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Know all about the cannabinoid drugs and medicinal cannabis in India

calendar24 Aug, 2023
timeReading Time: 11 Minutes
Know all about the cannabinoid drugs and medicinal cannabis in India

Since the dawn of human civilization, India has had a close relationship with the history of the usage of medical cannabis[1]. Many cultural, medicinal, and religious applications of the cannabis plant have spread steadily around the world since its discovery in the lower Himalayas. Cannabinoid Drugs are concoctions created from cannabis tincture or extract. Drugs that include synthetically produced cannabinoids are controlled as drugs, with the exception of those that contain Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In India, THC is regulated as a psychoactive drug. Regarding the legal framework in India for cannabis, the NDPS (Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act forbids the production, possession, sale, purchase, trade, import, export, use, and consumption of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances unless done so for legally permitted medical and scientific purposes.

Regarding celebrity cannabis use and possession in the Bollywood business, there have been a lot of uproars. In the middle of all of this, many individuals are left wondering: ‘Are these drugs even legal in India?’ This is the best spot to locate the solutions if you have also thought about this. We shall get the answer to all of these questions in this article. This article will also examine the history of using cannabis as medicine in India, how it was formerly used to treat chronic pain, and the most recent legal advancements involving cannabis and its primary active ingredient, cannabinoids.

What do we mean by cannabis?

From Kashmir in the west to Assam in the east, the plant can be found growing wild across the Himalayan foothills and adjacent plains. It has adapted to the Indian plains and can flourish even in the hot environment of southern India, giving rise to its narcotic properties. Assam, Bihar, Madras, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, West Bengal, Jammu & Kashmir, Patiala and, East Punjab States Union, Rajasthan are among the states where the plant naturally thrives. Himachal Pradesh, Manipur, Tripura, and Travancore-Cochin. Bombay, Kutch, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Hyderabad, Mysore, Ajmer, Coorg, Delhi, Andhra, Bhopal, Vindhya Pradesh, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are among the states without wild growth. The habitat of the plant is widely dispersed, making it impossible to determine a reliable estimate of the entire area beneath it. In the western and southern regions of the nation, the wild growth seems to be less common. The southern Himalayan slopes and Assam’s eastern border are where it is most lush, up to an elevation of 10,000 feet above sea level.

India uses cannabis medications in three primary ways, which are as follows: 

  1. Bhang: Bhang comprises mature, dried leaves and blooming branches from both male and female plants, whether wild or domesticated. 
  2. Ganja: As a result of being denied the chance to produce seed, the dried flowering tops of grown female cannabis plants get covered with a sticky exudate, primarily from the glandular hairs.
  3. Charas: The resinous material gathered from the leaves and blooming tops, charas is the plant’s active ingredient.

Up until recently, one of the crucial commodities traded between central Asia and India was the charas manufactured in Chinese Turkistan, which made its way into India via Leh in Kashmir.

Since 2000, a number of nations have launched governmental initiatives to promote research and development into the production of contemporary medicines from this venerable plant, as well as to cultivate and distribute cannabis for medical purposes. Sadly, and unfortunately, India has not benefited from these discoveries, despite its claim to renown as a significant source of knowledge on cannabis’ medical applications, as the Indian government about 20 years ago completely outlawed the import/ sell  of charas/ cannabis (except for bhang) into India.

Cannabis in India: Ancient lore

India is a country rich in religion and mysticism. The Sanskrit words for life and wisdom are combined to form the word “ayurveda,” a system of medicine that is closely linked to both qualities. In the past, cannabis was connected to mysticism and faith in Hindu and Islamic traditions and many other minority religions in India. 

One of the first plants that humans ever grew was cannabis. The first instances of its therapeutic or cultural use were discovered in China. Still, the medical benefits of cannabis were never as well-known as they were in India. Cannabis medications are mentioned in both classical literature and historical medical texts from many different nations. The term “bhang” first appears in Indian literature in the “Atharva Veda,” which Western historians believe in having been written between 2000 and 1400 B.C.

