By Elton Gomes
Medical marijuana could become legal in India. This can be said after Indian scientists are making efforts to find potential uses for active ingredients in the cannabis plant for management of diseases such as cancers, epilepsy, and sickle cell anaemia.
“Cannabis-based drugs have the potential to meet the unmet needs of terminally-ill cancer patients and of those suffering from epilepsy and sickle cell anaemia, a hereditary disease that afflicts nearly two crore tribals living mainly in central States,” Ram Vishwakarma, Director of the Jammu-based Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (IIIM), told a meeting of experts and industry captains on Friday, Business Line reported.
“The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), of which IIIM is a part, decided to take a lead role in this as we are a neutral party and have no commercial bias,” Vishwakarma added.
Under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, India does not permit the recreational use of cannabis. However, no restriction is placed on an edible preparation called bhang, which is allowed in some states.
IIIM Jammu’s plans
Speaking at an event ‘Cannabis R&D in India: A Scientific, Medical & Legal Perspective’ held in New Delhi on Friday, Dr Vishwakarma said, “We want to conduct clinical trials of the drugs on terminally ill patients at the Tata Memorial Hospital for cancer, at AIIMS for epilepsy and Sickle Cell Institute Chhattisgarh (SCIC) for sickle cell anaemia to find its efficacy,” the Pioneer reported.
Last year, the CSIR-IIIM received a research approval to grow cannabis for medicinal usage in Jammu & Kashmir. The institution did this in collaboration with Bombay Hemp Company (BOHECO), a Mumbai-based firm.
Speaking at the same conference, Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh said IIIM Jammu will conduct a landmark study on cannabis to explore its potential benefits.
“CSIR-IIIM Jammu has been given the responsibility of undertaking this study because the institute specialises in herbal and medicinal plants and has a legacy of undertaking pioneering research in the field ever since the time of its founding father Sir Ram Nath Chopra,” Singh said, as per an Indian Express report.
Singh further said that clinical trials of the drug would be done in collaboration with Tata Memorial Cancer Centre, Mumbai. The cancer centre functions under the aegis of the Department of Atomic Energy, which comes under his ministry.
MPs support legalisation of marijuana
You heard that right! As per a 2016 report, Dharamvir Gandhi, a Lok Sabha MP from Punjab, was keen on legalizing cannabis. He even moved a private member’s bill in an attempt to legalise the recreational use of cannabis in India.
“Soft drugs are part of the cultural history of India and does not lead to an abusive lifestyle or rise in crime. It was only used as a measure of ‘mauj-masti‘ (relaxation and enjoyment) by the common people,” Gandhi told News18.
Gandhi believes that the current law governing narcotics has helped in expanding the drug mafia and in the spreading of more harmful drugs like cocaine, smack, and heroine.
His bill sought to permit authorised and monitored sale of soft drugs as well as legitimise cultivation, production, possession, manufacture, sale, transport, and inter-state export, import, use, and consumption of such soft drugs.
In another report in 2017, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi suggested that marijuana be legalized for medical purposes. Her suggestion came on the lines of the practice adopted by some developed countries like the US to curb drug abuse.
Gandhi put forth the suggestion at a meeting of a group of ministers (GOM), which examined the draft cabinet note National Drug Demand Reduction Policy, as per a PTI report.
Gandhi said that in “some of the developed countries like the US, marijuana has been legalised which ultimately results in less drug abuse”.
She added that “the possibility of the same maybe explored in India”. When asked to elaborate, Gandhi told PTI that “marijuana should be legalised for medical purposes, especially as it serves a purpose in cancer”.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius