What is a psychoactive drug? To what extent do you agree with the view that psychoactive drugs like opium and marijuana should be legalised for medical purposes in India? Give reasons to support your viewpoint.

A psychoactive drug is a chemical substance that acts primarily upon the central nervous system where it alters brain function, resulting in temporary changes in perception, mood, consciousness and behavior.
The psychoactive drug like opium and marijuana also has therapeutic uses. But the fears of potential abuse have restricted them from being legalised.
Why it should be legalized?

  • Critics say that the notion of recreational use of marijuana is overemphasized. Recreational use is probably true for not more than 5%; for the rest, it has medicinal purposes. Marijuana has tremendous amount of medicinal value and its potential for industrial usage can hardly be overstated.
  • Marijuana is natural to India, especially the northern hilly regions. It has the potential of becoming a cash crop for poor marginal farmers. 
  • Marijuana is known to help people with eye ailments, cancer, and joint pain.

Problems from legalising it?

  • Marijuana is a highly addictive substance, produces dependence, and is toxic for the brain.
  • The countries which legalised Marijuana are increasingly realising that in the garb of Marijuana, they have legalised drug warlords and their business. They have increased the vulnerabilities of the youth. The lure of escape from the everyday world that Marijuana offers is irresistible for many people.
  • The legalisation of Marijuana in cities like Amsterdam led to an increase in crime, from mugging to prostitution. 

India’s affinity to psychoactive substances is centuries old. Documented references to cannabis date back to 2000-1400 BC, with texts describing it as “sacred grass”. Medical use of Marijuana is recorded in books like the Susruta Samhita. To date, bhang, ganja and charas products of the cannabis plant are enlisted in the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945 for use in Ayurvedic, Siddha and Unani medicine.
The policy of prohibition is encouraged in relation to substances that are “injurious to health”. Many in the scientific community doubt if, and to what extent, marijuana meets this threshold.
In 1997, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi published a report titled ‘Cannabis, Health Damage? Legislative Options’, which found marijuana use to be less harmful than certain licit substances like alcohol and tobacco.
The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985 criminalised the cannabis plant, ganja and charas but not bhang. The Act allows State governments to “permit and regulate” cannabis for medical, scientific and, to some extent, industrial uses. Few States, however, have made use of their regulatory powers.
As a result, people continue to be arrested and jailed for the possession and use of marijuana. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 67% of the cases registered under the NDPS Act in 2015 were for ganja and charas.
Many countries are rightly experimenting with legislative models of decriminalisation as well as legalisation of cannabis, in order to break the connection between organised crime and the growing number of law-abiding people who use marijuana. India must also walk a similar road.

Question for UPSC Mains:
What is a psychoactive drug? To what extent do you agree with the view that psychoactive drugs like opium and marijuana should be legalised for medical purposes in India? Give reasons to support your viewpoint. {250 words, 15 Marks}

Published: April 21, 2018 | Modified:June 27, 2019

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