In modern societies today, the rate of smoking habits keep increasing. Hence, the extreme difficulty associated with efforts to quit smoking. This is in spite of the various health disasters people know that such habit would bring and in spite of the clearly written label on cigarette packs that ‘smokers are liable to die young’. Some have argued that the caveat only applies to cigarette smokers, but not marijuana smokers, but this has been proven to be wrong!
Also, the use of shisha pots and vape pens has been a trending culture for some time. I can’t exactly say that shisha and vaporizers have the same effects as the traditional smoking culture, but it depends on the quality of the shisha/vape pen and the content or flavor being inhaled. Such devices with major parts made of rubber or plastic materials could be cancerous, but who knows?
These devices generate and/or insulate heat which reacts with the materials it is made of. We all know that high temperature has never been good friends with rubber and plastic. Moreover, while flavors from mint or other healthy herbs could be beneficial to the health but do not make you quite high, other variants like tobacco and cannabis would be adverse to the health.
This story is not about shisha or vape pens because these materials do not exactly produce smoke. They involve an indirect heating of the substance which produces the vapor or steam that is inhaled. Smoking, on the other hand, involves a direct burning of the substance which produces carbon monoxide (smoke) that is inhaled.
People mostly smoke cigarettes, cigars, and marijuana, also called Indian hemp or Cannabis. Marijuana or Cannabis has been given many nicknames including; ìgbó, weed, pot, dope, kush, joint, blau, spliff, jombo, claro, maryjane, arizona, skonk, ganja, among others. I could go on and on condemning the habit of smoking, stating how it destroys your vital organs and that you should totally avoid it. But I think that would be cliché and may not bring any exclusive benefit from reading this, for the simple reason that when you searched ‘ effects of smoking in the body’ on Google, you got all the information in that regard. So I will tell a story. It’s the odyssey of a Nigerian who started smoking as a teenager and grew with the habit but later stopped after some life-changing ordeal.
How it all began
“10 minutes to go, start rounding up”, bellowed the examiner as Iyanu was putting the finishing touches to his drawing. The West African Senior Secondary School Certificate Examinations (WAEC/WASSCE) had been going on for a while now and it was all smooth for him till that point. He was a brilliant kid who was always among the top three positions in his class. He was and still is good at the visual arts. The Fine Arts examination was the last paper and the excitement was building. In a few minutes, he would be done with Secondary School.
“Time up! Submit your papers!”, the examiner’s voice resounded across the hall. Having finished, he submitted his papers, then raced outside to join other classmates of his. Shouts of joy echoed outside as the Junior students congratulated them. They signed autographs and draw funny signs on their uniforms, as is the culture in many Nigerian Secondary Schools. Iyanu joined his classmates to the hostel. When two of them, Ciroma and Emeka prepared to go out and have fun. He was excited and wanted to join them too. So they agreed.
The first ecstasy with Maryjane
Iyanu wanted to know where they were headed. But they told him to just relax and come along. They would have some really good time and that was all that mattered. He thought it would probably be a hotel, bar or night club, so he didn’t really bother. After all, he is a big boy now and can take care of himself. Contrary to his presumption, they didn’t go to a hotel or bar. Instead, they bought some alcohol at a supermarket, then went to a stream which was in a jungle behind the school premises.
There, he saw some men and women, older than they were. They sat around; drinking, smoking, and playing music from portable speakers. Ciroma smiled and said to Iyanu; “Welcome to the zanga!” “This is the dopest bonk in the area where you’ll get higher than the skies”, said Emeka. Iyanu knew this place was no good, but he couldn’t just tell his friends he did not like it. That would not be cool. The cigarette and some other grass they were smoking was just much. Although he could handle a bottle of beer or two, he was not a smoker. “Make una come siddon” said one of the guys there, looking at them with bloodshot red eyes. Iyanu sat down on a bench with his friends and they opened the drinks.
“What is that dry grass those guys are rolling and smoking?” Iyanu asked his friends. “it’s weed. It makes you strong and smart, we call it the royal highness” Emeka said. “Don’t worry! You’ll get a taste of the real deal today”, said Ciroma. He went over to the guy with red eyes and bought some of the weed.
