Cannabis in Thai traditional medicine: From Criminalisation to Legalisation
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The cannabis plant has a rich history in Thailand. Among other things, it has been long used for medical purposes in Thai traditional medicine.
As the medical cannabis industry grows – thanks to supporting cannabis legislation – people are becoming interested in the potential benefits of the plant. Science is now proving what was previously supported only by stories.
In large part, this newfound understanding has been made possible by going back to the roots of traditional medicine. We will take a closer look into how marijuana is shaping the landscape of traditional healing practices in Thailand.
History of cannabis in Thailand
According to legend, cannabis was brought to Thailand from India. It is interesting that both cultures use the same name for the plant: gancha.
In Thai traditional medicine, marijuana was a widely-used treatment for many medical conditions, like pain, inflammation, and digestive issues. However, the use of cannabis was not limited to medicinal purposes alone.
Cannabis fibres were also used in textile production. Hemp-made hand wraps are a notable example used by Muay Thai fighters to protect their hands. In addition, cannabis was a popular ingredient in Thai cuisine. The boat noodle soup (kway teeow rua) is a well-known dish that is spiced with cannabis.
Beyond its medicinal and culinary uses, cannabis was also used for recreational purposes in Thailand. This was because of its ability to provide spiritual enlightenment and increase mental clarity.
In traditional Thai medicine, cannabis was believed to have therapeutic properties that could enhance physical and mental well-being. The fact that Thai landrace strains are considered to be pure Sativas, which are known to bring euphoria, only added to their recreational and spiritual use.
Despite being a valued component of Thai traditional medicine for centuries, cannabis was criminalised in Thailand in the 1930s. This was driven by a wave of drug prohibition sweeping across the globe.
Cannabis culture in Thailand continued to flourish in the shadows until it was thrust into the spotlight in the 1960s during the Vietnam War. American soldiers found comfort in marijuana, and soon, the export of cannabis to the West became a real thing. As a result, the Thai cannabis scene became infamous, and the plant was eventually added to the narcotics list.
The recent legal changes, however, have given cannabis a valuable role in the country’s medical practices.
How cannabis is shaping the future of Thai traditional medicine
2019 marked a significant turning point for cannabis in Thailand, as the plant was legalised for medicinal purposes. The decision was based on scientific evidence supporting the therapeutic benefits of cannabis. This includes conditions like pain, sleep, stress and anxiety, and epilepsy.
In 2022, marijuana became legal in Thailand after being taken off the narcotics list. The legal status of cannabis is still somewhat uncertain as lawmakers work to regulate the industry. Despite this uncertainty, there has been an increase in the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
This led to a surge in Thai traditional medicine doctors using their knowledge and experience to help patients find comfort with marijuana. A number of cannabis clinics in Thailand have emerged, where doctors use medical cannabis products (approved by the authorities) to ease their patients’ symptoms.
The clinics use formulations based on cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
CBD is non-intoxicating (it does not get you high). At the same time, it is a helpful natural remedy for treating chronic pain and epilepsy and easing anxiety and stress. THC, meanwhile, produces intense euphoric effects that are commonly associated with marijuana. It also has many medicinal uses – namely, easing nausea and vomiting, providing pain relief, and improving appetite.
DTAM leading the way
The Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine (DTAM), working alongside the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH), has taken a leading role in advancing cannabis research in Thailand.
The DTAM is working to explore the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis through partnerships with researchers. They also provide guidance on the safe and effective use of medical marijuana and create standardised cannabis formulations for traditional medicine practitioners to use.
Additionally, the DTAM is helping establish regulations for the legal use of cannabis in the country, ensuring that patients have access to high-quality medicinal marijuana products.
To highlight some of their efforts:
- In 2019, it distributed cannabis medicines and recipes to hospitals and traditional medicine practitioners.
- It is also engaged in releasing and updating the list of formula/recipes that contains cannabis – for relieving the symptoms of various medical conditions.
- In July 2022, the DTAM published an e-book on its website detailing over 150 traditional remedies with cannabis. The book is titled ‘National Thai Traditional Remedies with Ganja.’
- The DTAM has also advocated commercialising hemp and cannabis while promoting safe and responsible use.
- The organisation is also working actively with cannabis researchers and experts to conduct new studies. You can find a brief summary of some of this research here. Alternatively, you can keep also check the Journal of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine regularly for more updates.
- The DTAM has worked closely with the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO) to release three formulations of Thai cannabis oil – approved by the Thai Food & Drugs Administration.
Traditional medical cannabis: How to use
While the cannabis laws in Thailand are still unclear, cannabis products are widely available in dispensaries and retail outlets throughout the country. For those seeking to use cannabis for medicinal purposes, it is best to consult with a cannabis doctor.
Licensed medical cannabis clinics, run by Thai traditional medicine doctors and experts, are available across Thailand to help patients find the right treatment with cannabis.
When buying cannabis products, make sure to choose a reputable brand that has good reviews. Check for third-party lab test results and certificates of analysis to ensure that the product is free from contaminants.
It is important to be aware of potential side effects and drug interactions when using cannabis. CBD and THC can interact with other medications and cause harmful effects. Talk to your doctor about your medical condition and medications.
Additionally, it is important to respect cultural norms and traditions when using medical cannabis in Thailand. While cannabis may be legal for medicinal use, it is still viewed as a recreational drug by some and may not be widely accepted. Be respectful of local customs and laws and avoid using cannabis in public or in a way that may be seen as disrespectful.
Cannabis has been an important part of Thai traditional medicine for centuries, with a wide range of medicinal, culinary, and recreational uses. Despite being criminalized in the 1930s, recent changes in Thai law have allowed for the legal use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Traditional medical practitioners, supported by organisations like the DTAM, are leading the way in using cannabis for its therapeutic benefits, providing safe and effective treatment options for patients.
If you are interested in checking some of these products, you may want to visit our comprehensive guide on the best CBD oils in Thailand.