"I smoked a spliff a day in the evening after revising."
This Class B drug is commonly described as marijuana, weed and ganja.
Although weed is illegal in the UK, its popularity amongst the population is undeniable.
With countries like Canada, Uruguay and some states in the US legalising cannabis, it seems acceptance is growing worldwide.
Weed plants are naturally grown and smoked in their herb form with varying effects. Normally, these include euphoria, focus, mild hallucinations and lethargy.
However, given the strict rules surrounding marijuana, consumption in the UK is increasing. In 2022, Statista reported that between 2001/02-2019/20:
“29.6 per cent of people in England and Wales aged between 16 and 59 had used cannabis at least once during their lifetime, compared with 23.6 per cent in 2001/02.”
Normally consumed by students, weed is still heavily prominent amongst the British Asians from South Asian communities.
Traditionalists will see marijuana as a drug comparable to crack cocaine or heroin but is this an exaggeration?
Nonetheless, drugs as a whole is a massive red flag within Desi communities. Elders will drill into their kids about how not to get involved in drugs and in some cases, rightly so.
But if we focus on weed specifically, is the modern research contradicting the longstanding perception of the drug?
More importantly, it’s vital to see first-hand experience on how a British Asian has dealt with weed and the ramifications of it.
Therefore, DESIblitz spoke with *Ryan Bassi, an avid user of marijuana who explained how it entered his life.
Residing in Birmingham, UK, the 29-year-old has gone through the ‘typical’ South Asian confrontations when he came clean about his weed habits.
However, he spoke with us so that he is able to inspire other people to come clean to their parents.
Although, he feels that parents have an obligation to know more about weed and why it is not as bad as society has made it out to be.
The First Puff
Whether it’s university or the neighbourhood, people can encounter drugs from all types of surroundings.
Although Ryan was brought up with familiar South Asian values and rules, it still didn’t stop him from having dangerous encounters.
He recounts how at such a fragile age, the elements of his area were very impactful in his mindset going forward:
“To be honest, I didn’t even know what weed was up until school. But I was surrounded by it a lot.
“I used to live in Handsworth and as a young kid, I’d play out a lot and most of my mates were Bengali but we all shared typical parents with typical ideas.
“‘Be home at this time’, ‘don’t chill with this person’, ‘keep your head down’ kinda thing.
“But I remember gangs always used to chill on the street corners and when I used to go past, they made fun of me for not being Bengali.
“I wasn’t sure what to make of it cause I was only 8/9 years old. But I remember thinking I wanted to impress them for some reason.
“They were the elders on the street so it’s almost like you need their respect.
“Then as I got tighter with my mates, we hung around these gangs more but to be honest they never did anything to us.
“They’d show us their money, sh*t cars that we thought were Porsches and cheap bling.
“Then one day, me and my mate saw people smoking where we used to play football.
“We just thought they were fags, but I remember the smell now and it definitely wasn’t. But we started to have a kickaround and they called us over – we were sh*t scared.
“We were so small and people used to get robbed daily around us so we were always quite tense.”
“They asked us to take a puff and we did, obviously coughing straight after because we hadn’t done anything like this before.
“My mate said he felt ill so we had to stay out another two hours for him to calm down because he started to panic.
“Luckily he was okay but that was the first-ever time I came across bud.
“At the time I didn’t know it and we felt so pressured but luckily nothing like that happened again cause I moved to another area.
“Thinking back on it, because I was used to that culture, maybe it impacted my idea around bud. I don’t know.
“Then the next time I came across bud, I remember it so vividly. Me and my 4 mates ditched the last lesson of school to go to his house.
“We were 14/15 at the time and one of them said ‘shall we pick up?’. I thought that meant trying to get a drink from the corner shop.
“Obviously, all young Asians at that time drank, if anything it still happens.
“It’s our culture to laugh and joke about drinking early but it’s still bad for you, but as kids, we didn’t know any better.
“Then in those times, you could get 0.5g which costs you a fiver – f*ck knows if you can even do that anymore.
“My mate grabbed it from this dealer in a black car. I went with him and stood outside, he rolled down the window, was smirking and gave us this tiny bag.
“Then my mate rolled it in his bedroom with a handful of tobacco that he stole from his dad. We used half of this 0.5g bag in this one fat spliff between 5 of us.
“We all took turns passing it around and I remember thinking I was feeling something, it wasn’t the typical high like you see in films. It was clarity.
“Given that we were stupid teens who always laughed around, after we smoked, we started to talk about deeper things.
“What we wanted to succeed with, what our dreams were, how life was at home.
