Medicinal cannabis revisited – Strength through science

Dr Sona A Pungavkar
In an ancient Chinese pharmacopoeia titled Divine Farmer’s Herb Root Classic, which was published in 2727 BC and is considered to be the world’s oldest manual on medicine, Cannabis is listed as one of the most potent cures for a range of maladies. The books of our very own Indian Ayurveda, including Atharvaveda, have long recognized Cannabis as a crown jewel of healing. Western medicine has also been aware of this drug for centuries. In fact, the British performed a massive research in 1894, the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission, during their rule in India to study its health, social and moral impact. Their findings proved that moderate Cannabis usage was a) either relatively harmless or possibly even beneficial and b) banning of the plant would be unjust given its established cultural and religious importance. The La Guardia report in 1944, New York, endorsed by New York Academy Of Medicine, also firmly established that not only did the herb not have any of the deleterious effects,butinsteadpossessed potential therapeutic and medicinal benefits that needed to be explored and there was absolutely no question of banning it.
These events prompted research on the plant, which eventually led to the discovery of THC, the psychoactive component, in 1964 by an Israeli team of doctors. This allowed a breakthrough in the understanding of the plant as well as the endocannabinoid system of the human body, which is known to regulate various systems in the body.
American President Richard Nixon brought about policies, which waged a war on drugs. In the process, a report brought out by The Shafer Commission Report in 1972, by Cannabis experts after 2 years of research, suggested removal of criminalities against it’s use in view of the massive benefits, it offered. However, this report was ignored and Cannabis took the brunt getting branded as a narcotic drug. Despite this severe blow, progress in Cannabis research continued in the USA as well as other countries. In fact, the first study in 1974 designed to show the dangers of the plant, accidentally ended up proving its benefits when it successfully shrank tumours induced in mice in the laboratories. This study has been published in Journal of the National Cancer Institute and had a grant from American Cancer Institute and funds from National Institute of Drug Abuse.
A similar study confirming shrinkage of tumors in mice was published in Nature Medicine, 2000. Marihuana Reconsidered, a book penned by noted psychiatrist Dr. Lester Grinspoonwas first published in 1971 and updated in 1977, becoming a Harvard Press bestselller. He methodically reviews the effects of marihuana and proposes itto be appropriate for medical use. A publication in 2014 in the esteemed New England Journal of Medicine documents reduction in seizures with use of cannabinoids.
Over the years several more studies have been conducted and have revealed Cannabis as a possible treatment for Cancer and the side-effects of chemotherapy such as nausea and also illnesses like AIDS, opioid addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, and many more. This is why over 30 countries have gone ahead and legalized or decriminalized the cultivation, sale and usage of Cannabis and its derived products.
Now that most of the world has opened up to the facts about Cannabis, a new era of medicine is ready to be ushered in and India needs to be at the forefront. By learningfrom countries, where the plant has already been legalized for medicinal purposes, we need to implement modern policies that allow its cultivation and the production of Cannabis based medication. Understanding the rise in such a public opinion and expecting the eventual legalization by the Indian government, Cannabis Health And Sciences (CHS) has already begun to lay the groundwork to be an industry leader when that happens. Backed by a talented and qualified team of doctors with international training and exposure, CHS is founded on a strong ethos to not operate as a corporate pharmaceutical company but as a community based scientific organization built for the betterment of humanity. The cultivation and development of our products will be done using only state-of-the-art technology and the highest possible safety standards. This way, we will ensure the natural benefits of the herb are retained completely and delivered to the end consumer, in the most wholesome way possible. The organization is in constant contact with leading agricultural universities and associations studying Cannabis in India as well as in various countries such as the USA, Canada and Thailand.
It is this continuous knowledge sharing of techniques and information that makes us one of the leading Cannabis research organizations in the country.
We hope to take this expertise to the various state governments and work alongside the lawmakers of our nation to formulate the necessary regulations for medical Cannabis. We are extremely optimistic about the government’s reception to our efforts and hope to begin clinical trials as well as cultivation and manufacturing of Cannabis products as soon as a positive decision is made. Until then, we will continue on our path to research and educate the public about the miracles of the plant.
The writer is DNB, DMRD, MR Consultant, Global Hospitals, MR Consultant, S.L.Raheja- Fortis Associate Hospital, Head of Imaging, Kohinoor Hospital, Medical Director SDRC National RAKSHA Co-ordinator - IRIA, Mumbai