Image of an Indian marijuana shop
 
Viki Vaurora, a passionate campaigner for medical marijuana, says it is time to bust the myths around the much maligned weed.
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He is hosting India's first ever Medical Cannabis Conference series that starts in Bengaluru on May 10, to spread awareness about its uses, especially in palliative cancer care. 
 
"The only way marijuana can kill you is if you smoke 1,500kg in 15 minutes," says Vaurora, a 23-year-old musician and recording engineer."It has no side effects and it cannot kill you. It has no control on your respiratory or cardiac faculties." 
 
The youngster has his parents' support for this cause. "My family helped me sift through 500 grams of marijuana, to filter out the seeds and leaves so that I could make cannabis oil to help a cancer patient," he says. 
 
In November 2014, Vaurora met Leela, who had stomach cancer."Due to the chemotherapy treatment she wasn't able to eat, talk, walk or even sleep peacefully," he recalls. He gave her the cannabis oil, concentrated with cannabis compounds (THC and CBD), ingested in small doses over a period of four months. "I even had my father smoke a joint, so that he could ease the pain he was suffering from due to a nerve compression in his back." 
 
Vaurora points out that cannabis has been used in India for centuries and it is only in the last 30 years that it has been banned. The other speaker at the conference will be Canadian Rick Simpson, a former power engineer who advocates cannabis oil usage to cure cancer. 
 
"The cannabis hemp plant has never harmed anyone and the only reason it was ever outlawed concerned the threat it posed to many major industries, which could not compete if cannabis is allowed to grow freely," says Simpson who runs phoenixtears.ca, a website that explains how to extract and use cannabis oil. 
 
Simpson says people from all over the world are contacting him to know more about cannabis oil. He feels the cannabinoids in the hemp plant "will change the face of medicine forever." This belief led Mumbaikar Dhaval Panchal, 27, who will be attending the conference, to hunt for cannabis oil, which he believed could have helped his father when he was in the last stage of stomach cancer." 
 
Chemotherapy was ravaging his body. When I started asking people how to get hold of the cannabis oil, they would laugh at me. I finally managed to find someone who said they could source it for him, but my father passed away before that," says Panchal, holding back tears. "I could have made it my self and helped my father. It is just a plant. Cigarettes and alcohol are being sold even with stickers that say 'harmful'. But a plant that doesn't not kill you, cannot be grown or sourced in this coun try?" he asks. 
 
Panchal and his friends hope to spread awareness about medi cal cannabis, on social media with online com munities like the Great Le g alisation Move ment, India which has over 3,000 members. 
 
Panchal tried asking his father's doctors for a drug that had can nabinoids, but they "laughed and said it was stupid". 
 
This scepticism is not shared by all doc tors, when it comes to the use of cannabis derivatives. "There is a cannabis compound that is licensed as anti-vomiting drug which is available in the US. The drugs with this compound could be used in a therapeutic situation, to help relieve symptoms, may be used as pain relief," says Dr Rajendra Badwe, director, Tata Memorial Hospital and Research Centre in Mumbai. He feels that legalization could help facilitate a study on the actual usefulness of cannabinoids for cancer patients. 
 
"I would say it can be used for palliative chemotherapy, where there are no chances of it getting addictive. Physiologically there are cannabinoid receptors on all the cells of our body, so we need to know more about what compounds stimulate them." 
 
The conferences will be held across four cities — Bengaluru, Pune, Mumbai and Delhi — on consecutive weekends in May. "We have invited doctors too for the meet. People have to know it is not just about smoking and getting high. There are medical uses too," says Vaurora.
 
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