Bhang’s usage as a medicinal is first mentioned in the writings of “Susrata.” Cannabis was suggested for phlegm, catarrh, and diarrhoea in the “Sushruta Samhita” (literally, “the verses of Sushruta”), which was written between the third and eighth century BCE.

The narcotic and analgesic qualities of the plant appear to have been understood as early as the ninth century. By the fourteenth century, they were undoubtedly widely known, given how frequently they appeared in the theatrical literature of the time.

The cannabis plant and its therapeutic virtues were thoroughly described in Rajanirghanta, which was edited by Narahari Pandita (A.D. 300) and again published in A.D. 1500. The medication is referred to as astringent and relaxing. It is also said to have the ability to dissolve phlegm, relieve flatulence, lessen costiveness, improve memory, and stimulate appetite. The substance is listed as a general stimulant in Sarangadhara Samhita, a medicinal text said to have been composed during the Mohammedan era. Ganja is referred to as a soporific that “corrects derangements of humours and produces a healthy appetite, sharpens the wit, and act as an aphrodisiac” in Dhurtasamagama (A.D. 1500). Cannabis is described in Bhavaprakash (A.D. 1600) as “antiphlegmatic, pungent, astringent, and digestive.”

The present era of cannabis research began in India some 200 years ago. Sir William B. O’Shaughnessy wrote his ground-breaking book on cannabis in 1839, and it was later published in England a few years later. ‘On the preparations of the Indian Hemp or Gunjah’ was the title.

The Bengal Government hired Babu Hem Chunder Kerr as a special officer in 1877 to conduct a thorough investigation into the specifics of cannabis production in India. The Kerr study provided a voluminous report that covered cannabis’s history, religious background, cultivation, and use in all of its formulations. The British Government of India eventually forbade the smoking of cannabis resin in India in the 1930s, despite such nuanced suggestions.

Uses of cannabis in India

Cannabis-based medications have been used in India for thousands of years to combat exhaustion and anxiety, provide euphoria, and give warriors the bravery they need during stressful situations. There are more than 100 distinct cannabinoids in marijuana plants. Each one uniquely affects the body. The two significant substances found in cannabis—cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—are employed in medicine.

There are three primary pathways via which these medicines are now used in India:

  • Usage for medical and atypical purposes;
  • Use in relation to social and religious norms;
  • Euphoric intent

You may learn more about the connections between unprocessed cannabis products and pure cannabinoids, CPDS Compounds, and THC Tetrahydrocannabinol by referring to the following chart:

cannabis flow chart

What does law say about cannabis?

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985 (NDPS Act), which regulates the cultivation, production, sale, transport, possession, and use of narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances, and other manufactured drugs, was influenced by international obligations resulting from the U.N. Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 and the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971. Cannabis is one of the several narcotics that are governed by the NDPS Act. Cannabis is divided into two categories under Section 2(iii) of the Act: charas and ganja.

International agreements to control the trafficking, cultivation, usage, and other aspects of narcotic substances, including cannabis, were made in 1961. In order to achieve its commitments under both this Convention and the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, India passed the NDPS Act. As a result, cannabis usage, which had been accepted socially and legally for thousands of years, was abruptly made illegal in 1985.

Any plant in the genus Cannabis is included in Section 2(iv)’s definition of the cannabis plant.

NDPS Act – With regard to India’s legal framework for cannabis, we once again refer to the NDPS Act, which makes it illegal to cultivate, produce, possess, sell, buy, trade, import, export, use, and consume narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances unless they are used for legally permitted medical and scientific purposes. Thus, the government’s strategy has been to encourage the use of narcotic medications and psychotropic substances for medicinal and scientific reasons while discouraging their diversion from legal sources and outlawing their abuse and trafficking.

Three major categories of drugs are covered under the NDPS Act:

  1. Narcotic drugs, which fall under the 1961 Convention;
  2. Psychotropic substances, which fall under the 1971 Convention, as well as other psychoactive substances like ketamine that have not yet been categorised by international conventions; and 
  3. Controlled substances,” which are used to make narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances.

