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'Huge potential': Can India’s medical Cannabis market thrive?

Steena Joy
·Contributor
·5-min read

After nearly 59 years, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), the UN’s central drug policy-making body, recently voted to remove Cannabis from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs - where the strictest control measures apply, and its use was generally discouraged for medicinal purposes. 

27 of the CND’s 53 Member States, including India, the United States and most European nations, voted “Yes” on the motion.

If the idea is to genuinely tackle and provide a solution for medical ailments using Cannabis, the regulations in India already provide for it under Ayurveda. 

In India, the earliest mention of this plant has been found in The Vedas (the Atharva Veda) - where it is listed as one of the five sacred plants. In fact, due to the legality of being able to provide this medication across all states, India is actually one of the few “federally legal” medical Cannabis countries.

Cannabis, (genus Cannabis) is a group of medicinal, recreational, and fibre plants belonging to the family Cannabaceae
Cannabis, (genus Cannabis) is a group of medicinal, recreational, and fibre plants belonging to the family Cannabaceae

According to Britannica, Cannabis, (genus Cannabis) is a group of medicinal, recreational, and fibre plants belonging to the family Cannabaceae, hence the name Cannabis. The three known species with psychoactive properties are scientifically known as Cannabis sativa (commonly known as hemp), Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis.

The plants contain more than 120 components known as cannabinoids. The most understood cannabinoids found in a cannabis plant are Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). While THC is a controlled substance and has psychotropic ingredients in it which gives the user a ‘high’, CBD is non-intoxicating and has a number of legal applications in medicine, beauty products, furniture and fuel.

While Cannabis has a long history of medical use as an analgesic (pain reliever) and antispasmodic agent, there was a general lack of awareness about its medical benefits among scientists and physicians. It was only later, in the 1960s, that the discovery of THC led to studies into the therapeutic potential of the plant's extracts and derivatives.

The most understood cannabinoids found in a cannabis plant are Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC)
The most understood cannabinoids found in a cannabis plant are Cannabidiol (CBD) and Tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC)

The legal Cannabis industry mostly covers medical cannabis, recreational cannabis, pharma products incorporating specific cannabinoids, and the wellness industry. According to MarketsandMarkets, the Cannabis market is projected to reach US$ 90.4 billion by 2026, recording a CAGR of 28.0%, in terms of value. For India, with a history of Cannabis use in traditional sciences like Ayurveda, a population of approximately 1.4 billion, and a growing middle-class, the potential market for Cannabis products is huge.

Sharing his insights on the recent UN reclassification of Cannabis and its medicinal potential, Abhishek Mohan, Co-Founder & CEO, Hempstreet India said, “More than anything else, the effect of the much written about UN reclassification would take away the taboo around the plant, which would greatly benefit the medicinal Cannabis sector. It would also have countries that have previously shut their doors on this item, to now at least reconsider its potential.”

Hempstreet India (www.hempstreet.in) is India’s first research to retail medical Cannabis company, looking to take this industry to global standards, be it in research and scientific validation, or responsible dispensation. Abhishek added, “We built Hempstreet as a way to provide a solution to the pain relief crisis in India and to stop a US-style opioid crisis from happening here.”

Across the various ailments that will plague India as she ages, there is a vast need for Cannabis-based medications
Across the various ailments that will plague India as she ages, there is a vast need for Cannabis-based medications

The potential for medical Cannabis in India? Even if we just focus on the burgeoning pain relief crisis in India, we are a couple of hundred million people that are in need of help. Across the various ailments that will plague India as she ages, there is a vast need for cannabis-based medications. The Great Legalisation Movement (GLM) is an NGO which has been working to legalise the use of Cannabis for medical and industrial purposes in India.

Abhishek informs, “Hempstreet has chosen to go after menstrual cramps as our first fight, since it is appalling that no one has chosen to try and solve this mass ailment that plagues nearly a fifth of our population.”

However, the industry is seeing a lot of fly by night operators or marketing companies and pill mills disguised as medical players, who really have no interest in following the ethical method of dispensation.

Also, some operators are abusing the Ayurveda avenue to make a quick buck. Abhishek informed, “The regulatory authorities have now started cracking down on them. However, there are also a few other committed companies that we hope to work with to raise the industry as a whole. At the end of the day, it is about running a responsible business. We prioritise responsibility over blind scaling.”

According to MarketsandMarkets, the cannabis market is projected to reach US$ 90.4 billion by 2026, recording a CAGR of 28.0%, in terms of value
According to MarketsandMarkets, the Cannabis market is projected to reach US$ 90.4 billion by 2026, recording a CAGR of 28.0%, in terms of value

Nearly three months since the launch of its first product, Trailokya Vijaya Vati, Hempstreet is now working with doctors in 21 states in India across 700 clinics. Abhishek outlined his plans, “Now that we have been able to scale while retaining the integrity of our process, we will expand to cover more doctors who are part of the 60,000 strong practitioner community that we are part of. We took the time to do things the right way so I would say we have had few hurdles and have largely self regulated ourselves even when there was no government regulation. We are in it for the long haul and are here to solve mass problems.”

Other Indian companies in the medical Cannabis (hemp) segment include Satliva, Vedi Herbals, etc.

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