By Dr. G. Shreekumar Menon
Mangaluru, Sept 30, 2023: Recently, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) did something almost unimaginable: for the first time in history, Xavier Becerra directed his department to recommend to the Drug Enforcement Administration that the federal cannabis policy needs to be relooked! HHS recommended that cannabis be re-scheduled to Schedule III of the Controlled Substance Act (CSA) a category defined for drugs that have a low abuse potential, accepted medical use, and a low potential for psychological dependence. This recommendation is nothing short of a revolution, and bound to have a global impact on the legal status of cannabis.
Cannabis, is a plant cultivated and used throughout the world for thousands of years. Despite its wide use as a pharmaceutical throughout history, the USA classified Cannabis as a Schedule I substance, in the Controlled Substances Act. The result of cannabis’s inclusion in Schedule I of the CSA was the mass incarceration of hundreds of thousands of individuals, and the near complete cessation of research into a plant that had brought relief to millions for millennia across the world.Cannabis users were jailed, its advocates were ostracized, and medical research ground to a halt.
However, beginning in the mid-1990s, diligent efforts by health professionals, compelled a few States to legalize medical cannabis programs. A patchwork of legal and regulatory frameworks permitting the cultivation, distribution, and sale of cannabis and cannabis-infused products for both medical and “adult use”, gained traction.Today’s legal cannabis industry in the USA employs nearly half a million individuals, and generates billions in state tax revenue.
The tide is finally turning for Cannabis.Medical cannabis or marijuana is being used to treat a number of different conditions, including: Alzheimer’s disease, appetite loss, cancer, Crohn’s disease, eating disorders such as anorexia, epilepsy, glaucoma, mental health conditions like schizophrenia, PTSD, multiple sclerosis, muscle spasms, nausea, pain, and cachexia. CBD, which is an abbreviation for Cannabidiol, is among the most abundant of all the chemical features in marijuana. Cannabidiol is known to have possible health benefits, such as containing abundant amount of antioxidant and neuroprotective properties within it.
The advent of Crystallization Technology , is set to be a quantum leap over the traditional extract refinement? The Controlled Crash Method is a new method of cannabis extract refinement that uses lower temperatures to separate and purify compounds, resulting in pure, crystalline THC-A and high terpene extract. It requires less equipment and labour, and is more efficient than traditional distillation methods. It can also preserve the natural essence of the plant by not exposing the terpenes to high temperatures. This will be a boon to the health industry.
Israel is one of the pioneers in the field of research and development in cannabis and is conducting a wide range of research ranging from the cannabis plant science, agrotechnology, development of medical cannabis products and even clinical trials in humans.Israeli researcher Raphael Mechoulam, the father of cannabis research, passed away on March 10, 2023, at 92 years of age. He was the first to reveal the structure of cannabidiol (CBD) and delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), molecules now used worldwide as medicine.Israel and Germany are the world’s largest importers of medical cannabis flower. Israeli researchers have used advanced technology to grow an enhanced strain of cannabis that contains higher levels of THC and CBG, the main active components in cannabis, opening up new possibilities for the popular medicinal plant and recreational drug.Manipulating a cannabis plant and affecting the levels of its active components or their proportions has never been done before, opening up new possibilities for the medical industry.The scientific community has identified over 200 active ingredients in the cannabis plant and a race is underway to identify additional substances and medical treatments that can be derived from it.Israel’s medicinal cannabis market was valued at around $264 million in 2021! Israel is one of just three countries with a government-sponsored cannabis program, along with Canada and the Netherlands. The Israeli parliament has legalized the export of medical marijuana.
A new discovery by researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and its affiliated Soroka University Medical Center shows that medical cannabis may reduce blood pressure in older adults. Cannabinoids have been found to be useful to treat Dermatological conditions as it has anti-inflammatory, antipruritic, anti-aging, and anti-malignancy properties by various mechanisms, including interacting with the endocannabinoid system of the skin. Ben Gurion’s National Autism Research Center of Israel has also zeroed in on the potential role that cannabis can play in the treatment of autism.
In the United States, medical marijuana is legal in 34 states and the Washington DC, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. Furthermore, the US states where medical as well as entertainment usages became legal, are Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) is the world’s biggest organization dedicated to study drug abuse and addiction and other health effects of both legal and illegal drugs, NIDA funds a wide range of research on marijuana (cannabis); its main psychotropic ingredient, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC); and chemicals related to THC (cannabinoids).In a significant federal policy breakthrough, on December 2, 2022, President Biden signed into law the “Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act, H.R. 8454,” (the Cannabis Research Bill).
After the Cannabis Act 2018 was passed, marijuana became legal in Canada for medicinal and recreational purposes. It was the first country to allow the medicinal use of marijuana. McGill University has committed itself to conducting cannabis-based research. through the McGill Research Centre for Cannabis that situates McGill as a trans-disciplinary Research Centre, whose members are literally going from plant-to-patient-to-society.This Centre brings together scientists with diverse, multi-disciplinary expertise on issues surrounding cannabis research incorporating plant science, production and processing; disease models/preclinical research, drug development and clinical trials; and social implications as well as health and economic impact studies for guidelines on policies and laws.
