Hundreds of patients, mostly the elderly, queued up to receive cannabis treatment when Thailand’s Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul opened the first full-time clinic specialising in traditional and alternative cannabis-based medicine in Bangkok on Monday. For the first two weeks, the patients will be given free treatment.
Last year, Thailand legalised cannabis for medical and research purposes but its recreational use and trading are still illegal.
There are already around 25 cannabis clinics attached to general hospitals across Thailand but, unlike the newly-launched clinic, they operate for just a few days a week due to a lack of specialised staff, according to a Bangkok Post report.
Nearly 2,200 patients had registered at the clinic until March, a health official told Reuters. These patients will get cannabis-based medicine for a variety of health problems ranging from muscle aches to cerebral palsy.
Traditionally, cannabis was used widely for medical and recreational purposes in several Asian societies. It has been used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine in India where its recreational and even spiritual use too has been widespread. Restrictions on its use came with colonial regimes and later international efforts to criminalise drugs.
According to Jim Plamondon of Chiang Mai-based Thai Cannabis Corporation, cannabis has been a part of a collection of medicinal herbs Thais have used for long.
“It was mainly a drug for women because they were involved in transplanting rice, which was back-breaking work. They would eat chicken and rice laced with cannabis and get back to work,” he said.
Legalisation of medical cannabis in Thailand has expanded the black market. Popularity of marijuana extracts is surging on the black market due to widespread misunderstanding that the use of such extracts is legal for all purposes. According to a government official, the number of marijuana overdose cases has doubled over past several months.
Besides Thailand, South Korea is another Asian country which has legalised medical cannabis. Asia’s medical cannabis market will be worth over US$5.8 billion by 2024 if a number of key markets, such as China and Japan, legalise cannabis in the medium term, according to research by market intelligence and strategic consultancy firm Prohibition Partners.