Indian scientists working on cannabis-based painkillers – Hindustan Times

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (IIIM) are working with two compounds derived from cannabis to create potential drugs for treating epilepsy and extreme pain in cancer patients. The drug will contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), two of the nearly 120 components of cannabis.

“There is a lot of misconception about cannabis owing mainly to its abuse because of its psychotropic component, THC. But the two compounds are also very effective for pain relief,” said Dr Ram Vishwakarma, director, IIIM, a central institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

For the cancer drug, IIIM is looking at a combination of both THC and CBD.

“For effective pain relief for cancer patients, both the components are needed as one is effective for pain originating in the central nervous system and the other for the pain of the peripheral nervous system,” said Dr Vishwakarma.

The institute has carried out some animal trials that have shown the combination to be very effective and “the pill” is ready for a clinical trial, he said.

The organisation has already written to the Drug Controller General of India for necessary permissions. Once granted, the trial will be conducted at the Tata Memorial Centre.

“It will be a randomised trial where some patients will be given a placebo, some the drug with the isolated active ingredient, and some the cannabinoid oil along with some herbs to enhance its effect. These will be given along with approved treatments and we will look at the pain management and antiemetic (drug against vomiting) properties,” said Dr RA Badwe, director, Tata Memorial Centre.

Currently, cancer patients are given opioid-based drugs like morphine and fentanyl. Opioids are derived from unripe seedpods of opium poppy plant. The cannabidiol-based drug could provide an alternative that is less habit forming.

IIIM will also look at whether the same drug can be used for relieving the pain of patients with sickle-cell anaemia as part of the national mission.

The epilepsy drug that IIIM is working with uses pure CBD, just like the drug approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in June this year.

Simultaneously, the IIIM is working with Bombay Hemp Company, a startup dedicated to studying medical uses of cannabis, to standardise the plant from which the compounds will be derived.

“Pain management is a very important component of cancer treatment as it majorly improves the quality of life, especially now that the patients are living longer. However, there are already several approved pain-relieving drugs that are available and there has to be proper clinical trials before cannabis based drugs can be used as alternatives,” said Dr Abhishek Shanker from the department of preventive oncology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi.

The IIIM is also working with the government to ensure that just like opium, cannabis farming is licensed under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPC) Act.

The IIIM, which grows its own cannabis, was the first to receive a license for research purposes. Although the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) allows growing low THC or non-narcotic cannabis, the states, barring Uttarakhand, do not have mechanisms for issuing licenses and then buying back the cannabis.

“And, for medicinal purposes, we might need high THC plants too. We are in talks with the government to have a policy like it does for opium,” said Vishwakarma.

First Published: Nov 23, 2018 23:12 IST


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