Judicial precedents

The author has examined the legal precedents Indian courts have made in reaction to the legalization of cannabis in this section. Several High Courts have received petitions. The Great Legalisation Movement India Trust filed a suit with the Delhi High Court in 2019.

The following petitions for the legalization of cannabis production have been submitted to the various High Courts in India. The “Great Legalisation Movement India Trust”, a non-profit group striving to legalize the use of cannabis for medicinal and industrial uses in India, filed a plea before the Delhi High Court in 2019. Cannabis, according to the petitioner, offers a number of health benefits and may be employed in a variety of medicinal procedures. The petition further claims that the Parliament did not take into account the history of cannabis use in India or the good benefits of cannabis on human health while passing the Act. The petitioners argued that different provisions of the Act violated Articles 14, 19, 21, 25, and 29 of the Indian Constitution on these grounds and others. A follow-up hearing is scheduled for August 30, 2022. Another case was a petition that was submitted to the Himachal Pradesh High Court in 2018, asking that limitations on the production, processing, and use of industrial and medicinal hemp be lifted. The State Government and the Federal Government were asked by the Court to express their views on the legalization of industrial hemp in the State. However, as of 2022, the State Government has yet to issue a notice permitting the production of cannabis for either medical or commercial uses.

The year 2015 saw a similar request made to the Bombay High Court. Numerous research highlighting the palliative effects of cannabis, particularly for patients with terminal illnesses, was cited in the public interest litigation (PIL). The Court claimed that it could not analyze the technical facts addressing the beneficial effects of marijuana, etc., because it lacked subject-matter expertise. The Court thus urged the petitioner to bring up the matter in Parliament. According to the Court’s ruling in Arjun Singh v. State of Haryana, the seeds and leaves (also known as “bhang”) are not considered “cannabis” under the Act. They so are not prohibited from sale or possession.

What happens if you are caught with weed in India?

According to the NDPS Act, possessing any illegal substances in India is illegal, barring bhang, and the amount of narcotics that are possessed determines the appropriate sentence. Additionally, the person becomes qualified for addiction therapy. The following laws, which deal with the possession and consumption of drugs by minors or children under the age of 18, become relevant to an addict if they are caught:

  • The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985
  • The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act of 2000
  • State drug laws

Position of legality of weed in different states 

The NDPS Act does not outright prohibit the use of cannabis; instead, it permits its usage for industrial, horticultural, scientific, and medicinal reasons with the proper state government authorization.

  1. Marijuana is legal in several Indian states, including Odisha, where people often utilize “chillums” to consume it within the State’s boundaries.
  2. The first Indian State to legalize industrial hemp production is Uttarakhand. Due to their richness and low water requirement, hemp and marijuana are being considered for legalized production in many other hilly states.
  3. The Assam Ganja and Bhang Prohibition Act of 1958 forbids the sale, possession, purchase, and consumption of ganja and bhang in Assam.
  4. Bhang and items containing it are prohibited from being produced, possessed, or consumed in Maharashtra without a permit under the Bombay Prohibition Act of 1949

How is the production and import of Medicinal Cannabis regulated, and by which agencies/authorities?

  1. Manufacture

Under the terms of a licence issued by the State Government and another licence issued by the Narcotics Commissioner, medicinal cannabis may be grown for research or scientific purposes.

  • Import

Only the following uses for cannabis, including medicinal cannabis, are permitted for importation into India:

  • Any government laboratory or research centre in India or overseas must meet certain scientific standards, including analytical requirements.
  • Very restricted medical needs of a foreigner by a properly permitted individual of a hospital or any other government facility, especially one that has been approved by the government.
  • Drug abusers can be de-addicted by a government agency, a local organisation, a charitable or volunteer group, or any other facility that the Central Government may allow.
  • Wild animal restraint or immobilisation carried out by, under, or with the government’s approval.
  • Cannabis must be imported with the Narcotics Commissioner’s approval in order to be used for the aforementioned objectives.
  • Records of the purchase and usage of the cannabis must be kept for at least two years by those who have been granted permission to import it for the aforementioned uses.