“These might seem like high thoughts and typical, but it made us talk about things that you don’t normally talk about with other guys – especially 10/15 years ago.
“So many people have a really bad first experience with bud, but mine was the total opposite.
“But I didn’t ever feel like I needed it again, it was a one-time thing but what a time it was.
“Then, in all honesty, I actually never came across it again until my first year of university and I think that’s when it all changed.”
Ryan was well aware of his parents’ early advice of not hanging around the ‘wrong’ people. But, sometimes there are elements beyond your control.
Although he willingly chose to smoke weed during secondary school, it seems it was more out of curiosity than infatuation.
However, given the good experience Ryan had, should more British Asians have leniency within their households?
A Lifestyle Change
Like many British Asians, university was an opportunity for Ryan to develop his independence.
Away from family pressures and stresses, this period allowed Ryan to witness things that he would not normally be exposed to.
Whilst it played a life-changing part in his weed consumption, it also gave him the ease to experiment and research:
“You’re surrounded by hundreds of people from different cultures, backgrounds and areas. Everyone’s on a mad one.
“Not just drinking and weed, but people were doing pills and balloons. I remember looking around thinking ‘where the f*ck am I’. As an Asian, I didn’t feel right there.
“I kept thinking about my parents and how they said not to get involved with all this sh*t. But I kept saying I’m not doing anything wrong.
“I didn’t ever touch pills, powder, balloons – even to this day. All I was on was a few drinks.
“Then during freshers, the mates I met all smoked and would give me a few puffs here and there. Then, it just became a regular thing.
“It’d be midnight and I’d get a text saying ‘smoke?’ and obviously we’re just doing it as a laugh. It’s student life, what do you expect.
“To be honest, uni gave me that freedom to kind of try bud. I never thought I’d wanna smoke it every day and anytime I’d smoke with my mates, we would stop for a few days.
“Then my friend Arjun* introduced me to a new dealer in the halls we were staying.
“Everyone who smokes bud knows the national strain around here is stardog or amnesia haze and that’s all I ever smoked.
“But this new guy started to tell me about different strains I never heard of with exotic names. Pineapple express, gelato 41, cherry pie and the list goes on.
“I thought he was messing me about but he let me see the bud and I was amazed. It looked fresh, organic, smelled like the name it had.
“I remember smelling one pack of strawberry kush and I instantly smelled the sweetness – it was crazy. Baring in mind, I’m only 18 and this was like stuff from Hollywood.
“So me and my mate bought one pack and smoked it – it was amazing. It felt smooth, tasted very nice as well.
“People have this thing that weed is disgusting, it ruins you and will leave you in a state as if you were smoking crack every day. But not at all.
“It was just a fun thing to do, especially when I started smoking without tobacco, so it was just pure bud.
“That again was another health decision because I didn’t want to be filling myself up with nicotine.
“Then you learn about healthier ways you can smoke. Different papers, bongs, pipes. These are ways to consume the bud purely without inhaling plastic paper or some sh*t.
“Then of course it’s the feeling you get when you try different strains.
“It’s like when you try a different spirit or cuisine, you’re experimenting and it’s the same with bud. Different strains have different effects.
“Some can help with anxiety, pain, focus etc. I probably do sound like some hippie but this is the exact stigma we need to break.
“Just because you advocate for weed doesn’t mean you’re a crazy druggy.”
“I started smoking before class and the way it made me much more focused and able to absorb the information in a much clearer way.
“We started to smoke before going on a night out instead of drinking and they were always the best nights.
“You’re there noticing every single thing embracing the people around you and staying in control.
“It’s actually crazy to see how stupid people get towards the end of the night when they’re drunk and out of control.
“I’m still high and seeing these idiots make a fool of themselves – most of them Asian.
“And I kept thinking ‘if your parents saw both of us right now, they’d think you were the one on ‘drugs’’.
“Yet, I’m the one who would be shunned or disowned but yet I’m acting sensibly.
“Once we started smoking more, we actually did more research into weed.
“We found out so much but no one wants to teach you things and forget trying to tell your parents about it.
“I don’t get it, why are Asians so universal on things like this? I speak to some of my white friends and they said their parents are fine with as long as it is in moderation.
“There’s something that’s missing from the community in that way. I’m not trying to say everyone should do this, that’s up to you.
“I’m just saying, there has to come a certain level of acceptance and understanding. Both of which didn’t happen to me when my parents found out.”
With a whirlwind of emotions from Ryan’s time at university, it helped him shape the way he smokes weed.
This is overlooked in many Desi communities. That although drugs as a whole is a big no-no, is weed as bad as something like alcohol?
