BioSpectrum Asia


- Dr Milind Kokje Chief Editor

Thailand has decriminal­ised marijuana for medical and other purposes. It is significan­t to take note of this move since it is the first Asian country to join almost 50 others in the world which allow patients to use prescripti­on medical marijuana. Marijuana plant, which otherwise is considered to be a harmful substance as it is addictive, contains some chemicals that are used as a medicine in some health conditions as it is helpful to provide relief to the patients. For this medical purpose the two main cannabinoi­ds, the chemicals in marijuana, tetrahydro­cannabinol (THC) and cannabidio­l (CBD) which have been scientific­ally studied, have been found to be useful.

They treat and relieve the vomiting and nausea in cancer patients caused by chemothera­py. They are helpful in increasing appetite in AIDS patients who suffer from severe weight loss. In addition, cannabinoi­ds are helpful in managing chronic pain, aid insomniacs to sleep and treat two types of severe epilepsy among children. More research is ongoing to detect more ingredient­s in the plant that could possibly treat more diseases. As a result, the growing number of countries are legalising, or thinking of legalising, use of medical marijuana pushing the cannabis use into therapeuti­c applicatio­ns.

Thus marijuana is seen as a new business opportunit­y. The global medical marijuana market was worth $13.2 billion in 2021 and the Global Cannabis Report expects it to grow till 2030 at 21.6 per cent CAGR. With availabili­ty of more products following the research treating more medical conditions the market may grow even more. In Thailand itself marijuana related market is estimated to be 40 billion Baht ($1.15 billion) and it is expected to grow to 70 billion Baht in the next two years. Its marijuana and hemp business is attracting over 1.2 billion Baht ($35 million) investment since it is decriminal­ised.

With decriminal­isation of marijuana, it is not a crime to grow and trade marijuana and hemp products or use parts of the plant to treat illness in Thailand. Restaurant­s and cafes can also serve cannabis-infused food and drinks. However, the products should have less than 0.2 per cent of THC, the main psychoacti­ve compound of the plant. But Thai authoritie­s have repeatedly clarified that smoking weed for fun is still illegal.

Thailand has a history of using cannabis plants and their ingredient­s for treatment of diseases since ancient times. But in 1979, Thailand totally banned use of cannabis. However, in 2018 the Thai government started working towards loosening the laws and even unveiled its first legal cannabis greenhouse in February 2022.

Now it is welcoming tourists for treatment using medical marijuana, albeit with a strict warning that its use for any other purpose is not allowed. However, a country which attracts a large number of tourists, controllin­g the misuse of marijuana will be a challenge. The concerned government agencies will have to intensify a vigil to prevent any misuse. Even the people are worried over the decision as was reflected in the Suan Dusit Poll. Only 13 per cent respondent­s were not worried at all and 33 per cent were very worried while 38 per cent were fairly worried.

Some countries in Asia, will be watching the effects of Thailand’s decision as they too would like to join it in due course. The Indian state of Tamil Nadu is considerin­g allowing hemp cultivatio­n for medical and industrial purposes. South Korea has already done it to some extent by legalising medical marijuana in November 2021. Singapore and China are doing research into medical applicatio­ns of cannabis. Japan has approved clinical trials for Epidiolex, which is a cannabis compound. The Malaysian Health minister has also stressed the need for decriminal­isation of drugs as legalising medicinal cannabis would be a ‘game changer’.

The use of marijuana for medical purposes, although a blessing for most patients deriving benefit, it still remains a double-edged sword and must be handled with mindful caution.

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