States which have legalised the cultivation of Cannabis in India

Due to the abundance of the hemp plant and ideal weather, the government of Uttarakhand has approved the production of cannabis for therapeutic and research purposes. To this end, the Government of Uttarakhand authorised the Centre for Aromatic Plants, Selaqui, Dehradun, and National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow, as technical testing labs for testing crop samples for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol concentration in Industrial Hemp as described in the state government order to Excise Commissioner on December 5, 2016, as a means of achieving their objectives. By order dated December 30, 2019, the Centre for Aromatic Plants at Selaqui, Dehradun, was designated as a nodal organisation for the production of industrial hemp.

The Government of Uttar Pradesh has established a policy that restricts the issuance of licences to those needed exclusively for research and development (R&D) activities, but the Government of Uttarakhand has legalised cannabis growing and was the first State in India to do so. The Bombay Hemp Company Pvt. Ltd. (BOHECO) and the CSIR-National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) have started early research projects under the PPP model. With the help of the Manipur government, CSIR-NBRI is also launching R&D projects to organise the growing of the cannabis crop in Manipur for the benefit of reason and socioeconomic advancement.

It also appears that the states of Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh have legalised cannabis farming.

Moreover, a significant scientific collaboration on cannabis research was inked in February 2020 between the CSIR-IIIM, Jammu, and the Canadian business Insdus Scan. The government authorised the development of this plant’s products as well as its commercial cultivation and medicinal research.

On the legislative front, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) recently amended the Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations of 2011, announcing the recognition of Hemp Seeds and Seed Products as a Food Source. As the FSSAI’s certification of hemp nutritional products will help launch a plethora of new items as well as a plethora of new ideas, this is a big triumph for the overall hemp sector.

Who can prescribe cannabinoid drugs?

In India only following authorities are permitted to prescribe cannabinoid drugs:

  • States have different restrictions on who can prescribe cannabinoid drugs. However, the minimum list of those who can dispense cannabinoids is as follows:
  • A person who is registered with a medical council and possesses a qualification recognised by the National Medical Commission Act of 2019;
  • A person who has obtained government clearance in several States and registered as a dentist under the Dentists Act of 1948;
  • A person who is licenced to practise veterinary medicine, has the necessary credentials, and, in some States, has the government’s permission.

What approvals are required to take to prescribe cannabinoid drugs?

At the minimum, the following authorizations are required to sell cannabinoid drug in India:

  • A permit from the Narcotics Commissioner to produce cannabis-based drugs
  • A permit from the state licencing body to produce cannabinoid drugs
  • Marketing Permission from the DCGI, if the cannabinoid drug has not been extensively used in India under the conditions specified, advised, or indicated in its labelling and has not been determined to be efficient and secure by the DCGI.

Which organizations are authorized to sell/distribute cannabinoid drugs available?

The following organisation are permitted to sell or distribute cannabinoid drug India:

  • Licenced retailers and pharmacies;
  • Functioning under government oversight include hospitals, dispensaries, and veterinary dispensaries;
  • Other medical facilities that the state government has approved;
  • Dispensary run by a licenced physician in which only his own prescriptions are filled, provided that the licenced physician is registered with the state government.


We believe you have learned a lot now that you have finished reading the essay and reached the conclusion. And if you only scanned the paper, allow us to provide you with a summary. In India, smoking marijuana is illegal. Consuming it as bhang is the one and only exception to this rule. The NDPS Act of 1985 outlines the penalties for transporting marijuana according to how much you have. You risk severe punishment for up to 6 months for even a minor amount of possession, a fine of INR 10,000, or both. But for the quantity which is more than the small quantity but less than the commercial quantity, in that case, one can  For a quantity that is more than a small quantity but less than the commercial quantity you can face rigorous imprisonment for up to 10 years, a fine of INR one (1) lakh, or both and in case you possess commercial quantity you can face rigorous imprisonment for up to 10-20 years, a fine of INR one (1) lakh and a maximum of two (2) lakh, or both.

Read our Article: How To Secure A Government License For Hemp Farming

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