Context: Legalising and commercialization of Cannabis can be dangerous.
More in news: There is a growing movement in the West to legalise cannabis, with rumblings of the same in India.
- Cannabis is the generic name for illegal drugs derived from the female Cannabis plants.
- The main psychoactive ingredient is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
- When consumed, it causes a high by acting on endogenous cannabis receptors in the brain.
- The THC can give users a “chilled out” feeling but it can also cause hallucinations and make people feel paranoid and panicked.
- It is normally smoked but can also be eaten and comes in three main forms:
- Hash – a lump of resin
- Marijuana – the dried leaves and flowering parts of the female plant
- Oil – a thick honey-like substance
- Cannabidiol (CBD) is the second cannabinoid, which is associated with medicinal properties.
Cannabis in India:
- The earliest known reports regarding the use of cannabis in India come from the Atharva-Veda, written around 2000-1400 BCE.
- Cannabis has been consumed in different ways such as smoking (ganja), chewing (bhaang), drinking (tea), etc.
- Its plant has been used for manufacturing clothes, shoes, ropes and paper.
- In ancient India, it was used for treating or alleviating symptoms of several diseases.
In 1961, when an international treaty titled the ‘Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs’ was signed, this clubbed Cannabis with other Schedule 1 drugs like opium and cocaine. Thus a ban was imposed on production and use of Cannabis. However, the treaty still allowed India to carry on the tradition of large-scale consumption of ‘bhang’ and gave the country 25 years to clamp down on the drug’s recreational use. At the end of it, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (India) was passed in 1985. After a few amendments, it came into effect, and it remains to this day.
Misconception about Cannabis:
- It is not accurate that cannabis is harmless. However, studies show that cannabis has following harmful effects:
- Its immediate effects include impairments in memory and in mental processes, including ones that are critical for driving.
- Long-term use of cannabis may lead to the development of addiction of the substance, persistent cognitive deficits, and of mental health problems like schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.
- Exposure to cannabis in adolescence can alter brain development.
- If cannabis is legalised and regulated, its harms can be minimised. However, it must be kept in mind that commercialization comes with legislation. This has already been witnessed with the use of tobacco and alcohol. The morbidity and mortality associated with tobacco and alcohol rank amongst the top 10 in terms of the global disease burden.
Cannabis legislation around the world:
- Several jurisdictions around the world have now legalised cannabis, including Uruguay, Catalonia, Canada and nine states in the United States.
- Uruguay legalised the recreational use of cannabis in 2013 with people allowed to grow up to six plants at home for personal use.
- In Spain, it is legal to use cannabis in private places and cultivate plants for personal use.
- Recreational use is also decriminalised in several other countries, including Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Jamaica and Luxembourg.
Why Cannabis should not be legalized in India?
- India has a history of misuse of even prescription drugs that are otherwise beneficial. Weak opiates (derivatives of opium) are one of the easily available alternatives to cannabis for medical conditions.
- Codeine-based cough syrups are effective for controlling severe cough, but after reports of rampant misuse, the Narcotics Control Bureau asked the Drug Controller General of India to reduce its availability despite proven effectiveness. In Indian context, when prescription drugs are grossly misused, it would be difficult to ensure disciplined used of cannabis.
- India is struggling to control the three addictive substances of tobacco, alcohol and areca nut. As per the Global Adult Tobacco Survey, 270 million Indians use tobacco and it kills around 1.35 million Indians every year. Nearly 30% of India’s adult population is using alcohol, leading to 3.3 million deaths. Legalisation of cannabis is not only going to worsen these alarming statistics, but also serve as a gateway for one of these carcinogens.
- The younger generation is living in an era of personal liberty, rising affluence, more prone to addiction and struggling with personal relationships. Introduction of yet another psychoactive drug will wreak havoc on a population still struggling with tobacco, alcohol and pan masala.
- It is unlikely to solve the drug menace in Punjab, Rajasthan and other states. Predatory marketing of cannabis companies will hit the vulnerable population most, such as youth, poor, insecure, illiterate.
- Once introduced, it will establish a big market that would make subsequent tighter regulations impossible.
Marijuana for recreational use will have many adverse health effects. The drug is addictive, with mounting evidence for the existence of a withdrawal syndrome. Furthermore, it has been shown to have adverse effects on mental health, intelligence (including irreversible declines in cognition), and the respiratory system. Driving while acutely intoxicated with marijuana greatly increases the risk of fatal motor vehicle collision. India must carefully consider all the risks associated with it and consider other alternatives before taking any decision on legalization of Cannabis.