The stigma of cannabis

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byGursartaj Singh

Cannabis: Will we be able to hard-sell Ayurvedic virtues? 

Cannabis refers to a group of three plants with psychoactive properties, known as Cannabis sativa, Cannabis Indica and Cannabis ruderalis. When the flowers of these plants are harvested and dried, you’re left with one of the most common drugs in the world. Some call it weed, some call it pot and others call it marijuana. Legally sold in India until 1985, cannabis was used recreationally and was socially accepted. But most people disregard its medicinal use through the traditional system of ayurveda to cure serious diseases.

The Central Council For Research in Ayurvedic Sciences, a research body under India’s AYUSH ministry of traditional medicine, announced positive results from the first clinical study in India on the use of cannabis as a restorative drug for cancer patients. “In the pilot study conducted earlier this year, cannabis leaves-based drugs have been found effective in alleviating pain and other symptoms in cancer patients post chemo and radiotherapy,” the council’s director-general Vaidya K S Dhiman had told PTI. But trials and approvals may still take some time coming.

The Stigma

The United States began a worldwide campaign against all drugs in the 60s, possibly motivated by racial prejudice and politics, and while India initially opposed it, in 1985, the Rajiv Gandhi’s government enforced the NDPS Act, banning all narcotic drugs in India. The harshest result of that Act? Categorising cannabis together with hard drugs, like opiates and cocaine. Today, if you are caught with a gram or two of cannabis, you can face jail-time from five to 20 years.

In the US, the continuation of the Federal designation of cannabis as a ‘Schedule I’ drug paints its use in a seriously negative light. After all, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration ‘Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.’ Drugs that fall within this category also include heroin and methaqualone.

However, the Act made a small distinction for bhang. It excluded the cannabis seeds and leaves, when not accompanied by flower or fruit top, from its definition of cannabis, and bhang consumption carries on to this day.

Where are we now with marijuana legalisation?

Ironically, the US started legalising marijuana in 2014. Currently, the use of marijuana legally is as follows:

• Medical marijuana is legal in 33 US states and the District of Columbia

• Marijuana is allowed for recreational use in 10 states

• Marijuana use is decriminalized in 13 states plus the U.S. Virgin Islands

The effect—increased revenues, reduced crime rates and lesser drug-related arrests.

Cannabis and its use in medicine

Cannabis has been used for medical purposes for many centuries. It has been reported that cannabis may be useful to help conditions such as:

• Nausea and vomiting, particularly when associated with chemotherapy

• Severe weight loss in people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or anorexia nervosa, as it may be used as an appetite stimulant

• Pain relief, for example in people with cancer and arthritis

• Relief from symptoms of some neurological disorders that involve muscle spasms, including multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injury

• Glaucoma

• Asthma

Other, major diseases/illnesses/addictions that Cannabis has been known to help with include:

Chronic pain

Marijuana, or products containing cannabinoids — which are the active ingredients in marijuana, or other compounds that act on the same receptors in the brain as marijuana — are effective at relieving chronic pain.

Alcoholism and drug addiction

A comprehensive review of evidence, published last year in the journal Clinical Psychology Review, revealed that using marijuana may help people with alcohol or opioid dependencies to fight their addictions.

Cancer

Evidence suggests that oral cannabinoids are effective against nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, and some small studies have found that smoked marijuana may also help to alleviate these symptoms.

Epilepsy

In June 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of a medication containing cannabidiol (CBD) to treat two rare, severe, and specific types of epilepsy — called Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome — that are difficult to control with other types of medication. This CBD-based drug is known as Epidiolex.

CBD is one of many substances that occurs in cannabis. It is not psychoactive. The drug for treating these conditions involves a purified form of CBD. The approval was based on the findings of research and clinical trials.

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