Number of people using bhang in Kenya nearly doubled in 5 years — Nacada report

Cannabis sativa

A file photo of green Cannabis. 

Photo credit: Fotosearch

It seems that more Kenyans, especially the youth, do not perceive cannabis as a harmful drug.

This is according to fresh data from the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) which shows that use of cannabis, commonly known as bhang, has increased by 90 per cent over the last five years. 

The drugs agency reckons that the trend is fueled by misconceptions about its safety.

“The growing demand for cannabis especially among the youth could be attributed to the low perception of harm due to myths, misinformation, and misconceptions,” said the Nacada report, adding that those using cannabis face increased risk of depressive disorders – almost twice as much as those that do not use it.

When the focus turns to teens and those in their early twenties -- the demographic currently driving uptake of the drug -- data shows that 193,430 youth aged between 15 and 24 years use cannabis, compared to 174,142 aged between 25 and 35 years.

The report also ranked Nairobi as the region with the highest number of cannabis users (6.3 per cent), followed by Nyanza (2.4 per cent) and Coast (1.9 per cent).

According to the report, 100,468 Kenyans aged between 25 and 35, and 90,531 Kenyans aged between 15 and 24 are addicted to cannabis. 

On average, most started using cannabis while aged between 16 and 20 years, with the youngest age of initiation being 8 years old.

According to the National Institute of Health, cannabis use can affect brain development by impairing thinking, memory and learning. It can also irritate the lungs, leading to higher risk of lung infections, heart attack, and may lead to mental illness in some people. 

Nacada is now recommending youth education and debunking of myths, misconceptions and misinformation related to cannabis use, as well as alcohol and other substances, in a bid to curb use. 

The agency is also calling on the Ministry of Education to roll out life-skills programmes that emphasise the importance of drug abstinence targeting primary and secondary school students.

The report also states that currently, 518,807 Kenyans aged between 15 and 65 years use cannabis, with more men consuming the drug when compared to women.  For every woman in Kenya consuming bhang, there are 11 men using it. 

The report highlights the near doubling of bhang use in the last five years and raises concerns about the myths, misinformation and misconceptions surrounding its harms, particularly among young people.

The figures, presented in a comprehensive report, shed light on the gravity of the situation.

Prevalence is increasing

The report reveals that approximately one in every 53 Kenyans aged between 15 and 65 years, is currently using cannabis.

Among males aged 15-65, the rate is higher, with one in 26 (475,770) currently using cannabis. Shockingly, the figure for women is one in 333 (43,037).

Perhaps the most alarming revelation is that the number of cannabis users has skyrocketed by an astonishing 90 per cent in the last five years alone.

Disturbing reality

The statistics on youth and cannabis use paint a bleak picture.

Among young people aged 15-24, one in 37 (193 430) is currently using cannabis. Among 25-35 year olds, it's one in 48 (174,142).

Worryingly, the report also highlights a significant link between cannabis use and depressive disorders, with cannabis users at 2.3 times greater risk than non-users.

Addiction crisis

The data also reveals a worrying addiction crisis. One in every 111 Kenyans aged 15-65 (234,855) is dependent on cannabis.

For young people aged 15 to 24, the rate is one in 77 (90,531), and for those aged 25 to 35, it's one in 83 (100,468).Shockingly, a staggering 47.4 per cent of current cannabis users are dependent.

Concerns and causes

These findings have raised serious concerns about the growing demand for cannabis, particularly among young people.

Experts point to the low perception of harm associated with cannabis, a perception driven by myths, misinformation and misconceptions about the substance.