Emeka and Ciroma rolled some of the weed in a thin triangular paper, then gave a roll to Iyanu. He knew from school, that weed is a hard drug. He also hear that it was illegal and drives people crazy. But all these people were smoking it and they were not acting crazy. He was quite curious to know how it feels, so he took a drag, but could not get the smoke into his lungs. His friends showed him how to breathe it in, or he would not feel the highness. So he took a drag and swallowed the smoke. It hurt his throat, making him cough. They urged him to take in little drags since it was his first time. He did so and was able to handle the smoke with less cough.
At first, he felt nothing. But after 10 minutes of inhaling the weed, he started feeling happy. As the cannabinoids started taking action in his brain, he felt ecstatic. Gradually, he started enjoying himself. The music sounded much better, the environment became very colorful and he felt elated. He felt he could do anything now. He started talking more freely to his friends. Then he courageously went over to the guy with red eyes and shook his hands in greetings. He felt strong. So he started dancing to the music while singing along.
He was full of energy but soon ran out of breath. So he sat down and started talking to himself. He was hallucinating and everyone could hear him stage a coup d’etat. He would become the Nigerian president, legalize marijuana and travel to Las Vegas. After some time, he started singing and dancing again, telling everyone to come and join him. These continued for about 2 hours. When he finally got tired, he sat down. “Damn! I’m hungry! Can we go get something to eat?” He asked his friends. Emeka and Ciroma finished their second roll of weed, then bade goodbye to red eyes and others, then they took their leave.
Did you know?
Cannabinoids are the active nutrients in Marijuana, with Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol(THC) being one of the most active. THC mimics a natural cannabinoid chemical in the brain called Anandamide. Like Anandamide, THC sends messages between neurotransmitters of the brain, affecting areas of the brain that control pleasure (such as sex and food), memory, thinking, concentration, movement, sensory reception, and time perception. It also has the ability to trigger the flooding release of a hormone called Dopamine in a dose that is way higher than it’s natural release. When this hormone is released to the brain, it activates parts of the brain that control feelings of happiness and ecstasy. This causes the euphoric ‘high’ that a person experiences.
The first introduction of Iyanu’s teenage brain to THC gave him a unique experience. There is no high like the first high of marijuana. It may not always be euphoric for every first-timer. To some people, it could have the effect of discomfort, confusion, and loss of personal identity. But whatever the feeling, the first time is always unique and the experience cannot be like subsequent highs.
From the first Smoke, onto the next one
Iyanu and his friends went to a restaurant to eat. They ate so much before being satisfied. He had never eaten that much food in his life. When they got back to the hostel, he went straight to his bed and fell asleep. He slept like never before, from 2 pm to 10 pm.
The next day, he packed his bags and went home. He would never forget the experience of the day before. He knew that smoking was not good for his health. But doing it one time wouldn’t hurt anyone. During the holidays, a period of waiting for University admission notification, he enrolled for computer lessons. He did not have any urge to smoke again and seldom thought about it.
Some weeks later, the computer program was coming to an end and there would be a send forth party. During the party, some guys had weed and were smoking at a corner. He perceived the scent and was drawn to join in. That day, he got high again and it felt so good. He exchanged contacts with the guys there. That way, he could hook up with them and smoke some more during the holidays. Occasionally then, he would call the guys, go out with them into the bush or an uncompleted building where they would smoke and get high.
He didn’t really know these guys and they didn’t even talk much. They would just hook up, greet each other, and go smoking and playing music. It was fun, and Iyanu did not ever feel any urge to smoke. He just did it when he was bored and for recreational purposes. He had heard that weed was addictive, but he did not feel addicted to it. Whenever he wanted it and didn’t get it, he would simply forget it. At this stage, he could not roll a decent Joint and didn’t know where to buy Weed, so he smoked only when he hooked up with those guys and he only did it occasionally, like once or twice in two weeks.
He was totally in control. And whenever he smoked he would feel more confident. He would bravely talk to girls whom he was shy to approach when sober. He would easily compose poems, write stories, draw and paint beautifully. He would dance so well to music like Chris Brown and he generally became more social. He made new friends with people who do not smoke and he had more girlfriends. He was so cool, exhibiting smartness and boldness whenever he was high.
