The consumption of soft drugs like ganja and charas is under intense scrutiny after Rhea Chakraborty’s arrest. But did you know that before 1985, it wasn’t illegal?
The derivatives of the cannabis plant are known by many names – marijuana, weed, pot, ganja, charas, hashish and more. They have a socio-religious association in India dating back hundreds of years, but never before have cannabis products been under so much of scrutiny as they are now. The arrest of Rhea Chakraborty (now out on bail) by the NCB in the drug case related to Sushant Singh Rajput’s death has led to a larger debate on cannabis. Why was it made illegal only in 1985? Is it fair to club it with hard drugs like heroin and cocaine? Is it more harmful to a person or his/her surroundings than socially and legally accepted addictions like that of alcohol and tobacco? If cannabis is illegal then why is bhaang legal? What is CBD oil? All these questions and more are being asked.
Legal definitions of cannabis products in NDPS Act
Ganja: The flowering or fruiting tops of the cannabis plant (excluding the seeds and leaves when not accompanied by the tops)
Charas: The separated resin, in whatever form, whether crude or purified, obtained from the cannabis plant and also includes concentrated preparation and resin known as hashish oil or liquid hashish
‘Part of Indian culture’
India has a strong history of using cannabis for religious, cultural and recreational purposes. The Atharva Veda describes the cannabis plant as one of the five kingdoms of herbs that lower distress.
Bhaang is also consumed with gusto during Mahashivratri and Holi. While ganja and charas were earlier sold through government shops, they are now banned.
In colonial India, the use of these traditional intoxicants was sought to be denounced by the British who wanted to create a market for their own produce, Scotch whisky. JM Campbell, who led the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission, wrote in 1893-94, “To forbid or to restrict the use of so gracious an herb as hemp would cause widespread suffering and annoyance and to large bands of worshiped ascetics, deep-seated anger.”
Before 1985, cannabis was legal in India
The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS), 1985, was enacted to curb the usage and dealing of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Until 1985, all cannabis derivatives – marijuana (grass or ganja),hashish (charas) and bhaang – were legally sold in India. For 25 years, India withstood American pressure to keep marijuana legal, after the US began to campaign for a worldwide law against all drugs, hard and soft, following the adoption of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in 1961. Given that ganja, charas and bhaang were a way of life in India, this met with opposition. But by the early ’80s, American society was grappling with drug problems, and opinion – and pressure – had hardened. In 1985, the government buckled and enacted the NDPS Act.
Ironically, the global perception of cannabis has seen a turnaround, with many US states and dozens of countries decriminalising cannabis for medical or recreational use.
Marijuana is less addictive and harmful than alcohol and tobacco: Studies
- You can binge-drink yourself to death, but you can’t fatally overdose on pot. When you consume too much alcohol, it can be fatal. But the number of deaths caused by marijuana is almost zero. A study found that a fatal dose of TCH, the potent chemical in marijuana, would be between 15 and 70 grams. A typical joint contains about half a gram of marijuana, so one would have to smoke between 238 and 1,113 joints in a day to overdose on marijuana.
- The long-term effects of heavy drinking are well known, and are linked to alcoholic liver disease, several types of cancers, cirrhosis and liver failure, and heart disease. Unlike alcohol, the effects of chronic marijuana use are not well-established.
- Since the drug is typically smoked, it can bring on issues related to smoking, but unlike in the case of tobacco, current research shows no link between smoking marijuana and lung cancer.
- Scientists have linked alcohol consumption with long-term changes to the structure of the brain. The use of marijuana, however, seems to have no significant long-term effects on brain structure.
- Studies have shown cannabis to be less addictive than alcohol, and even caffeine.
Violence and crime:
- A study in UK showed that heroin, crack cocaine, and meth were the most harmful drugs to individuals, whereas alcohol, heroin, and crack cocaine were the most harmful to others. Overall, alcohol was the most harmful drug.
- The journal Addictive Behaviors noted more than a decade ago that “alcohol is clearly the drug with the most evidence to support a direct intoxication-violence relationship,” and that “cannabis reduces likelihood of violence during intoxication.”
