Notwithstanding advances in medical science, one area that is begging for more research is medical marijuana. A growing body of evidence shows that marijuana use does wonders for chronic pain management associated with several diseases including cancer. In fact, many patients find marijuana to be a safer option than normal pain medications which are known to have side effects. Cannabidiol (CBD) is the non-psychoactive chemical compound in marijuana that reduces inflammation and pain. Add to this the fact that marijuana use has been part of Indian culture for centuries, and it makes little sense not to explore the medical uses of the hemp plant.
However, the subject remains taboo in India because of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985. That in turn was the result of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs that clubbed cannabis with hard drugs. However, the Indian law permitted the use of leaves and seeds of the hemp plant, allowing states to regulate usage. And since marijuana leaves and seeds are CBD-dominant, they are excellent inputs for medical marijuana.
But the overall restrictive approach towards marijuana usage means that CBD medication research and development can’t take off. This in turn means that cancer patients and others in dire need of pain mitigation don’t have access to medical marijuana and have to rely on informal networks and grey markets where quality is compromised. Luckily, there is now a global movement to legalise medical marijuana and 34 countries – including 25 states in the US – have permitted marijuana for medical use. In such a scenario, India too should not shy away from adopting a more liberal approach to marijuana use and open up CBD medication. Doing so will also help tackle harmful opiate usage. Besides, a government that prides itself on upholding Indian culture should be more open to marijuana use and research.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.