Cannabis - – analysing medical properties
DISCLAIMER: The following story is based on authentic information. The writer does not encourage any reader to indulge in cannabis without a physician's prescription. Individual opinions are strictly personal.
What if cannabis (marijuana) constitutes a small part of your medicine? Ever thought how it could even work wonders to gifting you a better life? The numerous health benefits of cannabis surprisingly boggle the human mind. Moreover, considering cannabis as the boon to the society, medical science has started accepting it for its study and application in various prescribed medicines globally to treat many diseases, and coined a new name – 'medical cannabis' or 'medical marijuana'. However, its application in the healthcare industry remains low in India due to production obligations and regulations by the government. Cannabis mainly describes a flowering plant while medical cannabis or medical marijuana is cannabis prescribed by doctors to their patients.
Recent researches demonstrate that as the stigma attached to weed (cannabis) dwindles, its popularity is the 'new in' because of its vast health benefits. However, it is recommended to visit your physician before the consumption of medical cannabis.
From the Indian context, marijuana is used in the edible form of bhang. Interestingly, Uttarakhand became the first state in India to legalise cannabis cultivation but for industrial purposes only. Additionally, one can find interesting views of people consuming marijuana in some form or the other in places like Varanasi, Pushkar, Goa and Kerala as well. Whereas, considering Europe, its consumption is legal in small quantities in countries like Netherlands, Norway and Portugal. Also, Turkey, Australia, Poland, Czech Republic, Puerto Rico, Canada, Macedonia, Croatia all have made cannabis cultivation legal for medicinal purposes.
Cannabis in Indian history
A fascinating Indian history of cannabis masked in the Vedas and other sacred Hindu texts throw light on the fact that cannabis was considered to be one of the sacred plants and a guardian angel lived in its leaves. The Vedas dating back to 4000 BCE signifies cannabis as a source of happiness, which alleviated fear and anxiety. Legends have it that the favourite food of Lord Shiva is the plant of cannabis and thereafter, he came to be known as the Lord of bhang. Available texts from ancient India confirm that the uses of cannabis for medical purposes included the treatment of insomnia, headaches, gastrointestinal and neurological disorders and pain during child delivery. In fact, the subject of medicinal properties of marijuana is clearly propounded in Ayurveda too.
New developments in medical sciences reveal that medicinal cannabis can actually act as a spur to boost creativity and enhance one's focus. In fact, it is proven that instead of making you a silly fellow, cannabis makes you smarter. So much so, that people often tend to come up with unique ideas. The application of medical cannabis has been proposed for the treatment of debilitating chronic diseases or symptoms including Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn's disease, Alzheimer's disease, cancer and chronic pain. Additionally, it has proven to be effective for treating arthritis, anxiety and depression.
Researchers at California Pacific Medical Centre in San Fransisco have revealed that cannabis also has immense capacity to obstruct the growth of cancer cells by turning off a gene named Id–1 and treat them with cannabidiol, another component of cannabis. It can successfully weaken tumour growths in brain, breasts and lungs. National Eye Institute has confirmed that marijuana effectively combats glaucoma, which damages the optic nerve and causes loss of vision. Marijuana, when smoked, lessened intraocular pressure (IOP) in people with normal pressure and those suffering from glaucoma.
What could be a better news for cannabis lovers to know that the marijuana they smoke is actually healthy for their lungs? A study published in 2012 suggests that marijuana smoke is significantly less harmful to your lungs than tobacco smoke, as the former enhances lung capacity. Moreover, it can cut the risk of long-term tobacco smoking (provided you quit smoking cigarettes). It is a blessing for patients with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and emphysema as they may even benefit from this herb.
Now the question arises that why is open consumption of cannabis not legal in India on a full-scale despite so many benefits? Whereas, cigarette smoking and alcohol which are injurious to health and causes cancer is accepted worldwide. Professor Nilanjan Saha, Department of Pharmacology at Hamdard University in New Delhi states, "The major reason behind this is 'craving'. Consuming cannabis can be extremely addictive. So much so, that it changes the behavioural patterns of a person – even much more than what alcohol and cigarettes do. The 'mania' is even more harmful than drinking or smoking and might disrupt the daily routine of a man. Alcohol or cigarettes do not necessarily make you an alcoholic or a chain smoker. Interestingly, a majority portion of the population is not alcoholic."
Extent of legalisation of medical cannabis
Professor Saha says, "Under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act), each state is required to constitute rules to put the act into effect. Cannabis cultivation is illegal as there are penal provisions, which highlights the fact that NDPS Act views drug offences very seriously and penalties are strict and rigid. However, harvesting of cannabis leaves from wild plants is permitted which is used to prepare 'bhang'. Whereas, use of flowering tops, buds and resin derived from weed plant is strictly prohibited by the law as these parts contain high quantity of psychotropic materials."