- A recent study looking at US states that have legalized medical marijuana found that it causes no increase in crime, and reduced the incidence of some violent crimes.
- A study found that men who used marijuana were the least likely to commit an act of intimate partner violence against a spouse.
Categories of drugs
Based on their usage, drugs are divided in three categories – soft drugs (ganja and hashish), party drugs (MDMA, LSD) and hard drugs (heroin, crystal meth and cocaine).
- Heroin is one of the harshest drugs that has mental and physical manifestation. Extremely addictive and the withdrawal is a painful process. Requires clinical rehab, therapy.
- Cocaine is highly addictive. But the physical effect is lesser than heroin. It causes behavioural changes. Requires clinical rehab, therapy.
- Party or recreational drugs like MDMA, LSD etc. are used mostly for mood alteration for a few hours. If used consistently, can cause long term damage such as depression, anxiety, loss of appetite. Requires therapy, counselling.
- Ganja and hashish are considered soft drugs. If used for many years, these might have psychological and physical effects. Can be managed with counselling, lifestyle changes.
Street names: Charas, hash
Use: Usually comes as a sticky cake. It is then dried on a flame, powdered and mixed with tobacco or ganja
Price: Rs 1,500 onwards per tola
Availability: Easily available, street-side stalls, peddlers sell it
Behavioural impact: Increased sociability, visible euphoria, lack of inhibitions, lack of a sense of time
Physical manifestation: Nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps, increased heart rate and blood pressure, increased appetite
Street names: Pot, grass, weed, bud, reefer, joint, doobie, Mary Jane
Use: This dried herb is crushed, deseeded and rolled up either with or without tobacco to make a joint. It’s also smoked in a bong or pipe
Price: Rs 600 onwards per 20/25 grams
Availability: Widely available
Behavioural impact: Slowed reaction time, lack of interest, nervousness in extreme cases
Physical manifestations: Bloodshot eyes, increased appetite and thirst
LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide)
Street names: Acid, stamp, dots, blotter
Use: Paper soaked in LSD and cut into ‘stamps’, tablets and LSD-soaked sugar cubes
Price: One stamp costs around Rs 2,000 onwards
Availability: Specific peddlers
Behavioural impact: User-specific, feeling light and overwhelmed is common
Physical manifestation: Hallucinations, paranoia and dehydration
Street names: Ecstasy, Molly, happy pills, love drug, hug drug
Use: Usually available in pill form
Price: Rs 6,000 for a gram. Pills are available for Rs 2,500 onwards.
Availability: Specific peddlers
Behavioural impact: User displays warmth, empathy and emotions and some report enhanced sensations
Physical manifestation: Involuntary jaw clenching, lack of appetite, restless legs, nausea, hot or cold flushes. The intoxication can last between three to six hours
Street names: Crack, icing, coke
Use: Usually comes as a powder. The most common method of use in snorting lines of the powder
Price: Rs 8,000 onwards per gram. Mephedrone, also known as M-Cat or Meow Meow, a substitute for cocaine and MDMA, is sold for Rs 2-4k/gram
Availability: Via peddlers
Behavioural impact: Intense euphoria or anxiety, hallucinations
Physical manifestation: Bloody noses, breathing trouble, abnormal heart rhythm, dilated pupils, inability to be sexually active
Street names: Brown sugar, dope, smack, junk, snow
Use: Can be snorted or smoked. Impure heroin is diluted and injected into veins or under the skin.
Price: Rs 5,000 onwards for 5 grams; smaller quantities like a pinch cost Rs 200 (approx)
Availability: With specific peddlers on request
Behavioural impact: Social withdrawal, users can get violent when denied access to the drug
Physical manifestation: Nausea, severe itching, drowsiness
Shard, shabu and Tina
Use: Comes in ice-like granules that can be smoked, diluted and
injected, swallowed or snorted.
Price: Rs 2,000 onwards for a gram
Availability: Specific peddlers
Behavioural impact: Users exhibit confidence, lot of energy and look happy
Physical manifestation: Users may age fast, skin may grow dull, develop sores, dry mouth, stained or rotting teeth
Cannabis product bhaang is legal in India
Bhaang, which is made using the leaves of the cannabis plant, has close ties to the worship of Shiva and is also consumed during Holi across India, either in thandai or in sweets. The sale and consumption of bhaang is permitted since the NDPS Act specifically prohibits the sale and production of cannabis resin and flowers, the use of leaves, from which bhaang is made, is allowed.
