Call it weed, marijuana, pot, grass, bud or Mary Jane, this substance has been often a topic for controversy and discussion and a favourite at the chill sessions. So while you might have had it as the star of your Saturday night, the question remains Is weed legal in India?
The history of weed in India and around the world
While history and popular culture ponder over when weed first began to be used at gatherings and social events, the consumption of it started back in the BC eras. The properties of marijuana as a psychoactive drug were discovered much later on, but prior to this discovery, people did try and test it.
Our ancestors fed on wild plants and grasses and it was no big deal for one of them to have stumbled on the cannabis species and tried and tested it.
Here is a timeline on how marijuana went from being a part of our ancestors' diets to featuring in our Saturday night sessions:
- Ancient cultures would grow the cannabis plant as herbal medicine around 500 BC.
- The cannabis plant was native to Central Asia before being introduced into the other continents.
- Hemp cultivation was done for the production of textiles and ropes in America.
- Due to its fast-growing nature and ease of use, hemp cultivation was widely done throughout colonial America.
- These early variants of cannabis had very low levels of the psychoactive compound THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol).
- The ancient cultures started understanding the impact of THC on the mind and its mind-altering effects of cannabis as a narcotic drug. They began growing varieties of the species that had a stronger concentration of this compound.
- In 1830, Sir William Brooke O'Shaughnessy - an Irish doctor began to see that the cannabis plant could actually alleviate vomiting and stomach pain that was experienced by cholera patients.
- The late 1800s saw the plant species being sold throughout the United States at pharmacies.
Weed as a recreational drug
- An ancient Greek Historian Herodotus once described that the Scythians, who were a group of Iranian nomads would inhale the smoke produced by smouldering cannabis seeds.
- Hashish was a common narcotic drug in the Middle East.
- In the United States, while medical cannabis was more popular, during the Mexican Revolution this changed. The drug was introduced as a means of recreation by Mexican immigrants.
- Cannabis was finally outlawed during the Great Depression.
The legacy of weed in India
- Lord Shiva has time-and-again cropped up when weed is spoken of.
- The British taxed bhang, ganja and charas but did not criminalise them.
- Post the 1961 Convention of the UNCND, various criminalisation of cannabis happened.
- India opposed the move as cannabis has been an integral part of social and religious ventures.
With the NDPS Act that comes into play, later on, India began to strictly regular cannabis as a narcotic drug.
Is weed legal in India?
The controversy continues and we will break it down for you. In simplest terms, cannabis is legal and at the very same time illegal.
How is this possible?
See for yourself.
The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS Act) Act of 1985 banned the use of cannabis and weed. The Act strictly regulates the use and distribution of medical cannabis as well as the recreational derivates of the drug. The NDPS Act mentions charas, hashish and ganja separately.
Now here is the controversy.
The law does not ban the use of the seeds and leaves of the cannabis plant if these are not being mixed with other parts of vegetation. If they are used independently, their consumption is allowed.
This can be seen in various instances. Bhang is a popular drink that is had at Holi festival celebrations. The chutney made from cannabis seeds is a rage in the Himalayan region.
Now can you see why the controversial question of Is weed legal in India is not very direct in its answers?
The role of the UN in the fight to legalise weed in India
The UN Commission on Narcotic Drug voted to reclassify that cannabis is a narcotic drug but not harmful. India was in favour of this decision.
It was among the 27 countries that voted that cannabis be removed from the list of prohibited substances, where other drugs such as heroin and opioids were also listed.
Cannabis had been on the CND's list of prohibited narcotic drugs for around 60 years and this was a milestone. In regard to the removal from the list, the UN said the decision has "opened the door to recognise the medicinal and therapeutic potential of the commonly-used but still largely illegal recreational drug". The UN also emphasised that this removal from the list could "act as a catalyst for countries to legalize the drug for medicinal use, and reconsider laws on its recreational use".
Is weed all that bad?
While the decision to criminalise or decriminalise weed is one that keeps making headlines time and again, we ponder over the specifics.