This period allowed Ryan to realise things about his own culture which he started to question.
A Difficult Acceptance
Whilst Ryan felt free at university and he had built a balanced life with weed consumption, there is no denying that it was still a secret he didn’t want to share.
But, it came to a point where he had to deal with this fear face on, something which British Asians cannot imagine:
“Whenever I used to come back from uni and stay for a few days at home, I wouldn’t smoke because I didn’t want to get caught out.
“It was also like a tolerance break so kind of worked out both ways.
“I was just scared because I knew my parents wouldn’t understand why I smoke. To them, it’s just another drug.
“But one day I was clearing out my uni bag and had left my grinder and papers in there. I put them on my bed to take my clothes out and forgot to put them back in my bag.
“An hour later, my mum calls me upstairs with the grinder and papers in her hand asking me ‘what is this?’.
“I lied and said it was my friends, I froze and didn’t know what else to say.
“My mum started crying and then my dad came in and saw what it was.
“I tried explaining that it’s fine, there’s nothing to be worried about but of course, once Asian parents have an idea in their head then that’s it.
“My dad was actually okay, he kind of understood that I’m at uni, we’re gonna experience this stuff.
“But my mum just thought I was off the rails yet my grades were always fine and I was always safe. So, I didn’t understand.
“She didn’t speak to me for three whole days, even when I tried to talk to her, she would ignore me or get p*ssed off.
“I went back to uni for my end of year exams and had to smoke up to relax. But I hated seeing my mum upset and going back to uni, I couldn’t do anything from there.
“I tried calling her every chance I could and after a few days, she would make small talk and that’s it.
“So, I smoked a spliff a day in the evening after revising.
“It would calm me down, make me more focused on making things right but I came to the realisation that I just need to be straight up.
“So, I told her what was going on and explained how the bud made me feel.
“I told her it’s definitely in moderation because I would smoke on the weekend and then have a few days off to save money.
“I explained all the research I saw and said this isn’t just some drug but she just kept crying and telling me that my life is ruined and I’ve ruined hers.
“That’s the last thing you want to hear as a kid.
“This went on for weeks, back and forth but my mum finally came around.
“She realised I was grown enough to make this type of decision. But she hated it, even to this day, but I thought the truth is always better than lying.
“We spoke more in person and the best thing I could do was just tell her exactly how I felt.
“A lot of people don’t because it’ll upset their parents, which it will. But that’s the only way to make them realise what you want them to.
“There’s no point beating around the bush and eventually my parents just accepted it, no matter how hard it was.
“I reassured them that it’s only in my time, so away from family and I’d never let it interfere with other things. That was our compromise.
“Now, I’ve travelled the world to experience bud. I want to get a feel of different cultures, their reaction to bud, how they grow it, how they use it.
“But it doesn’t interfere with my daily job in finance. If anything it helps.
“In my spare time, I go to different communities and set up private meetings with parents to help them understand weed and why their kids may be into it.
“I try to help them understand it from the perspective of the child so they feel more at ease.”
“I also help kids who are actually addicted because that can happen. That’s the issue aswell. When kids rely on weed to function, without actually doing it safely.
“That’s where I got lucky. I was surrounded by good friends who wouldn’t pressure me and I wouldn’t pressure them
“But in this type of society, you actually see it more.
“So, I try to speak to elders and most people in Asian communities but only through referrals – for their privacy and mine.
“It’s funny how many parents are actually starting to accept what’s going on but still don’t want their extended family or community to find out.
“I want to help break that stigma and help other Asians realise this is a part of life.
“With legalisations everywhere, it’s only a matter of time before it becomes accepted worldwide.
“I just want to say if any kids are smoking and worried about their parents, just be straight up with them.
“Of course, if it’s for a bit of fun then that’s fine but smokers will know when bud becomes a part of life. But it’s not as bad as the culture and society make it out to be.”
Ryan’s important experiences with weed are certainly a refreshing insight into the drug and someone’s first-hand interaction with it.
Whilst he advocates for its use amongst society, he is well aware of the dangers if misused.
However, he believes that goes for any substance, including over-the-counter prescriptions.
With such a solid narrative surrounding cannabis, Ryan is doing tremendous work to help parents navigate life at home when encountering weed.
Not only is this beneficial to those involved, but actually helps British Asian communities open a much-needed dialogue.
With growing evidence of weed’s medical benefits, there is certainly a growing fascination with how truly dangerous marijuana is or isn’t.
Hopefully, more British Asians from the South Asian communities will feel inspired to talk about their experiences in the future through Ryan’s story.