcohol, has special symbolic attributes. Rastafarian metaphysics, for example, emphasizes and brings into focus general concepts derived from working-class views of ganja. For them, it is "the wisdom weed," of divine origin, an elixir vitae, documented by Biblical chapter and verse which over-rides man-made proscriptions. Religious authority thus validates and fortifies commitment to its use; ... the sacred source of ganja permits a sense of religious communion, marked by meditation and contemplation. (page 151)


The psychiatric findings do not bear out any of the extreme allegations about the deleterious effects of chronic use of cannabis on sanity, cerebral atrophy, brain damage or personality deterioration. There is no evidence of withdrawal symptoms or reports of severe overdose reactions or of physical dependency. The psychological findings show no significant differences between long-term smokers and non-smokers.

Over the past one hundred years, the ganja complex has developed and proliferated in Jamaican society and is extraordinarily well integrated into working-class life styles. Ganja serves multiple purposes that are essentially pragmatic, rather then psychedelic: working-class users smoke ganja to support rational task-oriented behavior, to keep "conscious," fortify health, maintain peer group relations and enhance religious and philosophical contemplation. They express social rather than hedonistic motivations for smoking.

Ganja as an energizer is the primary motivation given for continued use. ...

The failure of policy makers to realize the importance of informal social controls in preventing drug abuse is beginning to be recognized. Michael Sonnenreich, Vice-President of the National Coordinating Council on Drug Education in the United States, observed that drug-taking is socially controlled "when it is routinized, ritualized and structured so as to reduce to a minimum any drug-taking behavior the surrounding culture considers inadvisable. From this analysis there should follow a new approach." The multidisciplinary findings reported in this volume highlight the underlying role of culture in regulating the use of ganja and conditioning reactions to it-within a structured system of social controls. (Summary, pages 172-3)



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