The interest in medical cannabis, CBD-infused medicines and consumer goods such as food and cosmetics has gained considerable momentum over the last decade. Wide-spread reporting on the ability of cannabis to alleviate inflammation, insomnia and anxiety has resonated with consumers globally and Indians seem to be gradually warming up to the potential of cannabis. Interest in the cannabis space is growing in India across a vast spectrum of consumer goods – textiles, paper, oils, foods and medicines. Found in numerous forms, medical cannabis can be administered through various methods including capsules, lozenges, tinctures, dermal patches, oral or dermal sprays, cannabis edibles, and vaporizing or smoking dried buds.
From a medical perspective, India suffers a massive disease burden. Arthritis affects 15 per cent of the people, i.e., over 210 million people in India. 19 per cent of the Indian population suffers from chronic pain. Over 10 per cent of the adult Indian population suffers from insomnia, and post-COVID-19, there has been an increase in the percentage of corporate employees reporting work related stress. To combat these new-age forms of mental and physical fatigue, medical cannabis has been found effective through a mix of clinical research and anecdotal evidence in regulated markets globally.
Use of Medical Cannabis
Today, there are several startups working across the supply chain of Medical Cannabis in India. As per the NDPS Act, 1985 – Cannabis leaves and seeds are excluded from the definition of “Cannabis” and hence not considered a Narcotic. Medicines made out of Cannabis leaves (referred to as the Vijaya leaf in Ayurveda) and other parts of the cannabis plant, can be sold in India with a licence under the government’s Ayurvedic, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy (AYUSH) Ministry. However, it is incredibly challenging for these medical startups to grow, owing to the varying state regulations governing the sale of cannabis-based medicines. The issue with the supply chain persists due to the lack of cultivation policies in India, further fuelling misconceptions around the legality of these products.
India’s medical cannabis industry is still at the nascent stage
India is a global leader in the pharmaceuticals sector occupying a 20 per cent share in the global generic medicine supply by volume. Currently, India ranks 3rd worldwide for production of medicines by volume and 14th by value. The Indian pharmaceutical market has a strong network with 3000 pharmaceutical companies and approximately 15,000 manufacturing units, which in turn offers several unique opportunities for growth.
However, right at this point in time, India’s nascent medical cannabis industry is not equipped to compete with the international market with leaders. Globally, demand for cannabis derived medicines has been rising and India’s lack of preparedness structurally and legally has delayed the growth of this sector. Many countries have adopted a more nuanced approach to medical cannabis-derived drugs, by standardising CBD topical products, over-the-counter oils, tinctures and capsules. Estimates indicate that the global market for CBD infused medicines achieved a demand of USD 5.8 billion and is geared up to achieve 16 per cent YoY growth over the next decade.
Therapeutic potential of medical cannabis
India should recognise the potential of medically using cannabis not only to reduce its disease burden, but also to increase its share of exports, create employment opportunities, and develop a new source of income for our farmers. A central push is required to unlock the potential of this billion-dollar crop in India and trailblaze through the global market in the decades to follow.
The author of this article is Varun Rungta, General Secretary, PIMCHA (PAN INDIA MEDICAL CANNABIS & HEMP ASSOCIATION).