Thailand begins building its cannabis industry


Visit to his first legal laboratory

In East and South-East Asia, democracies and dictatorships have long tended to impose harsh penalties on cannabis users. Thailand, a key ally in the global drug war in the United States, was no exception. However, she approves medical cannabis at small steps.

The perception of cannabis has begun to change at an astonishing rate. The right-wing Thai government has legalized medical cannabis and is considering creation of a local industry as "absolute priority".

Even some Thai conservatives are now enthusiastically talking about producing "world-class cannabis" from their farmland and taking the place before other Asian countries build their own markets. Across the region, South Korea and the Philippines are taking small steps to soften anti-cannabis laws while China has quietly authorized research.

In Thailand, at present, there is no cannabis industry. But a few months ago, the authorities quietly allowed scientists to set up the country's first cannabis laboratory, one of the few legal laboratories of its kind in Asia.

In Thailand, there is no marijuana industry. A few months ago, however, the authorities quietly allowed scientists to set up the country's first cannabis laboratory - one of the few legal laboratories of its kind in Asia. Thai researchers from Rangsit University are showing THC oils that they distilled from marijuana supplied by the country's anti-narcotics office.
Thai researchers from Rangsit University are showing THC oils that they distilled from cannabis supplied by the country's Narcotics Control Board.Credit: Patrick Winn / The World

The laboratory, located in a school north of Bangkok called Rangsit University, provides access to more than a dozen pharmacists, medical researchers and agricultural specialists who are helping to build this industry from scratch.

The first strains of Thai cannabis are provided by offenders
Importing weed into Thailand, even for medical purposes, is still illegal. The researchers had to work with cannabis confiscated by the police and provided through the Thai Counter Narcotics Bureau. In other words, consumers and drug traffickers may have inadvertently contributed to the advancement of medicine.

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At the beginning of the year, scientists received about 40 kilos of grass bricks. Most of it was contaminated with pesticides, heavy metals and other residues. But there was enough usable stock to create THC-loaded quality oils that the researchers had distilled in their labs.

Ingredients used in a prototype of THC infused powder invented by Thai scientists. They include white pepper, black pepper, sandalwood, ginger and cannabis leaves. Credit: Patrick Winn / The World

The prototypes presented so far include THC infused platelets, massage oils (which can be rubbed on the stomach) and a nasal spray. The most inventive prototype is a tasty powder that combines hemp with typically Thai ingredients: sandalwood, ginger and three types of pepper. The powder is consumed in liquid form after being mixed with coconut oil. The result will be a pepper drink that, according to the researchers, will also have "sweet and floral" coconut flavors.

Thailand to host Asia's first ganja curriculum

The college that houses the cannabis laboratory, Rangsit University, is setting up what they call a "ganja studies" program, taught by professors specialized in pharmacy, medicine and agriculture. point. (In Thai, "ganja" is not slang, it's the formal word for cannabis.)

For now, the curriculum is considered a minor program, not a major program, although the demand is very high. Several dozen students have already tried to get places on the registration list, although the program may take more than a year to deploy.

As the program grows, researchers will start creating their own strains of cannabis that will not depend on the grass confiscated by the police, says Thanapat Songsak, dean of the College of Pharmacy.

The first crop of legal cannabis cultivated by Thai professors at Rangsit University in a legal laboratory north of Bangkok. Credit: Patrick Winn / The World

The buzz around medical cannabis in Thailand is intense. Analysts circulate estimates that estimate the potential market at more than half a billion dollars. In the corridors of government, some politicians are pushing for recreational use, citing California as a source of inspiration.

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Nevertheless, the country remains in a "transitional period," says Supachai Kunaratnpruk, a former senior official of the Thai Ministry of Health who is now leading research efforts at Rangsit University.

For starters, there is not much supply. Cannabis plants are only grown in a few government approved greenhouses. Doctors in public hospitals have been allowed to distribute a small batch of THC oils to some patients, but for now there are not enough plants to feed an industrialized market. According to Supachai, influential figures within the government remain cautious about the specter of total legalization.

There is also a well-founded fear, he says, that this nascent industry will become the monopoly of one or two, possibly foreign, companies that focus on profits, not health.

"We can not let it fall into the hands of just a handful of people, from one big company," he says. "Our responsibility is to develop special Thai strains of world-class cannabis used in medicine. We want to cooperate with agricultural cooperatives. They grow it, we provide knowledge and all that is sold to the medical profession. This is the model. "

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