As Thailand progress toward the re-introduction of cannabis-based medicines

While cannabis was historically used in traditional medicine, its use promptly ceased with the Narcotics Control Act 1976. Given previous staunch drug policies, it came as a surprise to many that Thailand moved to re-introduce cannabis-based medicines. However, “the evidence from many countries, in particular Europe, has shown that it is useful for the treatment of specific diseases. Quality science and good policy examples now presents the opportunity for Thailand to move ahead.”

Chairman of the Board of Directors
The Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO), Thailand

Governing committee

In moving ahead, Thailand has established a governing committee which covers production and extraction, medical indications, regulation, clinical trials and knowledge development. This executive committee has now explored ‘best practice’, having visited multiple countries where the medicinal use of cannabis is already underway.

“It is the committee’s responsibility to ensure that appropriate quality standards, licencing and clinical research underlines the introduction of these medicines into Thailand. Ensuring medicine efficacy and safety for patients is paramount. It is a step-by-step process. This means introducing cannabis-based medicines into select prescribing populations, assessing risks, altering aspects where necessary and scaling up to cover the whole country in time.”

Chairman of the Board of Directors, GPO

Aging population

Thailand has an aging population and is exploring new ways to deal with and treat aging related disease. The rapid development of the palliative care sector is one tactic. However, in this setting, currently, access to and the use of opioids is complicated. There remains stigma and concern for safety from use in this population of patients. “Thai patients understand what an opioid is and the role of opioids to control pain and suffering at the end of life. However, for most Thai patients, there is the need to clarify some misconceptions. Often there are concerns, for example, about the risk of addiction to opioids, the hastening of death, or even disease progression. These medicines can actually improve quality of life.”

Thai Palliative Care Professional   

Scientific basis

Like for opioids, there will be a need for educating patients and family about the risks and benefits of cannabis-based medicines. Equally, there will be a need to moderate expectations about cannabis-based medicines, given the media hype about them being a ‘panacea’.

Like in the Netherlands in early 2000’s, Thailand is approaching this matter from an objective, scientific basis. The health and wellbeing of the population are dominant concerns. Making cannabis-based medicines affordable is also essential. The GPO is responsible for delivering essential medicines to the population at an affordable price. It is likely that the GPO will also lead the advancement of cannabis-based medicines for Thailand.

Thailand is a respected thought leader in the ASEAN community. It is likely that neighbouring countries will watch the developments closely as Thailand progresses toward the re-introduction of cannabis-based medicines.

 

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