[Burning Issue] Substance Abuse in India

The rising abuse of narcotic drugs in India has come to limelight after the alleged suicide of a notable actor due to depression induced by chronic drug abuse. Since then, the Narcotics Control Bureau has been making high profile arrests over drugs possession (notably the cannabis).

And again in a contrary move, India surprisingly voted in favour of a highly divided resolution in the UN Commission for National Drugs to remove Cannabis from the category of most dangerous drugs.

This arguably has led to mixed opinion whether to legalize cannabis in India, which has been long slated demand.

Films like ‘Udta Punjab’ have graphically portrayed the crisis faced by the society and its youth with regard to the drug menace. While the film highlighted the drug menace in a bordering state, the rest of the country can by no means be complacent.

Substance abuse in India: A deep malaise

There is a worldwide consensus that misuse of narcotics and psychoactive substances is on the rise, and India is no exception to this. Look at this data:

A 2019 national study conducted by AIIMS-Delhi on the prevalence of drug abuse in the country, establishes that:

  • A substantial percentage of people use psychoactive substances (alcohol, cannabis and opioids), and adult men top the list of drugs users.
  • Alcohol is the most commonly abused psychoactive substance followed by cannabis, opioids (heroin, opium) and inhalers.
  • Addiction generally begins with alcohol, moves towards nicotine and cannabis – considered as gateways to hard drugs – and then hard substances.

National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) annual Accidental Death & Suicides in India (ADSI) reports:

  • In the year 2019, 7719 out of the total 7860 suicide victims due to drug abuse/alcohol addiction were male.
  • Even in the data relating to deaths due to road accidents, drugs & alcohol are one of the most causative factors. 

India’s vulnerability to Psychotropic substances

The estimate of the global drug trade is of the order of $360 billion contributed by Heroin – $100-110 billion, Cocaine $110-130 billion, Cannabis $75 billion and synthetic drugs $60 billion.

[A] Proximity to Drug Heavens

India is unfortunately sandwiched between a few of the countries who are the biggest producers of illicit opium, while itself being known to be the largest manufacturer of licit opium.

(1)  Golden Crescent

  • The Golden Crescent is the name given to one of Asia’s two principal areas of illicit opium production, located at the crossroads of Central, South, and Western Asia.
  • This space overlaps three nations, Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, whose mountainous peripheries define the crescent.

(2) Golden Triangle

  • The Golden Triangle is the area where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers.
  • It has been one of the largest opium-producing areas of the world since the 1950s.

[B] Social Factors

(1) Experimentation

Youth are often motivated to seek new experiences, particularly those they perceive as thrilling or daring.  

(2) Neurotic Pleasure and recreation

Abused drugs interact with the neurochemistry of the brain to produce feelings of pleasure. The intensity of this euphoria differs by the type of drug and how it is used.

(3) To bust mental stress

Some adolescents suffer from depression, social anxiety, stress-related disorders, and physical pain. Using drugs may be an attempt to lessen these feelings of distress.

[C] Cultural factors

(1) Folk examples

Many culture and religiosity in India moralize the use of Ganja, Bhang through Chillam and Hookahs. We can find many adults and the old-age population still practising such habits.

(2) Peer-pressure

Many teens use drugs “because others are doing it”—or they think others are doing it—and they fear not being accepted in a social circle that includes drug-using peers.

(3) Hype and glorification

Setting other national issues of importance apart, the mass media often creates hype and curiosity among the youth by audio-visuals, undue exaggerated reporting and media trials of the accused persons.

Impacts of Drug Abuse

(1) Psychological Impact

Overt abuse of drugs causes chronic mental disorders and habit forming tendencies. I can have numerous long-term health effects. These include- depression, anxiety, panic disorders, increased aggression, increased aggression, paranoia and hallucinations.

(2) Physiological impact

Abusing a drug, or misusing a substance can produce other short-term effects, such as: changes in appetite, sleeplessness or insomnia,  increased heart rate, slurred speech, changes in cognitive ability, a temporary sense of euphoria and loss of coordination.

