By Roland Sebestyén
According to estimations, 70% of India’s population uses a form of traditional medicine called Ayurveda. This is roughly 1 billion people. At the same time, medicinal cannabis is legal, and experts argue it’s gaining momentum in the country.
Indians’ will to find alternative treatments for their health issues is well-known. One of the oldest and most popular medicinal systems is called Ayurveda.
Although its followers say Ayurveda is a sort of principle of many natural healing systems in the Western world, most health experts disapprove of its methods, including homoeopathy.
On the other hand, cannabis, which some believe has beneficial properties, is getting more recognition from patients and doctors in India.
The people of India had been smoking cannabis for thousands of years before the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act came into force in 1985. Cannabis has been an essential part of society, although consuming it apart from medicinal purposes is now deemed illegal.
Under the 1985 Act, India prohibited the production and sale of the resin (hash) and the flower (ganja) of the cannabis plant, although leaves (bhang) are allowed to be utilised.
Some argued the leaves were left out of the Act because they have an important role in traditions and religion.
One legend says the Hindu god Shiva’s favourite food was cannabis, and when he ate it after spending a night sleeping under the plant’s leaves, he felt refreshed in the morning.
At the GCI Virtual Summit, Abhi Mohan, Co-Founder at HempStreet India, was speaking about the Indian cannabis market in great detail.
He said: “There’s a little bit of a paradox in India: while smoking is still illegal, cannabis consumption during prayer or holy festivals is legal. It’s basically sold as a drink (bhang lassi and bhang thandai).
“However, in terms of medicinal use, it never stopped being relevant. On the recreational front, it varies from person to person, but when it comes to medical use there is zero cultural barrier to it.
“Nobody takes offence from cannabis if doctors prescribe the drug, people will take it.”
Mr Mohan added that India was basically forced to ban recreational use in 1985 after pressed by the US.
According to an official governmental report, after alcohol, cannabis and opioids are the most commonly used substances in the country.
They found that 2.8% of the population, more than 30 million people, used cannabis products in 2018.
Either way, cannabis has a unique history in India, and the politicians know that more people look for it now for its presumed medicinal benefits.
Mr Mohan said: “We’ve seen almost no opposition to the medicinal use of the drug. They’ve been debating about the recreational element of cannabis, but there’s a consensus about the drug’s medicinal importance.
“It’s a highly regulated industry, though. Every single one of your products must be individually approved by the authorities.
“However, the government put billions of dollars in the industry, so grants are available for local businesses to grow.
While medicinal use is getting more common in India, industrial hemp is another sector in which some cannabis businesses could be flourishing in the next few years.
Cultivating the plant as a source of biomass, fibre, and high-value oil is encouraged by the government.
The conclusion is that, as India has a very long and deep history with (medicinal) cannabis, and the political climate is favourable, there is the potential for a huge cannabis market in the country.