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Trafficking of Kush drug and its abuse in The Gambia and beyond

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Introduction

The abuse and trafficking of the drug called Kush in The Gambia presents a multifaceted challenge with far-reaching implications for West Africa and beyond. Starting as a lethal concoction of cannabis, fentanyl, tramadol, formaldehyde, and ground human bones, Kush has emerged as a potent threat to public health, security, and social stability.

Abuse and Trafficking of Kush

Kush, known locally as Gina Bass, has permeated The Gambian society due to porous borders and weak law enforcement, allowing smugglers to import the deadly drug from neighbouring Sierra Leone. The emergence of Kush drug has significantly caused a lot of havoc among the youth in The Gambia. This drug is named by the users and dealers after the fastest female sprinter in The Gambia, Gina Bass, because of how it works. 

“The drug poses two risks: the user runs the risk of self-harm, and the substance is extremely addictive. The need to pay for the next dose, which is frequently accomplished through prostitution or criminal activities, is another issue,” an article published by DUBAWA said.  The drug’s potency, surpassing that of traditional marijuana and hashish, has led to widespread addiction among the youths, driving them towards criminal activities to sustain their habits, the article added.

Composition of Kush

The composition of Kush has been said to be dangerous for consumption. According to the Anglia Ruskin University, Kush entails the blending of cannabis with potent opioids like fentanyl and tramadol. This lethal combination induces a range of effects, from relaxation to altered consciousness to dangerous levels of adrenaline and sleeplessness. The inclusion of formaldehyde and ground human bones adds to its toxicity, exacerbating the risks associated with its use.

Root causes of youth taking Kush

To understand why Gambian youth have become intoxicated with the drug, I  interacted with a lot of youths, especially in “Brikama Durumakolong,” the most dangerous area in Brikama town. Some of the youth blamed the society where they grew up. According to them, they could not get someone who could motivate them to avoid taking such hard drugs. Some dropped out of school with little or no skills to survive, and the only thing they can do is sell drugs or other things just to get a dose. 

“There are no job opportunities in this country. The only thing we can do is to be on the street and do things to survive,” a user who wants to remain anonymous said. “Since the emergence of Kush in The Gambia, I heard about it through some of my friends, and I became curious to taste how the dose used to be. I bought it for D50 wraps on a small piece of white paper. I started smoking it, and I couldn’t finish smoking because I felt like the earth was rotating.” 

He disclosed how he became addicted to Kush since he couldn’t finish the first jot. His peers told him his head was not strong, so he bought another one to finish it the next day. That’s how he became addicted. He went further to explain that he can only feel better when he smokes, and he used to sell his clothes or other belongings at a cheap price just to smoke.

Raba Raba (Street Name) says, “I do spend all my money on Kush, I stop[ped] smoking bush marijuana and cigarettes, all I do is Kush and alcohol. I can only sleep when I smoke Kush to get high because it is brain food.” 

His involvement in Kush was a result of his experience with all kinds of drugs available in The Gambia, apart from cocaine. He said they were the first badge of people to smoke Kush when it arrived in The Gambia. 

“Now I need another type of dose which is heavier than Kush because I am now used to smoking it, and it can’t take me anywhere; I can smoke more than four to five joints of Kush the whole day while drinking alcohol,” he stated. 

During my interview with him, he told me that he can do physically intensive work just to have something to smoke, and when he wakes up from bed, the only thing he thinks of is how to get money and buy Kush.

A senior university student disclosed to me about his first experience taking Kush: “Someone came to my house with a Kush joint mixed with a cigarette. He asked me to take a puff, which I did, but after one or two puffs, I passed it to him because I was in fear that it would give me a mental disorder and my education would become zero. Second, I realised that health-wise, smoking Kush can be so detrimental to someone’s life.” Despite being addicted to marijuana, he said that those who smoke Kush are risking their lives because of the danger attached to it.

A matron of the Tanka Tanka Psychiatric Hospital, Bakary Camara, has advised that people should stay away from the drug Kush

“We have instances when some of the patients will scale the fence and go and look for Kush, which shows how dangerous Kush is. I have also spoken with some patients who regretted taking Kush and have promised not to take it anymore because of its impact on their lives, so my advice to the youths is to let them do away from taking Kush.”

 Impact on West Africa

The proliferation of Kush has sparked a public health crisis across West Africa, with users experiencing severe health consequences, including brain disorders, self-harm, and addiction. The drug’s addictive nature fuels a cycle of dependence, often driving individuals towards prostitution and other criminal activities to finance their addiction.

Vulnerable Groups and National Security

Vulnerable youth are disproportionately affected by Kush abuse, lured by its potent effects and easy availability. As addiction takes hold, these individuals become trapped in a web of criminality, jeopardising national security and social cohesion. The involvement of Sierra Leonean nationals in trafficking underscores the transnational nature of this crisis, further complicating efforts to address it.

 Public Health Threat and Global Overview

Kush’s public health threat extends beyond The Gambia, with regional stability and global health implications.

Its composition, which includes potent opioids and toxic substances, heightens the risk of overdose and long-term health complications. Moreover, the transnational nature of its trafficking highlights the need for coordinated efforts at the regional and international levels to combat its spread.

“If we look at where Kush emanated from, it is made of the time and consists of part of the human bone, and the reason why they look for human bone in its production is that human bone contains sulfur and calcium. Suppose you take these ingredients (sulfur and calcium). In that case, it will affect the cells and neutrons of your brain, and obviously, it can paralyse some parts of the brain; that’s why if you take it, you see the impact immediately,” Tanka Tanka Matron Advises Youths to Avoid ‘Kush’ as the Drug.

Conclusion

The abuse and trafficking of Kush represents a grave challenge confronting The Gambia and West Africa at large. Urgent action is needed to strengthen border control, enhance law enforcement efforts, and expand access to prevention and treatment services. Addressing the Kush crisis requires a comprehensive approach that addresses its root causes, tackles its transnational dimensions, and safeguards the health and well-being of communities across the region.

The researcher produced this fact-check per the DUBAWA 2024 Kwame Karikari Fellowship, in partnership with Fact Check Centre -The Gambia, to facilitate the spirit of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy.

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