To legalise or not to legalise?

Cannabis has been used in the country for ages and people swear by its medicinal  properties. But doctors warn of its addictive nature and suggest regulated use

Published: 31st January 2017 11:13 PM  |   Last Updated: 01st February 2017 06:10 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

BENGALURU: The debate about legalising Cannabis is a controversial one. On one side are ardent activists who see the many medicinal properties in the plant and on the other are cautious doctors and researchers who, while acknowledging its uses in medicine, are wary of its addictive quality.

Cases like that of Sindhu Kiran’s father in Bengaluru further strengthens the cause of legalising the plant. Sindhu is a homemaker whose father, MM Srinivasa Murthy, 71, a businessman, was diagnosed with fourth stage Glioblastoma (one of the most widespread forms of brain cancers) in February 2015. He resorted to the usual procedures of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. For a month he was fine but went downhill thereafter. “My dad became a vegetable. He could not move.

We had to carry him, wash him and feed him,” she says. Beyond a certain point, the medicines were also not working, she adds. Finally she heard about healing using cannabis oil from Viki Vaurora, a prominent campaigner for cannabis legalisation in India, and decided to try it. “We began on September 2015 and certain dosages of the canabbis oil were given every day. My dad now eats by himself and goes for a walk every morning. This cure needs to be promoted widely,” she says.

In the midst of this raging debate on legalisation, it is difficult to ignore testimonials and stories such as the ones like Sindhu’s. However, doctors like Dr Vishal Rao, an oncologist with HCG Hospital, says that while there is no doubt that marijuana has medicinal properties, there is however, no scientific research to back stories like that of Sindhu’s. “Science requires scientific vetting and cannot be based on anecdotes. We need a larger framework based on efficacy, methodology, research and proper regulation,” he says. He himself is all for legalisation of the cannabis but in a regulated manner.

Regulation is what advocates like Viki do not warm to. Giving an example, he says, opium in its natural form has a number of beneficial effects, but as synthetic Morphine has a number of side affects. “Recent studies also suggest that its affects are gradually waning. We do not want the same for the cannabis. Once pharma companies get it then it becomes a merely money making enterprise,” he says.

When asked why research has not yet been taken up on a wider scale, Dr Vishal says that it might be due to its addictive nature. “Marijuana is addictive and can lead to hallucinations, and other neuropsychotropic affects. A mature consensus has been reached on its use. I do not know if our country is mature enough,” he says.
The two sides stand united against “the regressive attitude of the government” in outrightly banning a plant that has been in use in the country for ages. Dr Sathyanarayana Bhat is the former principal and now visiting professor at the Government Ayurvedic Medical College in the city, one of the oldest Ayurveda colleges in the country.

Dr Bhat and a few other doctors tried to push through a proposal for the possibility of using cannabis in pain management during cancer. “The project was outright;” he says. In Ayurveda texts like the Bhavaprakasha Nighantu, a dictionary of medicinal plants, Bhat says the plant has been recommended for conditions like insomania, gastrointestinal disorders and acute pain management. “In many Vedic texts it was also used as a mood elevator,” he says.

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