“There cannot be two kinds of medicine—conventional and alternative. There is only medicine that has been adequately tested and medicine that has not, medicine that works and medicine that may or may not work. Once a treatment has been tested rigorously, it no longer matters whether it was considered alternative at the outset.”Marcia Angell – She is an American physician and the first woman to serve as editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Proponents of medical cannabis claim that it can be used to cure every disease, both acute and chronic. However, this post is about two plants – opium, used to make morphine and cannabis, both grown in India, yet somehow not being harnessed enough to solve the pains faced by Indian patients.
There is a popular misconception that Indian healthcare’s woes are limited to bridging the doctor-patient gap only, since India faces a massive shortage of qualified doctors. One of the facts that need to be known is that modern medicine cannot solve all diseases. There exist millions of human beings who have no choice but to live in pain since pharmaceutical drugs cannot get rid of their diseases. It can only manage them and maybe, delay the inevitability of death, making the patient not only live in pain for the rest of their lives but also making them dependent on synthetic drugs.
In India, there are about 1.6 million cancer patients and an unknown number of people with other incurable, chronic or disabling conditions. And this number is only going up—a million new cancer cases are registered each year. Consider this with the fact that two-thirds of India is currently under 35. Also the fact that 1 million means 10 lakhs, not a small number.
In India, the concept of dying free of pain is rare.
Improving the quality of life of patients ridden with pain caused due to chronic illnesses is called Palliative Care. Palliative care can be provided with or without the ongoing curative treatment. It begins as soon as the patient’s survival chances become clear and not necessarily just at the end of life. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared opioid-based painkillers, especially morphine, as the gold standard for pain relief. Interestingly, the WHO has also recommended the rescheduling of cannabis in the upcoming UN vote to be held in March, 2020, in light of cannabis’ medical benefits.
In 2014, the NDPS Act, that lists down regulations for both poppy and cannabis amended the act to include a list of ‘essential narcotic drugs’, namely namely morphine, fentanyl, methadone, oxycodone, codeine, and hydrocodone. Of these, morphine is the cheapest and provides immediate relief from pain for a few hours.
For Indian cancer patients in pain, there’s fentanyl patches from a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. For India’s army of middle-class office workers with back and neck pain, there is buprenorphine from Mundipharma, a network of companies controlled by the Sackler family, owners of Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma. And for the hundreds of millions of Indians with aching joints and knees, there are shots of tramadol from Abbott Laboratories. In short, American pharmaceutical companies are at it again, the same architects of the U.S opioid crisis, now fighting lawsuits are already at it in India. These opioid based drugs have caused addictions and dependencies on synthetically made drugs.
The point is however, that the Indian government can simply turn to another plant instead of opium and poppy – cannabis, which is found in approximately 400 districts of India. Indians need to wake up and realize that India’s ancient plant-based medical system advocated cannabis as a cure for both acute and chronic illnesses, of which pain management is cannabis’ direct application of producing relief for millions of pain-wracked patients in India. The only caveat is that, the big pharma lobby will simply fight tooth and nail to act against it.
To get around it, fortunately there is a way. The same NDPS Act that categorizes opium based drugs to relieve pain, also regulates cannabis in India. Can the Indian government work together with the medical fraternity and promote research and development of medical cannabis to be administered for our vast, ailing population? The hope is that India’s patients be open-minded and realize the benefits of medical cannabis and take back control over their own bodies from synthetic drugs.
We must find a way. Let’s not forget all the advantages medical cannabis has over opioids, the least of which being, death due to overdose. And last but not the last, who wants to die in pain? No one wants their friends or colleagues or family members to die in pain. All they want is for their.