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Thursday, 30 May, 2002, 14:57 GMT 15:57 UK
Bhutan's growing cannabis problem
Bhutan landscape
Cannabis grows naturally in Bhutan's landscape

The authorities in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan say they are growing increasingly concerned about the growing use of cannabis among young people.

The cannabis plant thrives in remote and secluded Bhutan and is widely available all over the country.

But up until recently it was not used as a drug.

The authorities say all that has now changed as the tiny kingdom, with a population of only around 650,000, becomes more exposed to the outside world.

Dr Rinchen Chopel, the country's joint director of health care, says most people grew up with it and nobody took much notice of it - except to feed to animals like pigs.

"But in the last few years, especially in the last couple of years, we have been concerned by the reports and cases come to the notice of the authorities. "

Foreign influences

Dr Chopel says that exposure to foreign media and changes in life-style have all contributed to the problem.

Bhutanese youth
Young people are more exposed to outside influence

Satellite television has recently arrived in the country.

Dr Chopel says that foreigners are also partly to blame, even though there are strict regulations in Bhutan on the number of tourists allowed to visit.

Last year, there were fewer than 7,000 foreign visitors, most of whom paid a mandatory $200 a day.

Dr Chopel says the priority now was to burn as many cannabis plants as possible and give counselling to young people who wanted to stop smoking the drug.

See also:

09 Jan 02 | South Asia
26 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
15 Sep 00 | South Asia
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
26 Feb 02 | South Asia
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