Recently, the scientific community is focusing on the possible medical uses of cannabis.
Many states in the United States have legalized marijuana for medical purposes. It may potentially help fight the opioid epidemic due to their use in chronic pain. In India, Bhang is not restricted under the Narcotics Act.
Cannabis leaves-based drugs were found to be effective in alleviating pain and other symptoms in cancer patients after chemo- and radiotherapy in a pilot study conducted in 2018 by Central Council For Research in Ayurvedic Sciences (CCRAS), a research body under the Ministry of AYUSH in collaboration with the Gujarat Ayurved University, Jamnagar on cancer patients undergoing treatment at the Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai.
Further to this pilot study, another study is proposed to be conducted at AIIMS to examine and validate the efficacy of cannabis in reducing side-effects in patients suffering from breast and cervix cancer. (The Week-PTI, Nov.25, 2018, https://www.theweek.in/wire-updates/national/2018/11/25/des7-ayush-cannabis-cancer-aiims.html).
However, two international studies published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine and the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2018 reported increased risk of use of prescription opioids and nonmedical prescription opioid use with the medical use of cannabis.
Cannabis is derived from the cannabis plant, Cannabis sativa. It is mainly used as charas, hashish, ganja and bhang.
The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985 has defined cannabis as below:
“(iii) "cannabis (hemp)" means-
(a) charas, that is, the separated resin, in whatever form, whether crude or purified, obtained from the cannabis plant and also includes concentrated preparation and resin known as hashish oil or liquid hashish;
(b) ganja, that is, the flowering or fruiting tops of the cannabis plant (excluding the seeds and leaves when not accompanied by the tops), by whatever name they may be known or designated; and
(c) any mixture, with or without any neutral material, of any of the above forms of cannabis or any drink prepared therefrom;”
Bhang is prepared from the leaves (and seeds) of the cannabis plant. Hence, it is not covered under the NDPS Act, 1985, which bans the production and sale of cannabis resin and flowers, but permits use of leaves and seeds.
Mixing of bhang with any part of flowering tops or the resin produced from the cannabis plants, however, is a punishable offence under relevant provisions of the NDPS Act, 1985.
The National Policy on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances allows cultivation of cannabis, with permit, for purposes of research and not for medical purposes. “Cultivation of cannabis will not be permitted given its limited proven uses for medical purposes. Cultivation shall be permitted for research including trials of various varieties of cannabis (20).”
“Section 14 of the NDPS Act empowers the Government to, by general or special order, permit cultivation of cannabis exclusively for horticultural and industrial purposes (23).”
More scientific research is needed on the medicinal properties of cannabis within the regulatory framework.
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), which is “the apex body for the formulation, coordination and promotion of biomedical research” in the country, should spearhead the research on this to authenticate the medicinal properties of cannabis and then come out with recommendations on medical cannabis use.
Dr KK Aggarwal
Padma Shri Awardee
President Elect Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania (CMAAO)
Group Editor-in-Chief IJCP Publications
President Heart Care Foundation of India
Past National President IMA