The ganja debate

By | November 5, 2018

To legalise it or not, is an issue that ought be considered

Marijuana or cannabis, traditionally called ganja, the psychoactive plant whose consumption is controlled or banned in many countries, has been at the centre of a global dialogue over legalisation in the 21st century. Over the course of the last year, there has been a national political manoeuvre regarding this issue and India appears to have finally begun the journey to legalise the substance. In July 2017, Union Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi suggested the legalisation of ganja for medicinal purposes. In February 2018, the Prime Minister’s Office wrote to the Ministry of Health and Welfare directing it to examine the potential benefits associated with cannabis. A few months later, Shashi Tharoor, the Member of Parliament for Thiruvananthapuram, vouched for its legalisation in an Op-Ed piece in a newspaper. There has been some political momentum and the gates have finally been opened for a free discussion of the issue by the public. However, many shy away from a dialogue since it is deemed to be a culturally sensitive issue.

Popular culture perceptions and decades of strict regulation have put a stigma on the issue of legalisation. Adding to this, since we have a large number of youth using the substance for pleasure and other psychedelic effects, the spotlight has shifted from its positive medical uses to the recreational facets. As a result, the negative aspects concerning intoxication get more attention. Among many traditional elderly people of the 21st century, even the mention of the term ganja is often clouded by images of abuse. This may be the time to attempt to shift the focus from the plant’s intoxicating effects and focus on its medicinal benefits. The medicinal aspect of marijuana should be separated from the recreational so that we can prioritise and serve those who are in need of a natural medical alternative to ease their daily physical and/or mental pain.

It is vital that we look through any stigma and inform ourselves of the various benefits that ganja offers, and not let any cultural stains hinder the formation of a rational perspective on this issue.

This banned plant was actually engraved in Indian history. The earliest known mention of cannabis was in the Indian scriptures, as far back as in 2000 to 1400 B.C. It has been woven into the fabric of religion, with some Hindu scriptures lauding the plant as a source of happiness. History has been a witness to the various medical applications of ganja. It was included in Ayurveda as an ingredient in making pain relievers, and Sushruta Samhita, the ancient Sanskrit text on medicine and surgery, claimed that ganja could be used for treating phlegm, catarrh, and diarrhoea.

Although cannabis has had the benefit of such historical backing, these accounts have been frequently dismissed when considering legalisation since they have one major flaw: the lack of an adequate scientific-research basis.

The lack of scientific footing regarding the plant’s use has been inhibiting the legalisation of marijuana. What we do have with us is anecdotal evidence from many ganja consumers all over the world, which has been a driving force for legalisation in many American states. However, it is tempting for many to undermine the importance of anecdotal observations, and there seems to be a heavy reliance on conclusions drawn scientifically. The discourse regarding legalisation is played down just because there is paucity of scientific grounding. This should be condemned since it would be ignorant of us not to consider personal experiences. It is true that we do need scientific approval to make ganja accessible to the general public, but we have to use anecdotal evidence to steer the conversation for legalisation in the positive direction instead of dismissing such discussions altogether.

Many medical ganja consumers have come forward with their personal accounts and many have been using it to treat medical disorders ranging from nightmares to multiple sclerosis. Studies have also observed that ganja is effective in treating side-effects of chemotherapy such as nausea, vomiting and neuropathic pain. In one study conducted by Jody Corey Bloom, 30 multiple sclerosis patients were observed as not responding positively to various treatments, but smoking ganja seemed to decrease their pain drastically. People suffering from Hepatitis C, a disorder known for its harsh treatment regimens, were able to finish their treatment course with the help of ganja. It was found that 86% of patients using ganja were able to complete it successfully, while only 29% of non-consumers were able to get through.

Cannabis has also been taken as a natural alternative to antidepressants, with users consuming it to treat mild depression. All this evidence is just the tip of the iceberg: plenty of benefits have been found in treating numerous other disorders such as PTSDParkinson’s and glaucoma.

Even in the scientific world, the tone being set for ganja isn’t that bad after all. In the U.S., science isn’t catching up fast enough to the laws being enacted in various states. However, it is gradually being proven with a scientific grounding what is being concluded from individual experiences. According to research conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in the U.S., there was substantial evidence to conclude that cannabinoids found in the marijuana plant can be an effective treatment of chronic pain. With similar certitude, it was observed that cannabis can also treat muscle spasms related to multiple sclerosis and can help prevent or treat nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy. Most important of all, it was ironically found with moderate evidence that marijuana was not connected to an increased risk of lung cancer.

A naturally occurring plant whose benefits have made a mark in history, now being anecdotally observed and slowly being scientifically backed, is still banned and classified as a narcotic. Where in the course of time did we go wrong?

Ganja was perfectly legal to cultivate and consume until 1985 when the NDPS Act was passed, classifying the plant as a prohibited narcotic psychoactive drug. The major driver behind the NDPS Act seems to have been American pressure on India to ban marijuana. Recent revelations show that marijuana was then used in the U.S. as a political tool to advance certain pernicious agendas. But now, the U.S. has changed its outlook on legalisation.

What puts you at unease is that ganja is still in the same pool that includes harmful drugs such as heroin and cocaine, when in truth it has various medicinal benefits. By missing out on a favourable alternative, we must not be the victims here of erroneously enacted laws. It is time we took a hard look at outdated laws and made sure that millions do not miss out on a plant that could greatly ease their day-to-day lives. It should be a fundamental right to consume a relatively harmless substance. Ganja, after all, is essentially and factually, a medicine. Read More