Is weed a killer or a help? Here are both sides of the story.
The benefits of weed and medical marijuana
Medicinal cannabis has a variety of uses, some of which are still under research.
Relief from chronic pain
Cannabinoids have a chemical makeup that provides the body with relief from chronic pain, just like very efficacious pain killers. Hence, medical cannabis is used in the treatment of cancer due to this property.
Yes. If you have noticed, those who do weed quite often are rarely on the heavy side. This is because of the weight reduction property of cannabis.
Regulation of diabetes
Cannabis has an effect on insulin production. Since insulin is the main player in the diabetes scene, cannabis indirectly does have an effect on the control and regulation of diabetes.
Due to its effects and properties as a psychotropic substance, medical marijuana can be used in people who are struggling against depression. Its mind-altering effects can change mood and emotions.
Medicinal cannabis has the potential to help in epilepsy and seizure regulation. While this is still being studied, it would be a breakthrough for science.
Delaying the onset of Alzheimer's
Medical marijuana is known to have anti-inflammatory properties. During Alzheimer's, the brain cells begin to degenerate. Hence, cannabis could have the potential to delay the degeneration of neurons and delay the onset and progression of Alzheimer's.
The negative effects of cannabis
Though weed as a psychotropic substance can work wonders in a positive way, it does have a risky side to it too.
Marijuana when taken without any medical intervention causes loss of coordination, increased heart rate and difficulty in thinking.
As a psychotropic substance, cannabis can harm the brain. The cannabinoids present, bind to the cannabinoid receptors and can cause brain effects. These receptors are abundant in some areas of the brain and devoid in some and thus this can alter brain chemistry.
This can lead to delusions, disorientation, hallucinations and if taken in excess can cause irreversible brain damage.
Increased heart rate
Marijuana can cause the heart rate to rise rapidly and thus is a big NO in patients who have heart complications such as heart transplants, blockages, etc.
Bone health is affected
It has been observed that people who smoke weed, have reduced bone density. This coupled with osteoporosis can severely damage bone health and cause serious complications.
Lungs are affected
Smoking causes cancer and this has been reiterated many-a-time. Smoking marijuana can cause burning and stinging in the throat and can even cause coughs, lung infections, and lung cancers.
Should India legalise weed?
Now that you know all there is to know about India and its history and ties with weed and cannabis, what do you think?
Should India work towards legalising weed both medically and recreationally?
Pankaj Chaturvedi, the Deputy Director of the Centre for Cancer Epidemiology is of the opinion that "The medicinal benefits aren't as strong as presented by the proponents of legalisation. Cannabis derivatives have serious health consequences depending upon type, duration and frequency of use. Adults who smoke marijuana regularly have impaired neural connectivity, reduced IQ and higher predisposition for chronic psychotic disorders, anxiety, depression, vehicular accidents and suicidal tendencies."
"It is unlikely to solve the drug menace in parts of India. Our enforcement agencies will continue to be burdened with different drug-related issues. Legalisation will only worsen the situation in a country that is already struggling with tobacco, alcohol and areca nuts."
"Once legalised, the predatory marketing of cannabis will hit the vulnerable population such as the youth, poor, etc. and establish a big market that will make future regulations impossible."
Meanwhile, Vikram Patel, a Professor of Global Health at Harvard Medical School says that "there is no evidence of withdrawal symptoms or tolerance, which are the cardinal features of addiction, associated with cannabis use. While it is true that cannabis does act as the first step of a person's journey to stronger drugs, this is perversely facilitated by the law that criminalises its use, forcing people to buy cannabis from dealers who force people to buy addictive drugs as a business opportunity."
Vikram Patel favours legalisation rather than decriminalisation for the simple reason that the former offers the sole route to eliminate the drug dealer and the nexus of police, politicians and drug mafia.
He emphasises that the war against cannabis has been unanimously declared a failure by the scientific community and that India should abandon this futile and archaic battle that was thrust upon her by foreign nations.
"In doing so, we might also put one liberal brick back into the edifice of our Nation that is systematically stripped of its liberal foundation."