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Tramadol-spiked hashish comes at a high price in Cairo Open in fullscreen

Asim Ashraf

Tramadol-spiked hashish comes at a high price in Cairo

A lot of hashish available in Egypt is laced with other substances [AFP]

Date of publication: 16 September, 2015

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Feature: Hash is widely available on the streets of the Egyptian capital, but dealers are mixing the narcotic with more harmful and addictive substances.
Hash, a resinous compressed product of the cannabis plant, is easily available in many areas of Cairo, and widely used.

But there is increasing evidence that much of the supply has been cut with more dangerous and addictive pharmaceutical drugs.

While Mohammad was on his morning commute to work in a minibus, he watched the driver casually roll up a hash cigarette.

The driver blew out a cloud of smoke in annoyance as he handed the joint to his assistant, saying: "It's bad."

He meant the hash was not pure.

In greater Cairo, smoking hash is commonplace. The drug is widely availabile, but is generally laced with other substances, which make it more harmful and addictive, an investigation by al-Araby al-Jadeed reveals.

Police protection

Offering hashish, locally known as bango, to wedding guests is an expression of hospitality

Supplying weddings with hash, locally known as bango, is big business during spring and summer and is seen as an expression of hospitality, according to Mohammad, whose sister was getting married in Hilwan, south of Cairo.

During the wedding, the guests openly smoked the illicit compressed herb in cigarettes and water pipes, without any fear of the authorities. It was freely available throughout the wedding, served on aluminum foil-covered platters.

Mohammad explained the relaxed attitude toward drug-taking, saying he had obtained a legal permit from the local authorities to hold the wedding.

"The place is safe and the police know what's happening here, and they won't intervene. It's a common custom in poor neighbourhoods," Mohammad said.

The bride's brother said he bought $590 worth of hash to treat his guests "but the problem is that most of it is laced with pharmaceutical drugs and tramadol". 

Tramodol is a powerful pain medication.

Al-Araby al-Jadeed took samples of the hash from the Hilwan wedding and another wedding in Giza - where young children working for a wedding planning business were handing the drugs out to guests - for laboratory testing.

Analysis results

A private lab revealed the two samples did not contain any of the original plant at all, but instead simply contained tramadol, blended with brown henna paste.

Imad al-Sharif, the chemist who carried out the tests, confirmed it was common for pharmaceutical drugs to be mixed with henna to fool users, who soon become addicted to the chemical concoctions of the pharmaceuticals.

Tests revealed traces of morphine, tramadol and anesthetic drugs, even though patients said they don't use anything other than hash

"This is not the first time I find tramadol-laced hash, which makes for a dangerous mix," Sharif said.

He added that he conducts urine tests on people applying for jobs or drivers' licenses and regularly finds traces of tramadol.

However, the people being tested deny using the addictive painkiller, but admit they have smoked hash.

Doctor Manal Adel, the chief physician at the Egyptian Centre for Drug Control, said she regularly sees cases in which hash users suffer from withdrawal symptoms commonly associated with heroin and tramadol addicts.

"Tests reveal traces of morphine, tramadol and anesthetic drugs - despite patients saying they don't use anything other than hashish," Adel said.

"Most hashish in Egypt is laced, which makes it more addictive and increases the profits of dealers," she added.

Adel told al-Araby al-Jadeed that while hashish does not have immediate long-term effects, tramadol is the opposite as it causes addiction, mental imbalances and depression.

Wide availability

Many hash smokers told al-Araby al-Jadeed that buying high quality hashish was easy, as it was openly sold in the al-Hawamdiyah neighbourhood in Giza.

The paper visited the area to investigate, for purely journalistic purposes, and found hash dealers openly selling drugs on the streets - with a steady stream of customers arriving to purchase their products.

Analysis of a hash sample obtained in al-Hawamdiyah revealed that it was pure and did not contain any additives, unlike the samples obtained from weddings around Cairo.

If the police were going to raid the area, I would get a call from my police contact and we would hide our merchandise
- Drug dealer

A hash dealer from al-Hawamdiyah who agreed to speak to Al-Araby al-Jadeed on the condition of anonymity said they were able to openly trade on the streets because they pay off the police.

"I openly sell to passers by in al-Hawamdiyah without any fear. If the police were going to raid the area, I would get a call from my police contact and we would hide our merchandise," said the dealer.

Local police sometimes arrest drug users after they make their purchases in al-Hawamdiyah, just to seem like they are combating drugs, the dealer said.

"The big-time dealers have sorted themselves out with government officials and most of the hash in Egypt comes from Morocco through Libya, especially after the instability there," the dealer said.

"However, some dealers lace hash with other drugs to make it more addictive and harder to quit."

The dealer expressed his support for the calls to legalise, tax and regulate the use of hashish and other marijuana derivatives, which could be a valuable revenue stream for the state.

Cannabis plants and their products are currently classified as class A drugs in Egypt, and dealing in these substances can be punishable by death, while using hash is only punishable by a prison term with hard labour.

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