The Sunday Mail
A new confectionery made up of edibles, which are food products mixed with marijuana, is making waves in some communities, and many youths are falling victim.
It seems the increased risks of being caught by law enforcement agents associated with smoking marijuana, especially at a time when the ongoing anti-drug campaign is intensifying, is forcing many drug dealers and peddlers to pilot a new tactic of inconspicuously consuming the drug.
Weed cakes, or simply brownies, are not a new phenomenon, but they are now being produced in bulk.
The edibles are not limited to cakes.
They now come as cookies, chocolates, truffles, candies, gummies, beverages and ice creams.
Marijuana is, however, not the only drug being used to produce these intoxicating edibles, but other drugs such as cocaine and prescription drugs, especially those administered to people that suffer from mental health conditions.
Health experts believe consuming such drugs could be more harmful than smoking.
The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) is naturally concerned.
Police recently busted 143 drug peddlers and confiscated huge quantities of recreational drugs in Harare and Chitungwiza.
Weed cakes and muffins were part of the seized drugs.
“We receive these cases almost daily in the recent past. Some of them are in courts, with cases ranging from making ganja-laced confectioneries, being found in possession of crystal meth or mutoriro and other products,” said ZRP spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi.
Penalties imposed on offenders depend on the type and quantity of drugs involved.
“While stringent measures are being put in place to deal with deviant bakers, Parliament is also working on the Constitution to have a section which also includes mutoriro as a dangerous drug.”
But who is behind the production of these illegal products?
Edibles can be homemade or prepared commercially.
While they are legal in some states in the US and the United Kingdom, in Zimbabwe they are considered illegal.
Some of the producers are licensed bakeries; however, information obtained from sources within the police indicate that 80 percent of the cases are individuals operating in their backyards.
Our investigations reveal the products are often served at parties and other gatherings by youths and young adults.
The daring ones are openly selling them at street corners as they look like ordinary products.
Recently, Mrs Gwatidzo’s daughter attended a party in Chitungwiza where she unknowingly ate a weed cake that was casually served to guests.
She subsequently started feeling dizzy and temporarily lost her marbles.
A close friend swiftly came to her rescue and took her home.
Her infuriated mother investigated the matter.
“I was disappointed! I went to the place, but the hosts denied responsibility for what had happened to my daughter. But, while I was still probing, I noticed many kids behaving weirdly,” she said.
“After confronting them, we then discovered they had all eaten a laced cake. We opened a police case against the hosts. They knew the contents of the cake and should not have served it to our kids.”
A Form Two learner in Harare also had a nasty experience after eating cookies at school.
He suffered a severe headache, nose bleeding and unstable heartbeat before becoming unconscious.
He was later admitted at a local hospital.
“I got three cookies from a friend at school and did not suspect anything bad. However, some moments after consuming them, I started feeling funny. I felt like the world was shaking and was so frightened,” said the student.
The matter was reported to school authorities.
After being confronted, the implicated student revealed he had purchased the product from a known supplier in their neighbourhood.
Such cases have become prevalent in most schools.
Naturally, teachers are disturbed.
“It is only recently that we discovered there are bakers who are supplying these dangerous products at our schools. They openly sell them to students who are always eager to experiment with such things. The police need to intervene and clamp down on these criminal elements. Children are in danger,” said a Seke 6 High School teacher.
Many people who consume edibles are unaware of the dangers.
Ministry of Health and Child Care director of laboratory services Dr Raiva Simbi said such products can lead to serious health complications, including marijuana-induced psychosis, a temporary condition usually related to overconsumption of edible cannabis products.
“These often lead to symptoms like paranoid delusions, extreme sedation, hallucinations and confusion. Also, ingested cannabis stays longer in the body and some users may become violent; they endanger their lives and the people around them,” explained Dr Simbi.
The effects of marijuana edibles reportedly last much longer than smoking, depending on the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) consumed.
Health experts believe the most prominent difference between smoking and eating marijuana is the delayed onset of side effects.
For instance, the effect of smoking can occur within five minutes, while it can take between 30 minutes to two hours to experience the effects of consuming edibles.
And the delay can have the unintended consequence of consuming more of the drugs than intended.
Some of the more adverse effects associated with the consumption of edibles include drowsiness, confusion, vomiting, anxiety and panic attacks, agitation, psychotic episodes, hallucinations, heart problems, respiratory depression and impaired motor ability.
“Because of the manner in which marijuana is metabolised in the body, it becomes water-soluble, which means it stays longer in a human body, causing a longer-lasting high and some serious effects that become pronounced in the long term,” observed Dr Ebison Chinherende.
“The aim of the bakers is to get people high, so they add as much drug as they see appropriate, overlooking the possible effects.”
Psychologist Dr Nisbert Mangoro, who works with rehabilitation centres, said continued intake of drugs in whatever form leads to addiction.
He also said most users often end up engaging in crime and commit or attempt suicide.
“Serving laced products to unsuspecting people should be made a serious offence which attracts a jail term, worse if it is done to minors as they are at high risk of being affected psychologically,” added Dr Mangoro.
“There is a need for some regulation to be established to ensure bakery operators do not stray and setting up of a special unit where reports or tip-offs can be made anonymously because the culprits in most communities are known.”
Elizabeth Gomwe of Bakers Hub and Cakes, who has been in the business for close to a decade, urged bakers to uphold their moral values and maintain professionalism.
“Our morals are often tested because the clients dangle money, tempting bakers to do anything for them. It actually takes a strong character not to bend . . . We need to work together with the communities to fight this rot,” she said.
Zimbabwe National Elders’ Forum chair Bishop Felix Mukonowengwe said the new trend is worrying.
“Smoking weed has always been associated with wayward behaviour, with culprits labelled deviant elements in communities. Marijuana and other drugs are addictive, hence not good to anyone, morally. Society has lost it and something needs to be done because we cannot afford to have a society made up of addicts,” he said.
House of Refuge International Ministries Apostle Partson Machengete weighed in with scriptures.
“The Bible in Romans 12:1 encourages people to present their bodies to God, holy and acceptable to Him. Intake of drugs is unholy and leads one to lose self-control, hence is undesirable to God.
“Drugs are external forces and Paul in the Bible says no one should be brought under the influence of any . . . by any, he meant drugs and other stuff.