When at least 3,000 new cannabis “trees” were recently planted at The Suranaree University of Technology in Korat this past week, the first thing I thought was ‘wow, that’s a whole lot of medicine.’
In fact, Senior University Official Weerapong Pairsuwan estimates that these plants will yield more than 1,500 kilograms of medical marijuana by the end of this year.
It’s hard to calculate exactly how much that weed is worth, though I estimate the stash has a value of about 300 million baht, on the low end.
However, these trees won’t be for sale- instead, they are only being harvested for research.
In August of 2019, the Ministry of Public Health opened the first cannabis clinic in Thailand, located at a state hospital in Nakhon Ratchasima Province. At this clinic, patients are treated for everything from pain to chronic disease and sleep disorders.
It is clinics like these that are said to be the beneficiaries of the latest trials of medical cannabis cultivation in Thailand.
However, there are still some questions and lingering confusions about who is eligible for treatment in medical marijuana trials, as well as who is allowed to partake in medical cannabis research in other ways.
There are many additional areas of interest, such as in the field of agriculture. For example, the scientific study of how the plants can be cultivated in different ways to make them suitable for different medical needs.
Dazed and confused
Drug laws in Thailand are confusing in nature, because it’s still a new frontier for the nation.
Cannabis was banned in the 1930s, up until that point it was used as traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments with medicinal compounds and cooking.
There isn’t a centralized set of rules to categorize, schedule and regulate all drugs. There are, instead, two UN Treaties that have been adopted worldwide as frameworks for regulation, production and prohibition of drugs. Both of which Thailand is a member of.
Second, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971, which is a United Nations Treaty that was designed to control psychoactive drugs such as ephedrine, MDMA and Ketamine.
It also includes substances like THC and Nicotine. There are 184 total signatories and members to the act, and this is the act that was used as the framework for the passage of Thailand’s own Psychotropic Drug Act of 1975.
This act is important, because it not only outlines how and which drugs can be brought in and out of Thailand, many of which are personal medications containing narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances, but it also schedules THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient found in cannabis, aka the one that gets you high.
What is a psychotropic drug?
Though it’s a big word, it has a fairly simple definition.
Adjective – affecting mental activity, behavior, or perception, as a mood-altering drug.
Noun – a psychotropic drug, as a tranquilizer, sedative, or antidepressant.
Basically, a psychotropic substance, also sometimes referred to as a psychoactive substance, is a substance that is mind or mood altering. This includes substances that are often sold over the counter, like nicotine and alcohol.
The Psychotropic Drug Act of 1975 has four categories, or ‘Schedules’, of psychoactive substances. The substances in Schedules I and II are considered to be more addictive and/or dangerous, and so they carry heavier punishments and fines than substances in Schedules III and IV.
Here’s a demonstration of how it looks.
-Mescaline (found in Peyote plants, known for hallucinogenic effects)
-Triazolam (a central nervous system depressant, used to treat extreme insomnia)
-Loprazolam (a skeletal muscle relaxer, used to treat insomnia)
-Diazepam (a benzodiazepine medication used to treat insomnia, depression, anxiety)
What’s most interesting about these Schedules is that all of the substances in Schedule I are naturally-occuring substances that can be closely-simulated in labs, but are found in nature.
Most, if not all, of the other substances on the list, in the other three categories, are synthetic medications made and sold as personal prescription medications.
According to the Psychotropic Drug Act of 1975, Tetrahydrocannabinol (most commonly known as THC), is labeled as a Schedule I substance and, as such, carries the harshest punishment for cannabis crimes in Thailand. This classification has also been a big factor in the prevention of it being used medicinally.
Medicinally and recreationally (where it has been legalized), THC is commonly concentrated and made into substances that are consumed in ways other than smoking- such as vapor cartridges, oils, pastes, waxes and edibles.
That leaves us with CBD, or cannabidiol. CBD is most commonly used to treat epileptic seizures, but has been known to also be beneficial for other common issues like anxiety, pain and insomnia.
What most people know as the medical “part” of the plant, Cannabidiol (CBD) is being modified similar to how THC is modified in other places, and distributed to patients via clinics and hospitals like the one in Korat Province.
Though there has been ample amounts of research and many successful clinical trials in other countries over the last few decades that have overwhelmingly proven the medical benefits of THC, Thailand hasn’t evolved enough yet to allow for the law-changing medical research to be done to prove its use to the Thai lawmakers.
Scientific and medical research are necessary to prove the benefits of the full plant. This is essential for it to become medically legal, as well as available to more people.
As of now, it’s the prohibition-era laws that are preventing the growth of the plant itself, the growth of what will inevitably be a brand new industry in Thailand.
Thailand is on the verge of a green rush. The sooner we see these types of laws change, the faster we will be able to be competitive in the global cannabis market when it comes to cultivation, research and production of safe medicine.
The first step to changing these laws is understanding them, and then doing everything we can to advocate for proper, comprehensive medical marijuana reform.
It’s a future that many people depend on and should be embraced. We’re taking baby steps, but we’re just not there yet.