Since ancient times, cannabis has been utilised for its medicinal purposes. Having a lot of medicinal value, cannabis has been used for the treatment of many illnesses, particularly in Ayurvedic system of medicine. Cannabis is extracted from the dried flowering tops, leaves, stems, and seeds. It contains more than 100 compounds with different properties. Stem of cannabis plants are also utilised to make rope, strong fabrics, fiberboard and paper.
Cannabis is the scientific name for marijuana. It is a plant that has three species as cannabis indica, cannabis sativa, and the less common cannabis ruderalis. Marijuana and hemp are both cannabis plants, but marijuana contains higher levels of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the principal psychoactive compound that causes people to get high. Hemp can be cultivated for industrial uses such as rope and burlap fabric, or for medicinal product. Another compound called cannabidiol (CBD) doesn't make people high and is not popular for recreational user because they aren't intoxicating.
From middle of the 20th century, countries started to make cannabis illegal and prohibited its cultivation, marketing and sales. The United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs decreed in 1961 that the use of cannabis for other than medical and scientific purposes must be discontinued as soon as possible but in any case within 25 years. In 1973, Nepal banned cannabis for cultivation, distribution and sale.
At present, cannabis is said to be the most commonly used illicit drugs in the world. Under current Nepali legislation, anyone found possessing cannabis can be sentenced to an over five years in prison. In the beginning of the 21st century, many countries started decriminalising cannabis for the possession of small amount and legalised medicinal use of this plant. Up untill now, more than 35 countries have legalised medicinal use of cannabis. Many countries have decriminalised possession of small amounts of cannabis and even legalised recreational use and many are in the process of doing so.
There is honest debate among scientists about the health effects and benefits of marijuana, and increasing evidences show that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially in comparison to alcohol and tobacco. Opponents of its legalisation claim that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs, but this claim lacks substantial evidences.
Medical marijuana is used to treat nausea caused by chemotherapy and increase appetite in patients with extreme weight loss caused by AIDS. CBD-based medication is used for the treatment of severe childhood epilepsies. There is interest among scientific communities in using cannabis for a number of other medical conditions, but at present, there is not enough reliable information to say whether it might be helpful. Some studies have reported that it is useful in reducing pain and inflammation, and possibly even treating mental illness and addictions. Few anecdotal animal studies have shown that cannabis extracts may help kill certain cancer cells and reduce the size of others.
Moreover, there are two schools of thought about recreational use of cannabis. Few countries have permitted recreational use in restricted private places. People supporting for its legalisation of recreational use argue that it is safer than cigarette and alcohol and has not caused a single death due to its use. However, the argument lacks evidences. It is to be noted that any smoke whether it is from tobacco, cannabis or wood has similar potential to cause harm to the lungs. Proponents further argue that legalising it will contribute revenues to the economy, create more jobs, and help alleviate poverty of the most marginalised people in the country and save huge sum of money from legal expenditure.
Opponents argue that legalising increases the teen use of it which leads to hard drugs, lead to more traffic accidents putting burden on overstretched medical facilities and often more deaths. Increased cost of medical management, increased addiction rehabilitation expenditure, lost productivity and workplace-related accidents are the arguments made by them. Those arguments also lack substantial evidences.
Cannabis causes feeling of joy, relaxation, increased sense of sight, hearing, and taste. It increases appetite but causes loss of coordination, false sense of time and trouble thinking and decreases timely response which makes it hard, difficult and even dangerous to drive or ride. Anxiety, panic reactions, being overly suspicious and distrustful are other effects of the use of cannabis. Regular recreational cannabis use increases the risk of developing psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Cannabis, like any other pain relievers, can lead to dependence and addiction.
Long-term use of cannabis has shown to affect learning abilities among adults. Around 10 per cent of the regular users may become addicted to the cannabis. Several evidences show that recreational use severely impairs driving skill making it dangerous and currently we lack technology such as breath analyser to measure blood level like blood alcohol level to prevent road accidents. Regulating cultivation, manufacture, sale and marketing for cannabis may be complex. But those problems are solvable. Therefore, it is time now for holding serious discussions either to legalise the cannabis for medicinal use in our country and decriminalisation of its limited possession. Controlled cultivation of cannabis with strict regulation and monitoring may also contribute to the economy and to the government revenue.
(Dr. Lohani is the clinical director at the Nepal Drug and Poison Information Centre. firstname.lastname@example.org)