Story of cannabis from a household plant to an illicit drug

Dr Reza Borhani
From religious to medical uses, Cannabis, more popularly known as marijuana or weed, has had a long and tumultuous past in India. For most of recorded Indian history, the plant has held a reverential status and yet, in the present day and age, it continues to be treated as an illegal and harmful substance, despite modern scientific evidence proving otherwise.
So what caused this change in perception? To understand this, we must trace its roots back to 1930s and USA. During this period, hemp, the non-psychoactive cousin of Cannabis, became a popular source to make paper, essential oils, furniture, construction material, fodder, clothes and so much more. Its abundance and popularity threatened the liquor, timber, gasoline and, the then newly established, synthetic and plastic industries. Wealthy and connected lobbyists from groups with vested interests in these industries, steered governmental and public opinion, to impose a heavy tax on all forms of Cannabis.
This brought several budding marijuana enterprises to a stand-still. So much so, that in 1941, Henry Ford invented a car built almost entirely out of hemp derived plastic which was ten times stronger than steel and ran on biodiesel extracted from hemp seeds. However, the revolutionary vehicle could never be mass produced due to existing laws. Fast forward to 1970, and the final nail in the coffin was delivered in the form of the Controlled Substances Act during President Richard Nixon’s tenure which banned all production and consumption of the plant. Thus began the Drug Enforcement Agency’s infamous and ignorant “War On Drugs” which lumped both variants of Cannabis (sativa and indica), with several other synthetic drugs, in terms of illegality and punishment.
Since the USA has always wielded influence in world politics, they used the UN to strong-arm several other nations to follow suit. After battling pressure since 1961, the Rajiv Gandhi government finally caved in 1985, and enacted a law called the Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances Act. This and the Controlled Substances Act focussed only on the unsubstantiated claims of the danger related to THC (the psychoactive element), while ignoring the numerous benefits obtainable from both strains of Cannabis. There are several components in the plant, which have a synergistic effect on each other, also known as the “ Entourage effect”. They also completely overlooked the previously known benefits of hemp based materials and fuels.
The damage caused by these acts has kept the world from countless innovations across multiple industries as well as destroyed the possibility of having a healthier, sustainable future. Lobbying from parallel industries has also played a major role in maintaining the illegal status of marijuana even though their own products have been proven to cause life-threatening diseases. In fact, marijuana has been proven to help lower the dependency on alcohol and nicotine.
Better late than never, the USA finally learnt from its mistakes by federally legalizing Hemp as an agricultural commodity in 2018. This allows the production and import/export of the plant for industrial purposes, though CBD products still require special FDA approval. Several states have also gone so far as to legalize the production and recreational use of Cannabis strains containing THC. Besides this, Cannabis is now legal in over 40 countries worldwide. So, why are we not following their lead this time? The scientifically proven health, environmental, and economical benefits of this herb far outweigh the half-baked claims against it.
Cannabis Health And Sciences (CHS) is advocating the medicinal use of this miraculous drug to treat patients with refractory epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer palliation and several others. In these conditions, patients face the prospect of a poor quality of life, in addition to the effects of the disease. Cannabis can help in a major way, to alleviate the effects of both the issues, as is known via several clinical trials and double-blind studies conducted internationally, says Dr Sona Pungavkar from CHS team. She adds that CHS favorsusing the full extract of the plant due to the “Entourage effect”, explained above.
We, the team at CHS, are trying to expedite the process to make this wondrous herb easily available to the Indian masses. CHS team feels that the time is right and is working on sensitising the various state governments for a need to bring about a change in the state law so that the Indian patients need not be deprived of the miracles of this plant and at the same allow the opening of a whole new arena of jobs.
The writer is Founder & President, Cannabis Health and Sciences Pvt. Ltd.