By Upatissa Pethiyagoda –
The horror of narcotics being smuggled into the country, regular seizures by the authorities and ugly rumours of the involvement of those high in office and criminality, have led to a general revulsion against such substances. Many have not been made aware of the copious and authoritative books that have been published on the subject of narcotics and substances which affect nerve functions, mood as well as their intoxicant properties Narcotics in general fall into two major groups – the opioids derived from the gum from the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) and those from Cannabis (Cannabis sativa). The most widely and legally grown cultivar of Cannabis is the hemp of commerce. The opioids include heroin, morphine and codeine. They deserve their ugly image as addictive, intoxicant and with harmful side effects. In contrast, the Cannabinoids – glorying under a vast number of names, including Marijuana, weed, pot, ganja, Hashish, The Sacred Plant and grass, are generally considered non-addictive, giving only transient effects and with few or no side effects. They are considerably more benign in this sense than tobacco or alcohol. Users tell of heightened tranquility and mood improvement, no hangover and a general feeling of exhilaration and euphoria – altogether pleasing.
Cannabinoids (as also the opioids) have been used for centuries mainly for pain relief, including the acute pains of terminal cancer. The Literature provides evidence that Cannabis, also known as The Sacred Plant, on account of its use in Hindu festivals , has been in use for as long as ten centuries.
Ayurveda has recognized its value for inclusion in several prescriptions. More recent work has shown it to be of astonishing value in symptomatic relief or even cure of a plethora of common ailments. These include depression, epilepsy, Parkinsonism, diabetes, arthritis, cardiac and pulmonary afflictions and a near endless list of others. Literally, daily publications in reputable Journals and textbooks reveal a great potential. There is a lingering fear that indulgence in Cannabis could lead to graduation to harder drugs like heroin. There seems to be no convincing evidence that this is so. In fact, the opposite seems to be true. That Cannabis is probably an “Exit Drug” – that is, by being useful in weaning away hard drug users from their addiction.
Several countries and several US States have liberalized the medical as well as “recreational” use of Marijuana. Many preparations as powders, capsules, tablets, tinctures, inhalations, pastes, cookies and smokes are sold. It is likely that liberalization will spread rapidly and more virtues for this amazing substance will be uncovered. Therefore, is Sri Lanka making a grave error in its crusade of destroying Ganja Plantations? Evidence prompts a much more enlightened attitude towards this product – which could be a major export commodity. Of course prices will decline when the mistaken aggression towards Ganja diminishes. For us, it will still remain a good prospect for land use in areas considered poor or marginal for other crops. It offers much opportunity for “value addition” in view of the many formulations that can offer an opportunity for exports to those regions where an enlightened approach allows entry. Criminalization of its use is clearly misdirected.
A rational approach is necessary as some of the information is anecdotal (naturally when even experimentation is restricted by Law). This urges that a competent team should filter the claims made and to examine the subject in detail. A team representing Agricultural, Scientific ,Health, Excise, Police and possibly Religious (in anticipation of a puritanical reaction to good sense) be tasked with examining the existing wealth of material available as reliable evidence, to help develop an approach that is in our best interests.
This is therefore an appeal for a close study of evidence for and against, before precipitately rushing into destroying what may well be a great resource. A hostile and uninformed howl from the “Vasa Visa Nethi Krushikarma Sanvidanaya” will surely manifest. The attitude encapsulated in the pithy statement “My mind is already made up – please don’t confuse me with Facts” should not be permitted to interfere. On balance, it seems that Cannabis is more a Victim of prejudice than a Villain or Demon! Anecdotal experience may be forthcoming from unexpected and highly “respectable” sources!