(3) Social impact

Not only impact drug abusers’ lives but equally affect their families and the community at large. Problems such as criminal activity, alienation, domestic violence, and child abuse or neglect may also be present in families experiencing substance abuse.

(4) Economic Impact

Studies show that drug abuse leads to poverty and family breakdown.  In families disrupted by drug abuse, poverty is often transmitted from parents to children.

(5) Public hazards

Injection drug use is the leading risk factor for new human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections. Tuberculosis (TB) rates have increased significantly among drug-using populations, especially drug-resistant TB in HIV-infected drug users.

Drug abuse also results in numerous road accidents.

Legal mechanisms in India

(1) Indian Constitution

  • Article 47 of the Indian Constitution is one of the DPSP which directs the State to raise the level of nutrition and the standard of living and to improve public health as among its primary duties.
  • It states that the State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of intoxicating drinks and drugs which are injurious to health.

 (2) NDPS Act

  • On November 14, 1985, the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act was enacted, banning all narcotic drugs. This was amended in 1987.
  • Under the Act, it is illicit for a person to produce or manufacture/cultivate, possess, sell, purchase, transport, store, and/or consume any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance.

(3) Nasha Mukt Bharat campaign

  • This campaign launched this year in 2020, is run for 272 Most Affected Districts’ by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.
  • It focuses on a three-pronged strategy combining- efforts of Narcotics Bureau, Outreach/Awareness by Social Justice and Treatment through the Health Dept.

#Global initiatives: UN-CND

  • The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs is one of the functional commissions of the UN Economic and Social Council.
  • It is the central drug policy-making body within the UN system and has important functions under the international drug control conventions.

Challenges in curbing drug abuse

(1) Local availability

  • Ephedrine is a banned drug that is quite shockingly, being sold in the country openly. It is manufactured in private labs in India, albeit under Government regulations, and it is suspected that these labs have been leaking it to the International drug.
  • Methamphetamine is the ‘baap’ of all drugs in the market. Youth disheartened by the costly drugs choose to switch over to crystal Meth, which can be easily manufactured in a laboratory.

(2) Other sin goods are allowed

  • Alcohol and tobacco can be more harmful to individuals and society than recreational drugs like cannabis and ecstasy that are governed by disproportionately strict regulations.
  • This skewed regulatory framework leads to economic losses with a high number of people incarcerated and people in need not having access to opioids.

(3) Flawed regulations

  • There is a loophole in the NDPS Act that it only bans the usage of buds and resins.
  • It is believed that the government intentionally kept this loophole to leave bhang, which is made out of leaves, out of the coverage under the law that would have prohibited its use even for religious purposes.

(4) Illicit and large-scale Smuggling

  • The NCB has started a campaign to crack down on drug smuggling networks across the country and has identified several syndicates which operate from different parts of the country.
  • In fact, the agency has estimated that heroin business in India is worth around Rs1,44,000 crore (approximately 19 billion US dollars) and there are around 20 lakh dependent users of this high drug in the country.

(5) Lack of rehab centres

  • Most of the de-addiction centres in India are run by NGOs and there is not even one exclusive government rehabilitation centre as they are either merged with public health centres (PHC) or major government hospitals.
  • The private rehabilitation centres charge at least Rs 10,000 – Rs 15,000 a month and only government hospitals are affordable for many people

Centre-stage of the Debate: De-stigmatizing / Legalizing Cannabis

The United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) voted to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, decades after they were first placed on the list. India was part of the voting majority.


Banning the production of the cannabis, and associated products, has not had any benefit whatsoever for India. As a youth, we all know some or other in our friend circle who consumes it immensely.

India has the least priced cannabis available in the world that too after regulations. This causes more possibility of abuses.

(1) Health benefits

  • The cannabinoids found in Cannabis is a great healer and has found mention in the Ayurveda.
  • It can be used to treat a number of medical conditions like multiple sclerosis, arthritis, epilepsy, insomnia, HIV/AIDS treatment, cancer.

