India recently approved a landmark cannabis study in an effort to research the possibilities of medical uses in the country, which has a long association with the plant. The research will be done in partnership with Tata Memorial Cancer Centre in Mumbai, which falls under the country’s Department of Atomic Energy.
The research project was announced on Nov. 23 at a one-day conference, called “Cannabis R&D in India: A Scientific, Medical and Legal Perspective” in Delhi. The conference was jointly hosted by Bombay Hemp Company and the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research. “CSIR-IIIM Jammu has been given the responsibility of undertaking this study because the institute specializes in herbal and medicinal plants and has a legacy of undertaking pioneering research in the field ever since the time of its founding father Sir Ram Nath Chopra,” said Union Minister Dr. Jitendra Singh.
Like many cannabis studies before, researchers behind this newest endeavor hope to identify how cannabis can benefit medical patients. “Though cannabis is a psychoactive drug and causes intoxication, its addictive potential is lower than that of tobacco, alcohol, heroin, cocaine . . . ” said Dr. Vivek Benegal, professor at the Centre for Addiction Medicine, NIMHANS. “In fact, the cannabis plant and its commonly used forms like ganja, bhang, charas contain many chemicals which are not psychoactive but have medicinal and therapeutic capabilities.”
A standard cannabis plant hasn’t been grown by the government for over 30 years. “There is also a lack of clinical trials on cannabis and its isolated compounds,” said Avnish Pandya, director of R&D for Bombay Hemp Company. “The lack of regulatory clarity on cannabinoids other than THC, combined with socio-cultural stigma of cannabis consumption since 1985, has contributed towards the absence of cannabis-based medicines in the Indian market.”
The role of cannabis in Ayurveda is ancient, with texts directing not only the use of it as a medicine but recommendations to counteract the neural and physical effects when more than desired is consumed. “Clinical trials are based on single molecule compounds due to their predictability, in contrast to Ayurvedic medicines which represent a multi-faceted approach towards medicine. So, either cannabis has to walk down the path of clinical trials, or clinical trials have to accommodate multi-compound, complex formulations,” said Pandya.