An year after obtaining license for cultivation of cannabis (marijuana) in Jammu & Kashmir to study their medicinal properties, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has now an ambitious plan to conduct clinical trials of the drugs on terminally ill patients of cancer, epilepsy and sickle cell anemia— a blood disorder disease that afflicts over 2 crore people, particularly in tribal areas in the country.
"We want to conduct clinical trials of the drugs on terminally ill patients at the Tata Memorial Hospital for cancer, at AIIMS for epilepsy and Sickle Cell Institute Chhattisgarh (SCIC) for sickle cell anaemia to find its efficacy," said Dr Ram Vishwakarma , director of the Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (IIIM), a J&K based lab of the CSIR.
He was speaking at an event 'Cannabis R&D in India: A Scientific, Medical & Legal Perspective' held here on Friday. Last year, the CSIR-IIIM got research approval to grow cannabis for medicinal usage in Jammu & Kashmir in collaboration with Bombay Hemp Company (BOHECO), a Mumbai-based firm.
Dr Vishwakarma said that not all cannabis plants can be used for medical purpose. We have already started collecting and cultivating selected breed of cannabis. Trials are also being conducted on animals and once it is completed, we will place it for approval from the Drug Controller General of India for trial on humans.
The IIIM Director explained that all drugs obtained from marijuana plant have an important medical ingredient called cannabidiol, but the plant itself has been banned because of another component, called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In other words, Cannabidiol is one of more than 80 active cannabinoid chemicals, yet unlike THC, it does not produce a high.
Also the IIIM, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Department of Biotechnology (DBT) will soon sign an agreement to carry ahead the research programme on a larger scale.
While India is yet to start any human trial, the US drug regulator has already approved a cannabis-based drug Epidiolex recently for the first time to treat epileptic syndromes.
Experts including scientists at the event called for tweaking the legal regulatory system on the lines of countries like Canada and the Netherlands to expand the interpretation and definition of cannabis and its by-products so that cannabis-based medicines become more widely available.
The cannabis plant and its commonly used forms like ganja, bhang, charas etc. contain many chemicals which are not psychoactive, and are seen to have opposite actions to that of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) , Dr Vivek Benegal, Professor, Centre for Addiction Medicine, NIMHANS said.
"One such chemical, Cannabidiol, is arousing interest in the scientific community due to its medical and therapeutic capabilities. But the molecule must be subject to stringent and scientifically rigorous testing. This is difficult due to its current ambiguous position under the law in India, especially the NDPS Act," he said.
Earlier, Minister of State for Prime Minister's Office Dr Jitendra Singh too favoured the medical usage of cannabis noting that there have been several indications of its benefits for the management of chronic diseases like diabetes which cause excruciating neurological pain and for which currently there is hardly any relief.
"There is a very thin line between use, misuse and abuse of a substance, and it is our responsibility to draw that line," the Minister said.