(2) Ecological benefits

  • The cannabis plant and seeds apart from being labeled a ‘super-foods’ as per studies, is also a super-industrial carbon negative raw material.
  • Each part of the plant can be used for some industry. Hemp currently is also being used to make bio-fuel, bio-plastics and even construction material in certain countries. Cosmetic industry has also embraced Hemp seeds.

 (3) Marijuana is addiction-free

  • An epidemiological study showed that only 9%  of those who use marijuana end up being clinically dependent on it.
  • The ‘comparable rates’ for tobacco, alcohol and cocaine stood at 32%, 15% and 16% respectively.

(4) Good source of Revenue

  • By legalizing and taxing marijuana, the government will stand to earn huge amounts of revenue that will otherwise go to the Italian and Israeli drug cartels.
  • In an open letter to US President George Bush, around 500 economists, led by Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman, called for marijuana to be “legal but taxed and regulated like other goods”.

(5) A potential cash crop

  • The cannabis plant is something natural to India, especially the northern hilly regions. It has the potential of becoming a cash crop for poor marginal farmers.
  • If proper research is done and cultivation of marijuana encouraged at an official level, it can gradually become a source of income for poor people with small landholdings.

(6) Prohibition was ineffective

  • In India, the consumption of synthetic drugs like cocaine has increased since marijuana was banned, while it has decreased in the US since it was legalized in certain states.
  • Moreover, these days, it is pretty easy to buy marijuana in India and its consumption is widespread among the youth. So it is fair to say that prohibition has failed to curb the ‘problem’.

 (7) Marijuana is less harmful

  • Marijuana consumption was never regarded as a socially deviant behaviour any more than drinking alcohol was. In fact, keeping it legal was considered as an ‘enlightened view’.
  • It is now medically proven that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol.

Risks of Legalizing Cannabis

(1) Health risks continue to persist

  • There are many misconceptions about cannabis. First, it is not accurate that cannabis is harmless.
  • Its immediate effects include impairments in memory and in mental processes, including ones that are critical for driving.
  • Long-term use of cannabis may lead to the development of addiction of the substance, persistent cognitive deficits, and of mental health problems like schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.
  • Exposure to cannabis in adolescence can alter brain development.

(2) A new ‘tobacco’ under casualization

  • A second myth is that if cannabis is legalized and regulated, its harms can be minimized.
  • With legalization comes commercialization. Cannabis is often incorrectly advertised as being “natural” and “healthier than alcohol and tobacco”.
  • Tobacco, too, was initially touted as a natural and harmless plant that had been “safely” used in religious ceremonies for centuries.

(3) Unconvincing Advocacy

  • Advocates for legalization rarely make a convincing case. To hear some supporters tell it, the drug cures all diseases while promoting creativity, open-mindedness, moral progression.
  • Too much trivialization of Cannabis use could lead to its mass cultivation and a silent economy wreaking havoc through a new culture of substance abuse in India.

Way forward

  • Scaling up enforcement within and strict surveillance along our porous borders, airports and sea ports are the only way to check drug abuse for India.
  • For Cannabis/ Marijuana, it’s important to make a distinction between legalization, decriminalization and commercialization.   
  • As with alcohol and tobacco products, the use of cannabis must be regulated, taxed and monitored. Its threats must be conveyed through proper mechanism as we do in case of Tobacco.
  • We must ensure that there are enough protections for children, the young, and those with severe mental illnesses, who are most vulnerable to its effects.


  • The debate on the legalization of marijuana in India has started on social media and other noted platforms.
  • It is to be noted that India’s tryst with cannabis is centuries old and even ancient texts mention the plant being used by both nobility and common folk.
  • Even today, we come across ‘holy men’ smoking marijuana in public and photographs of them blowing clouds of smoke are almost symbolic.
  • Hence, laws should be made to suit people so that they do not break the law to maintain their lifestyle.  Laws should weave around an existing lifestyle, not obstruct it. Or else laws will be broken.







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3 years ago

valuable information

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1 year ago

the content you all are providing is just amazing.. loved it


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