Phakpa nam- the marijuana plant

Whatever it is called- grass, dope, pot, weed or herb – it is a weed, literally.

One of the most abused substances, the marijuana or cannabis plant is an invasive plant that grows almost all over the country and grows well even without care.

Those in the east call it Phakpa nam, a feed for pigs. Elsewhere too, it is fed to pigs as a fattner. It works well for pork lovers. The leaves make them lazy and develop a voracious appetite. The whiter the pork, the better it is considered. The fatter the pig, the whiter the pork is. It is the perfect feed!

Marijuana had been around, but it was not a problem.

“In our village, we used to beat the seed and use it as a substitute for butter in tea,” says Chophel from Mongar Yadi. “If you drink too much tea, you feel funny,” says the 65-year-old who realized that it was the drug working.

With fleas in their old house bothering them every night, Tshering and her friends found a solution. It was in the 1970s in Sebjikha village, Punakha. “We plucked tender leaves and let them dry on the wood-fed stove and after dinner, rolled it and smoked,” says Tshering now 55. “It is good to prevent flea bite,” she says.  “I think we were drugged out and didn’t feel the bite.”

The problem is when the plant is misused.

Bhutanese had been abusing the plant. The first reported case, according to Kuensel records was in 1991 when a tonne of marijuana plant was seized from Shingkhar Lauri and burnt in the presence of the Thrimpon, gup, chimi and public of Daifam.

Since then, authorities had been seizing marijuana by the sack loads while clearing marijuana fields once became the common voluntary activity.

According to a report on mental health status of adolescents in South- East Asia, Bhutan has the highest number of adolescents currently using marijuana at 12 percent.

Many attributes, obviously, the high rate to the abundance of the plant whose leaves, oil and the seed is abused in many different ways.

The same parts of the plant now, according to research can be put to good use. More and more governments are approving scientific studies on the medical benefits of marijuana.

Marijuana is used to treat drug addiction and alcoholism besides the treatment of chronic pain, depression and even cancer. The plant is also being put to commercial use. In countries like China, Spain and Japan, the plant is used in the production of hemp- a natural fibre extracted from the plant.

This is not new to Bhutanese. Village elders say that the stem of the plant is used to make Bindi, a piece of cloth to wrap things and used as carry bags. “When bags were scarce, the bark of the plant is stripped for the fibre. It is a strong fibre,” says Kinley from Trongsa.

Hemp or the fibre from marijuana is known to be the most robust, durable and natural sift fibre. If Bhutan can commercialise it, the problematic plant could be a boon.

Ugyen Penjore

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