CBD oil: A wellness fad but doesn’t get you ‘high’
Both hemp and marijuana are varieties of the cannabis plant. Marijuana is rich in THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive component; it can account for as much as 40% of the total cannabinoid content. Hemp, on the other hand, is richer in CBD, and generally contains only 0.3% THC or less. Unlike THC, CBD won’t get you “high.” “You don’t get a high from CBD no matter how much you take,” said Sumner Burstein, an emeritus professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. It is also not addictive, but there is a possibility CBD will interact poorly or interfere with other medications, he said. The World Health Organisation has declared it non-addictive.
The latest ‘wellness’ ingredient, CBD can now be found in everything from skin cream and coffee to protein powders and even intimate lubricants. The oil is used for general wellbeing support, similar to omega-3 fish oil or vitamin supplements, and also for more specific issues, ranging from inflammation and pain to anxiety, stress and period pain. While the product shows promise and the international market for it is quickly growing, a lot of research still need to be done.
Kim Kardashian West turned to the product when “freaking out” over the birth of her fourth baby via surrogacy – she even had a CBD-themed baby shower. Martha Stewart’s French bulldog partakes, too. Jennifer Aniston loves beauty products made with it. Mike Tyson offers a cannabidiol-infused water. Even the Oscars goody bags have had CBD-infused products.
Is CBD oil legal? It’s grey
Even though CBD oil doesn’t result in a high, since it is a cannabis product, many people are confused about its legality. CBD oil with very low THC content (0.3% or lower) is allowed in most countries, including USA, Canada, Australia, the UK and most of Europe. In India, it is a grey area, even though several online stores sell it.
Advocate Sandeep Ladda says, “Use or purchase of any extract of cannabis as defined in Sec 2(iii) Sec 20 of the NDPS Act is prohibited. It is a congizable offence irrespective of quantity. If a person is dealing with commercial quantity without license then it’s non-bailable and punishable for 10 years. However, if you buy a small quantity for medicinal purpose, with prescription and from sellers with license, you will not be charged under the NDPS Act.” However, the problem is that most online sellers do not have an NRx mark, a sign that the THC content is less than 0.3%.
Punishment for possession in India
Possession of cannabis and its punishment is governed under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985:
Offence: Cultivating, producing, manufacturing, possession, selling, purchasing, transporting, importing, exporting, using Punishment: Small quantity – rigorous imprisonment of up to 6 months or fine up to Rs 10,000 or both More than small quantity but less than commercial quantity – rigorous imprisonment of up to 10 years + fine up to Rs 1 lakh Commercial quantity – rigorous imprisonment of 10 to 20 years + fine Rs 1 to 2 lakh
Offence: Possession of small quantity for personal consumption or consumption Punishment: Imprisonment of up to 6 months or fine or both. Addicts volunteering for treatment enjoy immunity from prosecution
Is Rhea guilty of harbouring/financing?
The NCB charged Rhea with Section 27A which deals with “financing illicit traffic and harbouring offenders” and can have a punishment of up to 20 years and fine of up to Rs 2 lakh – significantly more than that of just consumption. However, while allowing Rhea’s bail, the Bombay HC observed:
“By applying the interpretation of Section 27A by NCB, if some other person like a friend or a relative pays money for such consumption, then the person who actually consumes the drug can be punished only up to one year or can get immunity under Section 64A of NDPS Act; but the person who gives money for purchasing that drug faces the prospect of
spending twenty years in jail. This is highly disproportionate and would be extremely unreasonable.”
“No criminal case or FIR was pending against Sushant Singh Rajput. He was residing in his own house and was spending for his own food and other necessities. At that point of time, he had no apprehension of any arrest. Therefore, the act on the part of the Applicant
cannot be stretched to attract the allegation of harbouring Sushant.”
— With inputs from Shamayita Chakraborty, Niharika Lal, NYT and Daily Mirror