University of Western Ontario is engaged in in-vitro and in-vivo studies, clinical trials, cannabis product development (not including administration to humans), analysis for non-testing purposes, educational programs and research with hemp. Many other Canadian universities have also joined the Cannabis research bandwagon.
In 2020, South Korea designated the country’s south-eastern province of Gyeongbuk as a regulation-free zone for hemp, making it the center of the country’s cannabis industry. The city of Andong in the province, which has traditionally grown hemp fabrics for thousands of years, is the hub of the project.South Korea amended the laws in 2018 and became the first country in East Asia to legalize the use of medical cannabis. Hanyang University is in the forefront of research into medical marijuana.
Thailand legalised marijuana cultivation in 2022, while South Korea, Japan and Malaysia are paving the way for pharmaceutical applications. The cannabis market is estimated to be around $100 billion by 2026. The Asian market is estimated to grow at least 10 times to roughly $120 million by 2026, butthat’s only a fraction of the global $100 billion industry.
United Kingdom produced 320 tonnes of legal cannabis in 2019, accounting for 75% of the global total (468.3 tonnes). The UK therefore retains the ’number one’ spot.
Many celebrities have entered the lucrative Cannabis business. Jay-Z owns Caliva, Kourtney Kardashian owns Hora x Poosh, John Legend owns Plus Products Inc, and Gwyneth Paltrow owns Cann.Cannabis flower is still the most popular cannabis product, both in the United States and Canada.
The Atharva Veda extols cannabis by calling it ‘Vijaya’ and is among the five sacred plants given to humanity. Ayurveda recommends its usage to improve memory, against Leprosy, treating low digestion strength, insomnia, and muscle pains. Ayurveda has over 200 documented formulations for treating various diseases.
Unfortunately, the 53 Member States of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) the UN’s central drug policy-making body, voted to impose the strictest control and generally discouraged cannabis use for medical purposes. However, in December 2020 A United Nations commission voted to remove cannabis for medicinal purposes from a category of the world’s most dangerous drugs, a long-delayed decision that could clear the way for an expansion of marijuana research and medical use.The vote by the Commission for Narcotic Drugs, which is based in Vienna and includes 53 member states, considered a series of recommendations from the World Health Organization on reclassifying cannabis and its derivatives.
India needs to grasp this opportunity and plunge into medical marijuana research, as Ayurveda has already given us a headstart in this niche field. With more than 1000 universities, it is very unfortunate that there is very little research into medical marijuana.The NDPS Act prohibits the sale and production of cannabis resin and flowers, but the use of leaves and seeds of the cannabis plant is permitted, with the states having the power to regulate and form the state rules for it. Any person caught in possession of any of these parts of the cannabis plant may be arrested.But, in January 2022, the Centre told the Delhi High Court that the use of cannabis is not completely banned in the country as its medical and scientific use is allowed under the law. In 2018, Uttarakhand became the first state in the country to allow commercial cultivation of hemp crops. A year later, the Madhya Pradesh government also did the same. In February 2020 India opened its first medical cannabis clinic — Vedi Wellness Centre in Bengaluru. Odisha-based startup HempCann Solutions is behind the clinic, which prescribes cannabis-infused tablets to improve health and wellness. Recently, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories, based in Hyderabad, has acquired Nimbus Health, a Frankfurt based, privately owned, licensed pharmaceutical wholesaler focusing on medical cannabis. Dr Reddy’s said that the acquisition will allow the company to build on Nimbus Health’s strengths and introduce medical cannabis-based medicines as a promising treatment option for patients.
Indian universities, pharmaceutical companies, and research institutes, need to foray into the global medical marijuana market, which is projected to reach USD 26,920.4 million by 2026.The legal medical cannabis market is segmented into pain disorders, cancer and others, which includes neurological and psychiatric conditions. Use of painkillers is nowadays not encouraged by health professionals, but use of medical cannabis is being encouraged as an alternative for pain management. By type segment, the market is classified as flowers, edibles, concentrates and others. The cannabis flower is the smokable part of the female cannabis plant, and it is this segment that is poised to grow. It is also cost effective than other forms such as edibles or concentrates.
The government of India, needs to come out with a policy document, outlining specifically the national policy on medical cannabis and its usage. India cannot be lagging behind other nations in the field of medical cannabis.
Dr. G. Shreekumar Menon, IRS (Rtd), Ph.D. (Narcotics)
Former Director General of National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics & Multi-Disciplinary School Of Economic Intelligence India; Fellow, James Martin Centre For Non Proliferation Studies, USA; Fellow, Centre for International Trade & Security, University of Georgia, USA; Public Administration, Maxwell School of Public Administration, Syracuse University, U.S.A.; AOTS Scholar, Japan. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org