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LEGALIZATION OF CANNABIS AT THE PERIL OF THE POOR!
Opinion

LEGALIZATION OF CANNABIS AT THE PERIL OF THE POOR!

Prof. T K Thomas

Prof. T K Thomas

I had interactions with a large number of patients and recovering drug addicts during my association with one of the leading drug de-addiction and rehabilitation centers in Delhi. All of them were addicted to various substances and were multi drug users including alcohol, a legal drug in our country which actually is a depressant. While documenting their stories I found that in an overwhelming majority of cases their initiation into drugs started with what we call Ganja/ ‘Charas’ or marijuana, which at least a few experts consider as a “gateway” to addiction to more potent drugs. These substances known by different names have mood altering properties. Most of them tried or experimented with these drugs, derived from the cannabis or hemp plant which grows wildly all over our country.

Among the addicts I interviewed, there were also a few patients of cannabis psychosis. Here are some interesting findings about psychosis: “The odds of psychotic disorder among daily cannabis users were 3.2 times higher than for never users, whereas the odds among users of high-potency cannabis were 1.6 times higher than never users.”[www.cbsnews.com]

“When looking at the rates of violent crime overall-homicide, for instance-the best estimate is that 5% to10% of murders are committed by people with mental illness…. Notorious terrorists and mass murderers of our times were heavy cannabis [users].”[www.amazon.com]

Interacting with the patients and recovering addicts and their families gave me a first hand information about the misery and pain drug addicts go through. In fact a visiting journalist said that these patients had “graduated from the university of pain”!

So, last Wednesday [6November] there were news reports about the Delhi High Court issuing notice to the central government on a Public Interest Litigation [PIL] challenging the criminalization of cannabis and certain provisions of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act,1985[NDPS Act], I got the trigger for this column. Most of the print and electronic media had not highlighted this item, may be because it didn’t have the usual elements of sensationalism and VIP involvement. The PIL was filed by an NGO, which reports say, ” is in the forefront of the movement to decriminalize the use of cannabis and raise awareness with respect to the medicinal, industrial, ecological, economic and other benefits”.

Had a celebrity or a celebrity brat been involved or had there been a major crime or seizure of illegal narcotic drugs worth millions, it would definitely have been in the media. That shows how the media react to an addictive substance which through its recreational use causes health or mental health problems.

There have been campaigns, lobbying and PILs to decriminalize cannabis. Last year there was a PIL filed in the Himachal Pradesh High Court which challenged the policy against prohibition and burning of cannabis. Earlier in 2015, there was another PIL on the same issue filed in the Bombay High Court. This petition again challenged the criminalization of cannabis. One of the stories published in connection with the 6th November PIL mentioned that the process of decriminalization of cannabis in India has begun!

While one cannot attribute motives to individuals or groups challenging the legality or unconstitutionality of the provisions of certain legislations and regulations, it cannot be denied that like in many other countries we too have lobbies for decriminalization of cannabis. On such lobbies and their tactics, IOGT International states, “ perpetuate myths about the effects of marijuana, distorts scientific evidence and aggressively use the media to drown out independent evidence and a science based approach. The actors within the illicit drug market affect society negatively in complex ways. The Marijuana industry, Big Marijuana is a special case because their substance is legal in a few places and remains illegal in vast parts of the world.”[iogt.org]

The addictive nature of the drug is reason enough for a majority of health professionals, government and international agencies to consider cannabis as a threat to health/ mental health and well being. Incidentally Tetra-hydro Cannabinol or THC is the active chemical substance in all cannabis which has addictive and mind-altering properties. As someone who has studied the problem of drugs, alcohol and tobacco for a thirty episode All India Radio [AIR] serial, which was a collaborative venture of AIR and the Indian Council of Medical Research[ICMR], one has realized that there is a strong lobby in our country for decriminalization of cannabis. Obviously fingers are pointed at those with business interests to use cannabis as a raw material for manufacturing chemicals and medicines.

There of course are medicinal use for cannabis also like opium ; opium derivatives like codeine and morphine are used as analgesics or pain relievers. Codeine is “used to treat pain, cough and diarrhea. Morphine is used during anesthesia”. Similarly medical marijuana is considered quite effective in controlling chronic pain that nag millions of people in the United States. “Marijuana is currently legal on the state level and in 29 states, and Washington DC. It is still illegal from the federal government’s perspective. The Obama administration did not make prosecuting medical marijuana even a minor priority. President Donald Trump promised not to interfere with people who use medical marijuana, though his administration is currently threatening to reverse this policy. About 85% of Americans support legalizing medical marijuana, and it is estimated that at least several million Americans currently use it”[ sourced from Harvard Health Publishing,, Harvard Medical School]

The soft approach to this drugs by many European countries is on the premise of cannabis being a mild drug. For example in Holland there are no restrictions on cannabis and in Amsterdam one could see outlets where anyone can freely smoke marijuana and there are free public facilities for addicts which facilitate intravenous drug injection. Buoyed by Western models there is a strong lobby in India also for soft peddling of cannabis and for excluding cannabis from the purview of the N D P S Act. The pharmaceutical industry would be the greatest beneficiary, if decriminalization of cannabis happens.

Already people have access to narcotic hemp or cannabis growing wild and we have a tradition of cannabis which has been considered a subculture. In fact there are areas where use of cannabis or opium is part of their culture itself. My friend and a noted drug de-addiction and rehabilitation expert Suneel Vatsyayan shared his recent experience which is illustrative of this. Vatsyayan was in a government school in Delhi interacting with children of class eight. The children besides Delhi, belonged to Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Rajasthan. One of the questions he asked them was about the impact or pleasures of chemicals in their lives. While children originally from Delhi did not immediately reply many children from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand mentioned Ganja, Charas and Bhang; children from Rajasthan referred to opium. They in fact were reflecting the reality of how the consumption of cannabis is widespread and part of the culture of the three states whereas it is opium in Rajasthan.

People consume cannabis, or any other drug for that matter for pleasure. This actually is when they do not experience real happiness. What actually is the difference between pleasure and happiness? While pleasure is derived from the satiation of momentary desires, happiness is a subliminal state of the mind. In his book “The Hacking of the American Mind”, Dr. Robert Lustig enumerates seven differences between the two. After giving differences between pleasure and happiness like pleasure being short lived unlike happiness which is long- lived he writes, ”The extremes of pleasure all lead to addiction; whether they be substances or behavior. Yet there is no such thing as being addicted to too much happiness. Finally and most importantly, pleasure is tied to dopamine [the pleasure biochemical/neurotransmitter], and happiness is tied to serotonin [the happiness biochemical/ neurotransmitter.] Dr Lustig concludes with the observation, “The more pleasures we seek, the more unhappy we get.” Isn’t it the reason for the pain that an addict goes through is as a result of too much of pleasure seeking?

The frightening figures published recently by the Ministry of Social Justice following a household survey are about extreme pleasure seekers .”….over 3.1 crore Indians [2.8 %] reported to have used any cannabis product in the last one year…. Bhang some 2.2 crore people, Ganja and Charas some 1.3 crore people and some 72 lakh individuals need help with their addiction of cannabis. Although , the usage of Bhang use is more common than Ganja and Charas, but in case of addiction, the number of dependent users is higher for addicts of Ganja and Charas.”

One feels that It will not be prudent to allow legal cultivation of cannabis in the country as it can have deleterious repercussions of more people getting addicted. The spill- over effect of legal cultivation and production of opium is already a major concern. It may be disastrous if cannabis cultivation and marketing are legalized as it can lead to widespread unhappiness, misery and deprivation among the poor.

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The facts and views expressed in the article are those of the writer.