He figured why musicians and other celebrities take drugs a lot, and doing what Davido and Burnaboy does, made him feel like a celebrity already. Little did he know that drugs have ruined many celebrities in the past and more of them today are really trying to quit the habit. Others take expensive steps to ensure that their use of drugs are medically examined and managed in order to ensure it does not destroy them and their career. Some of the celebrities may afford to smoke and get away with it because they can always afford the medical expenses involved.
Campus life and Freedom to Smoke
He later got admission into a Nigerian University. He was very happy because he would be living alone, without the supervision of his parents. He would be free to do what he liked and go where he wanted at any time he deemed fit. When he resumed school, he hooked up with guys that smoke over there. They would smoke freely in their rooms in the morning before going out for lectures. This made them to be very jovial and bold with their classmates. Gradually, Iyanu started smoking more regularly. He learned how to roll a decent joint. At this time, he could easily buy Weed and smoke on his own whenever he wanted. He became very used to it, but the more he smoked, the less he would feel the high, so he started smoking more rolls and buying stronger strains or species of Cannabis just to get high. Gradually, smoking became a habit of his as he began to do it daily.
One day, the Police arrested the drug dealers in town and there was no supply of Weed for a whole week. During these times, he could barely handle himself, as he had a strong urge to smoke Weed again. He became confused, shy, scattered, withdrawn and antisocial. He saw the other guys smoking cigarettes so he decided to try it, maybe he could get a bit high. The cigarette was nothing like Weed. The smoke was thicker, and it didn’t get him as high as weed. He smoked 10 sticks of cigarettes at a sitting. Even though he didn’t get high like Weed, it was an alternative that calmed down the urge to smoke Weed.
The Struggle to quit smoking
Sometimes, he tried to quit smoking, knowing it was unhealthy, destructive and illegal. But he could only succeed for a few weeks and get back to it again. He tried so many times, but couldn’t get himself to quit. The urge to smoke would always defeat his will power. Without knowing it, Iyanu had become an addicted chain smoker. He would spend most of his money buying weed or cigarettes and food. Then he would lie to his parents, so they send more money.
He didn’t want to join any bad gang, so he took the precaution of not joining any group of people who smoke together for social or recreational purposes. He knew that such groups could lead to cultism or other forms of criminal behavior. He began to spend more time indoors, smoking and playing music only. He could hardly concentrate on his books and he stopped spending time with his friends.
The junkie who couldn’t quit smoking
His youthful and handsome appearance started fading. His skin shriveled. He looked older and haggard. His teeth and fingernails became discolored. The smoking habit gradually made him antisocial, his academic grades plummeted, he started dressing shabbily, he missed lectures frequently and when he attended, he would sleep off in class because he could not concentrate.
Having tried so many times to quit smoking, but to no avail, he gave up and embraced the drug. He became more careless about the addiction, seeing it as a normal thing. He would buy weed in large quantities and store in his room, and occasionally he would invite a few people and throw a party in his room, smoking and drinking on weekdays.
One day, he was caught by the police. He had gone to buy weed from the local dealers. Unknown to him, there were policemen in that area, stalking the dealers to see if they could catch their leader. They saw him buy the weed, and on his way out, he was arrested. It is quite usual for policemen to issues warning and release drug offenders if they were willing to part with some cash. When Iyanu realized that he could be in police trouble, he panicked and tried to escape. The Officers restrained and dragged him to the police station. Iyanu was detained.
The policemen gave him the most severe beating he has ever received in his entire life. The inflicted wounds on him for trying to resist arrest. His parents were called and notified of the arrest. When they arrived, the police officers did not agree to grant him bail at first, insisting that he must be charged to court and remanded in prison. Luckily for him, his father had some contacts who could pull strings in the police force. After some calls and contemplations, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) agreed to grant him bail. The condition was that his parents pay ₦100,000. They paid the money and took him home that day.
When they got home, his parents talked to him in a manner they had never done before. He was such a good boy, or so they thought. Now they were so disappointed in him. They still loved him, but they did not trust or respect him anymore. His privacy was taken away, everything he did and everywhere he went was monitored. He was deeply sorry and ashamed of himself. If only he could go back in time, but it was too late. Only the future remains and he wanted to make his parents proud and regain their trust and respect.