According to Nilanjana Chatterjee – a Kolkata based clinical psychologist and psychotherapist by profession, "Legalisation of cannabis will help only if it is implemented with proper infrastructure. It should be introduced for medical purposes solely. Now, whether its legalisation would welcome the higher chances of abuse or benefits is a big question. The country's huge population might stand as a barrier for its strict implementation. So it should not become an easy access for addiction purposes".
Limited application of cannabis in medical sciences
Application of medical cannabis is low despite innumerable health benefits. Throwing light on the fact, Prof Saha says, "Evidence is insufficient and only deficient data is available on medical cannabis. Lack of sponsor who can invest into the research and make a profit from return on investment, standardisation of herbal extracts and stringent laws and rules, as cannabis might fall into wrong hands, are some of the problems obstructing full-scale research on and application of medical cannabis".
Mousumi Banerjee, Head of Ophthalmology at Burdwan Medical College and Hospital claims, "It successfully combats glaucoma and relaxes optic nerves. It has proven to be an effective herb. However, its application in the field of ophthalmology is quite limited".
Future Prospects: Will cannabis gain more importance in medical sciences?
Speaking to Prof Saha, it could be stated there will an increasing demand to allow the medical use of cannabis only if safer alternatives and effective methods are adopted by scientists for experimentation without any mismanagement. In this way, according to the expert, "Patients across the globe, including Indian patients who are suffering from incurable chronic and debilitating diseases will also largely benefit from medical cannabis in the coming days as well if it is legalised in India".
Should cannabis be legalised in India to welcome advancements in medical sciences?
Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi has suggested legalising marijuana for medical purposes at a meeting of a group of ministers (GOM) recently. Gandhi said, "In some of the countries like the US, marijuana has been legalised which ultimately results in less drug abuse. The possibility of the same may be explored in India as well. It should be made legal especially as it serves a purpose in cancer".
Prof Saha opines that the Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances Act should be subjected to amendment keeping in mind the growing medical need. Some mechanisms focussing on the need to control the availability of cannabis and prevent its misuse should be implemented too. Eventually, as and when the government, scientific fraternity and the civil society, in general, will understand the implications of its regulated use and make cannabis the medium of its controlled use and controlled supply, humanity will benefit from such a move.
Chatterjee says, "I personally feel that if cannabis is embraced in future by medical sciences, it would be a huge benefit for almost all types of patients. If it is endowed with health benefits, then why not think of its legalisation? However, its application should be given a rational thought analysing its pros and cons and avoiding its misuse".
Debasish Basu, Professor of Psychiatry at Postgraduate Institute Medical Institute and Research in Chandigarh signifies the fact that, "Cannabis holds a lot of promise in India. However, there are many issues before legalisation. There are problems with cannabis because different preparations vary widely in potency and adverse effects. The right balance between the harmful component (delta-9 tetrahydro cannabinol, or THC) and the potentially useful component (cannabidiol, or CBD) is very important, which would necessitate careful standardisation. Synthetic or semi-synthetic preparations need to be developed and tested rigorously in Indian population before they can be marketed. In short, while medical cannabis is a potentially promising option, it could be a boon to medical sciences. However, we are still a far way off from actual legalisation in India as of now. I feel that Government should also encourage research in this important area.
Raising his voice in favour of legalisation of marijuana in 2015, BJD chief whip in Lok Sabha, Tathagata Satpathy had said, "India should revisit the ban on marijuana. However, I do not think it can happen. Unless there is some Act about the medical use of marijuana and the civil society creates some kind of pressure to insert the word "recreational". Moreover, we can also demand a change in the NDPS Act. I want to officially support decriminalisation of cannabis. Afterall, it is legal in Odisha."
Speaking of the consequences of the ban on cannabis, Satpathy had voiced, "Today, by imposing a ban on natural marijuana, which people have been using since ages, from the time of Lord Shiva, we have actually forced people to move on to increased consumption of alcohol, which has resulted in the rising crime rate." However, it is also imperative to keep in mind some of the effects of marijuana that can wreck havoc to one's health. Concerning short term risks, panic, increased risk of heart attacks, hallucinations, sexual problems for males, personal identity crisis, etc are included. Relationship problems, financial crisis, lower chances of life satisfaction, impaired cognitive functioning and the like fall under the long term risk bracket. So, think twice, play wise as conditions apply!