A Bangalore-based centre is in high demand for offering medical marijuana-based products

Dr Cannabis will see you now

It’s been just over a week since a clinic selling marijuana-based medicines starting operating out of Koramangala. And already, several Bengalureans have benefited

[email protected]

Cannabis – yes, that ‘stuff’ – can do more than just giving you a high. Science is increasingly discovering the efficacy of cannabis to heal chronic pain, inflammation, mood, and sleep disorders and to alleviate the symptoms of cancer, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy. So much so that next month, the United Nations will vote to remove cannabis from the half-century-old list of harmful substances such as heroin and deem it therapeutic, something our Ayurveda recognised thousands of years ago. This follows from the 2019 recommendations of World Health Organisation itself. But while the world awaits that historic vote and countries like New Zealand and Mexico are gearing up to join Uruguay, Canada, Israel, parts of the US and other nations, to legalise cannabis, a clinic in Bengaluru is also pushing to end the war on weed.

India’s first medical cannabis clinic is already up and running in a bylane of Koramangala, 4th Block. Since Vedi Wellness Centre opened its doors on February 1, it’s received about 100 calls and 25 drop-ins. While it also offers Ayurvedic and herbal products, the majority of the inquiries have understandably been for its cannabis medicines, which are made using cannabis extracts (read box inside). Must it be cleared that these oils and tablets – there’s seven of them – can be bought only after consultation with their doctors, available online and at the clinic, and if prescribed.

Should you think these inquiries are basic, you know, ‘Is medical cannabis the same as recreational marijuana?’, ‘Is it addictive’, ‘Is it safe?’, etc, think again. “Most of these patients and their families already know or have read about medical cannabis and have been looking out for it,” a clinic representative said. This reporter sat witness to two such calls, one from a 40-something man looking for ‘a medical oil’ to relieve his wife, who’s suffering from brain cancer, of pain.

This “latent demand” prompted Odisha-based HempCann Solutions to take its online business of plant-based products, which it sells under the brand of Vedi, offline. In the last two years, they claim to have sold over 30,000 units of cannabis medicines to 5,000-plus patients in India. These are people in the age group of 30-55, who want a solution to neuropathic pain, depression, insomnia, loss of appetite, weight management, palliative care, de-addiction from harmful substances, etc. “Either because they don’t want to deal with side effects or because allopathy or homeopathy hasn’t worked for them. So they are exploring medical cannabis as an option or for adjuvant care,” says Dr Syed Tahir Hassan, who consults at the clinic on and off, along with Dr Harshitha H. While Hassan is a doctor of modern medicine, the latter is an Ayurveda specialist.

Why Bengaluru?

A company spokesperson said, “We have more than 1,000 patients from Bengaluru – our biggest base. We get most of our queries from this city, followed by Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. We find the people of Bengaluru are open to new ideas and treatment methods.” Remember that, The Great Legalisation Movement – India (GLM), which is fighting to decriminalise the use of cannabis for medicinal, industrial, ecological and other benefits in India, also started from Bengaluru in 2014 and a year later, the city went on to host India’s first medical cannabis seminar.

Currently, India’s Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985, prohibits the use and sale of flower and resin parts of the cannabis plant, while exempting leaves and seeds. So GLM-India had filed a petition last November, prompting Delhi High Court to seek Centre’s stand on such prohibition. The hearing has been pushed to May 1, informs its founder Viki Varoura.

After bagging a pan-India licence from the ministry of AYUSH, USFDA certification and Karnataka licences, and fighting “skepticism from a lot of doctors initially”, HempCann, founded by Sourab Agarwal, was able to set shop. But, work still remains to be done. Currently, the clinic hasn’t stocked cannabis medicines and instead dispatches them from its manufacturing unit in Odisha. The spokesperson explained, “A separate licence is needed to stock them in Karnataka. We should have it soon.”

‘This stuff is really good’

The support for medical cannabis is on the rise. Arun, 33, happily shared his story but didn’t want to share his full name. “I don’t want people to think I am a stoner or I am messed up (laughs). My family knows I take cannabis medicines, that’s enough.” With that disclaimer, the he went on, “As a child, I underwent traumatic spine surgery and that leaves me in severe pain even today. I used to take a paracetamol to manage the pain but nothing more. You know, allopathic art of pain management is not fun – it’s actually scary. But last February, doctors at Vedi prescribed Cannapain (their fastest moving medicine) to me. I started with one capsule a week. Seven months later, it became once in three weeks. And I haven’t taken it since the end of December. All I can say is that it addresses pain differently. It doesn’t affect my coherency, lucidity, movement, anything. This stuff is really good.”

Likewise, brand consultant Devika, who spoke to us, isn’t an “allopathy person” and prefers home and plant remedies instead. So on a friend’s advice last year, she booked an online consultation for her anxiety and circumstantial depression and was prescribed Cannapain. “After having a good meal in the day, as recommended by the doctor, I popped the first capsule. In an hour, it kind of lifted my mood. I was able to focus on my work. I slept well that night,” recounts the 37-year-old.

Dr Hassan, who’s also a member of Society of Cannabis Clinicians (USA), shared more: “After making multiple trips to the US for multiple sclerosis and seeing no results, a woman in her 50s approached us. We put her on a low dosage of Cannaflam (to fight inflammation) and asked her to continue her allopathic treatment and in four months, she was off the wheelchair.” He says,“ I hope the Indian government takes a lead to legalise cannabis because the therapeutic value of cannabinoids is too high to be put aside, as Israeli organic chemist Raphael Mechoulam says.”

Medical cannabis

What is it?

A plant-based medicine made from the Cannabis Sativa or Cannabis Indica species with three major active compounds: THC, CBD, and CBN. While THC gives the ‘high’, CBD lends therapeutic benefits.

Side effects?

Minimal on low dosage, including dry mouth and fatigue.

What does Science say?

According to medicinenet.com, 60% of the 60 peer-review studies found it beneficial while 8% didn’t and 23% were inconclusive/neutral.

30 countries have legalised medical cannabis in varying capacities.

Vedi Wellness Centre in Bangalore