This time he was at home, he could not access weed or cigarettes, and after 2 weeks, he started experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as loss of appetite, depression and lack of sleep. He also started falling sick frequently with illnesses he had never suffered before, and he developed chest pain and peptic ulcer. The doctor prescribed some medicines for him and told him that if he was faithful to the prescription, he would be free from the illness after a few years. Otherwise, the chest pain and ulcer could develop into heart disease and cancer. So he took the medications faithfully.
How Iyanu quit smoking
When this happened, he was already in his final year of studies at the University. His parents requested the School Authorities to provide a copy of his grades and were duly disappointed. Iyanu had failed 7 courses which meant he would definitely not graduate with his classmates even if he passes his final exams. The final exams were coming up, but his parents refused to let him go back to school, moreover, he was not feeling well. He did not graduate that year.
After 3 months, he stopped experiencing the withdrawal symptoms. He was made to practice meditation and yoga in order to help him gain focus and concentration. His parents refused to pay any further school fees, instead, they deferred his admission for 3 years. They asked him to learn a skill, make some money and then he would be able to pay his own school fees whenever he was ready to return to school. They paid for him to learn computer programming, and during these times, he was not given any pocket money. He also learned how to play guitar and how to paint like a professional artist.
2 years later, Iyanu got back his life on track. He became responsible again and started planning to go back to school. Learning those skills had made him independent and he did not get the urge to smoke ever again. He totally overcame the addiction because of his parent’s discipline and support, and because he had committed to stop smoking after the terrible experience of being arrested by the police. He wanted to make his parents proud, to make up for the embarrassment he had caused them. He desperately needed to regain their trust and respect.
Did you know?
Smoking of any kind has harmful effects on the respiratory system. Marijuana and Cigarettes contain carcinogens and nicotine respectively. These chemicals damage the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the digestive system, the immune system, and the nervous system. Although Marijuana has been particularly tested for as being beneficial for treating diseases like cancer, insomnia, and depression, there is no conclusive research for these and it is strictly reserved for patients who have received prescription for using the drug. Moreover, smoking is never a healthy way to use it. Cigarettes, on the other hand, are pure poison with no benefits whatsoever. Both products should be avoided.
TIPS ON HOW TO QUIT SMOKING
- 1. Addiction mindset: Addiction is in the mind, therefore, the first step to quitting should start from the mind. A person who wants to stop smoking must make a decision to quit for good. Even if you fail at your resolve, do not give up.
- Stay Motivated: The decision to quit could be for any reason that is right. It could be for health, academic, professional or social reasons, but make sure you are doing it for you, not because of someone else. Doing it for someone else may not always hold water, except that person is always there to watch you and/or your love and commitment to that person is profound. In my experience, only Jesus, Allah, a spouse or family could qualify for these. Sometimes though, death and distance can separate you from a spouse or family. All in all, it’s best you quit for yourself.
- Dispose of all accessories and tools which you used for smoking.
- Avoid people and places you know could tempt you or bring back memories of being high.
- Divert your time and attention to doing something else. Something you enjoy doing and requires concentration. It could be a hobby such as drawing and painting, or a skill like learning a musical instrument.
- Play games like chess, checkers, Monopoly, Whot or Ludo.
- Change environment. Relocate to a different place where you will be away from all associations and memories you may have formed from smoking and getting high.
- Pray and read the Word of God. Participate in spiritual activities and join a religious group that is not judgemental or hypocritical, but loving and supportive.
- Practice meditation and yoga. Also, get involved in physical activities and exercise regularly. If possible, hire a trainer and create a gym goal that you must achieve with the trainer.
- Seek external help, eg going to a therapist or psychologist who can help you to quit smoking.
- Use E-cigarettes or Vaporizers instead of smoking. Make sure you avoid tobacco and cannabis flavors and herbs and use vaporizers that are mainly made of ceramic or glass even though they are usually more expensive. You could use mint and rosemary flavors or herbs, or other flavors and herbs that are beneficial to the health. Only use this option if you are certain or you have a system of checks to make sure that you don’t buy tobacco or cannabis flavors, and ensure to buy quality vape pens made of glass or ceramic.
- Get an extra job or a part-time job to keep you busy.
- Spend more time with family and friends, people you love and those who also love and support you.
- Avoid alcohol altogether, or only drink once in a long while, and when you do, don’t go more than drinks having more than 7% alcoholic content at a sitting. Alcohol serves as a trigger for the urge to smoke and there is always a mental association created between drinking and smoking.