What Does Thailand Have To Offer In The Field Of Medicinal Cannabis?

The use of cannabis in traditional medicinal forms has been known all over the world. With the implementation of the “War on Drugs”, the world took a different view on cannabis and thus lost the long traditional medicines and the science.

In the past decade, with so much going on around the world the cannabis industry has taken a turn. Countries are legalizing not only the traditional use of medicinal cannabis but few countries are taking steps to legalize its recreational use as well. Scientific research on this mysterious plant is the most looked after.

Cannabis use has a long history in Southeast Asia. It has been used as an ingredient, a condiment in foods, a medicine, and a source of fiber. In Thailand, cannabis plants and their derivatives have been used since ancient times as a treatment for many medical conditions, as well as a key ingredient in many Thai traditional medicinal remedies.

Enacting The Narcotics Act in 1979 which banned marijuana and legalizing it in 2018 for medicinal use, Thailand considered taking steps in a gap of 4 decades towards legalizing cannabis from being an illegal plant to a plant for medicinal and industrial use. Today, Thailand is focusing on research, cultivation, and manufacturing medical-grade cannabis.

The Narcotics Act of B.E. 2522 (1979)

Until medicinal cannabis became legal, the Narcotics Act of B.E. 2522 specifically identified cannabis as an illegal substance that belonged to the Category 5 (i.e. prohibited substances) and a violation carries huge penalties and long prison terms.

Thailand marked history with the signing of the Royal Decree when it became the first country in Asia to legalize medicinal cannabis. The King of Thailand legalized medicinal cannabis for doctors, patients, farmers, entrepreneurs, and exporters to cultivate, possess and dispense. However, recreational use of cannabis still remains illegal and attracts severe punishments.

Individuals who have obtained a license can produce, possess, import, and export cannabis with the purpose of treating medical conditions, as long as:

  • the conditions for the procurement of licenses for import and export are met; 
  • use or possession of cannabis is for a clear medicinal benefit in the treatment of patients;
  • for the purpose of education, research, and development including for agriculture, commerce, science, and industry; or for the medicinal benefit of a person who has obtained a license from the licensee with approval of the committee.
  • for bringing medicinal cannabis in Thailand, no more than the amount required for the treatment of specific diseases is allowed. It must be accompanied by a prescription or certificate from a medical professional or others who are able to provide treatment when receiving a license from the licensee.

The Political Campaign in Thailand

In February 2019, the Narcotics Act was amended, legalizing medicinal cannabis with certain limitations in Thailand.

In national elections, the Bhumjaithai political party, whose election campaign included a pledge to decriminalize and legalize cannabis plants, won substantial support in parts of the country and chose to join the coalition government, with the Bhumjaithai party leader assuming control of the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH).

Since then, the government, with cooperation with the MOPH and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has been working to reclassify cannabis products and to issue new regulatory pathways to accommodate these new “cash crops” to boost the domestic economy.

Subsequently, a notification was issued in August 2019 that reclassified certain modern drugs, cosmeceuticals, nutraceuticals, cosmetics, and food containing hemp out of the scope of the Narcotics Act.

At the same time, cannabis and hemp legalization were also taking a higher profile in the public sphere. For instance, the issue of cannabis legalization was raised and promoted in the election campaigns of early 2019 by one of the large political parties.

After a long interlude (caused primarily by government focus turning to the COVID-19 pandemic and other emergent priorities), a new MOPH notification was published in the Government Gazette on December 14, 2020, expanding the delisting of cannabis from the Narcotics Act to include nearly all parts of cannabis and hemp plants.

Recent Developments in the Cannabis Industry in Thailand

  • Research and development at Thai hospitals and universities have led to FDA-approved medical cannabis products to be obtained not just at certain government hospitals, but also at registered clinics.
  • Thailand’s foray into medical cannabis is heavily regulated, however, and the improper or recreational use of cannabis is still punishable by up to five years in prison.
  • Thailand is also looking forward to providing medical tour packages, such as detox, Thai massage, and other wellness courses that use cannabis, which would improve the economy and health of people in numerous ways.

Research and Development Efforts in Thailand to Improve the Cannabis Industry

The Ministry of Public Health appointed a committee for Organising Medicinal Marijuana Services to provide healthcare facilities across the country with quality, standardized and safe cannabis medicines adequate for medical use, to make sure that the drug is distributed evenly and systematically, as well as to prevent its leakage and misuse.

Thailand is taking up steps to incorporate the medicinal cannabis laws in a more lucrative form. Steps would be taken : 

  • to study and improve hemp species to find optimized hemp varietals;
  • to study and improve methods of hemp cultivation to increase product quantity and quality;
  • to study and develop new hemp species for Thailand;
  • to study and improve herbs for industrial processing and export to the global market;
  • to study and develop food and beverage, nutrition, wellness, skincare, cosmetic products, and perfume that contain CBD; and
  • to study and improve hemp and Thai traditional herbs.

Is Thailand’s Approach Towards Medicinal Cannabis An Example For India?

Thailand and India have a similar history with Cannabis. Cannabis has been in use in some form or the other; be it in the household, textile, traditional medicine, or raw material, just to name a few. With Thailand taking a progressive approach towards medicinal cannabis, it will soon become a land of traditional knowledge of medicine equipped with modern technology and scientific research. 

Thailand has taken a fast-track mode by legalizing medical cannabis. Be it through research, establishing medical cannabis clinics, distribution of medical cannabis through a prescription by a certified doctor, or a Thai traditional medical practitioner. Hospitals under the Public Health Ministry have been granted permission by the Thai FDA to prescribe medical cannabis to patients. 

India on the contrary is taking small steps in recognizing the medicinal use of cannabis and its therapeutic effects on patients. There is a long way to go to implement laws and get the system running in India. First things first, thorough research is required to reap the benefits of the age-old knowledge of Ayurveda with medical cannabis formulations. One such is the initiative taken up by the CSIR-IIIM and the Tata Memorial Centre in Mumbai to research the effectiveness of cannabis strains in cancer treatment.

With countries like Thailand in Southeast Asia using their traditional knowledge of cannabis and going out in the world with legalizing medical cannabis, it gives a golden opportunity to surrounding nations to follow a path and work one step at a time to keep building the cannabis industry and bringing it to its full potential

Pallavi S. Maheshwari
Pallavi S. Maheshwari
Advocate working towards social upliftment and sustainable development. Here to gather knowledge and write.

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