In India, the cultivation, production, possession, sale or distribution, transport, and storage of cannabis is illegal under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act and the Prevention of Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, both of 1985.
The recreational use of marijuana is illegal in the country despite the fact that it plays a major role, in the form of an infused drink known as bhang, during a yearly festival of the Hindu religion called Holi. As of the 2011 census, 80 percent of the people of India identify as Hindu.
A group has organized to lobby for access to medical marijuana in India, but it is not the 80 percent of the population who look at ganja through religious eyes. It is the top oncologists of Bengaluru who are asking to legalize cannabis for medicinal studies and use in the treatment of cancer patients.
Dr. Vishal Rao, surgical oncologist with Health Care Global Enterprises (HCG), told The Times of India that this idea came about during conversations about tobacco farming. There are just fewer than 100,000 registered tobacco farmers in India using about 0.25 percent of farmland throughout the country. Dr. Rao explained his frustration,
“We are encouraging cultivation of tobacco that causes various types of cancer. At the other end, we are ignoring the medicinal properties of a plant that can help cancer patients. We are not even able to take up research as procurement of the plant is illegal in India, whereas oncologists in 23 states of the US are prescribing derivatives of cannabis for cancer treatment.”
Dr. Rao also pointed out that some cannabinoids in marijuana can interrupt the steady blood supply to cancer cells, shrinking the size of the tumor due to a “lack of glucose,” which would otherwise be food for the hungry cancer cells. He later added, “It is also helpful in reducing nausea and vomiting sensation for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.”
Chairman of HCG Enterprises, Dr. B S Ajai Kumar explained reasoning for the recent mobilization of the effort to legalize medical marijuana in India,
“We want to take up research on medicinal benefits of cannabis derivatives. But to take it up we need the plants, which is not available in India. We are approaching the government with a proposal to legalize medicinal use of cannabis.”
This group of more than 400 cancer specialists insists that the request for access to cannabis is strictly for medicinal purposes. They do not condone the recreational use at this time because there is not enough medical research on the topic conducted by the medical community in India. Dr. Rao stated that “even speaking about it [cannabis] is avoided,” and they want to overcome that negative stigma to be able to explore the possible healing properties of the plant. It is uncertain what length of time will be required to pass such a proposal.
Photo Credit: TheHindu