Medical cannabis may get nod in India

T V Jayan New Delhi | Updated on November 23, 2018

Plant’s ingredients can be used to treat cancers and sickle cell anaemia: researchers

Medical marijuana may soon become legal in the country with Indian scientists making an earnest effort for the first time to find potential use for the active ingredients present in the cannabis plant in the management of diseases such as cancers, epilepsy and sickle cell anaemia.

“Cannabis-based drugs have the potential to meet the unmet needs of terminally-ill cancer patients and of those suffering from epilepsy and sickle cell anaemia, a hereditary disease that afflicts nearly two crore tribals living mainly in central States, Ram Vishwakarma, Director of the Jammu-based Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (IIIM), told a meeting of experts and industry captains here on Friday.

“The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), of which IIIM is a part, decided to take a lead role in this as we are a neutral party and have no commercial bias,” Vishwakarma said. The recreational use of cannabis is prohibited under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. The bar does not apply to an edible preparation called bhang, which is allowed in some States.

In June, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first-ever cannabis-based drug for the treatment of seizures associated with two rare and severe forms of epilepsy.

Pact with researchers

The IIIM has already tied up with researchers at the Tata Memorial Centre (TMC) in Mumbai, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences and a Raipur-based hospital to carry out clinical trials for cannabis-based drugs for the treatment of cancer, epilepsy and sickle cell anaemia. Two active compounds of cannabis that are being explored for medical use are tetrahydro cannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

“We are in the process of applying for regulatory approvals,” he said.

In addition to exploring the plant’s potential in pain and palliative care, cancer specialists at the TMC would like to see whether its active compounds would be useful in surgical setting too. “Suppose cannabis can put the cells in the body in a ‘state of bliss’, as they do to a human being, and if a similar effect is there on tumour cells too, can we use this state of non-reaction to extirpate cancer cells,” wondered Rajendra Badwe, director, TMC. “Nowhere else this has been explored,” he said.

Published on November 23, 2018

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