Southeast Asian countries are notorious for their strict anti-cannabis laws, punishing pot traffickers with lifetime prison sentences or even the death penalty. But one year ago, Thailand chose to buck this trend by legalizing medical marijuana, hopefully ushering a new era of cannabis reform into the region.
Now, after decades of extreme prohibition, Southeast Asia's first medical marijuana clinic has opened its doors. This clinic is located within Phra Nangklao Hospital in Nonthaburi, Bangkok, and is supervised by the country's Ministry of Public Health. The new clinic will be staffed by six doctors, five pharmacists, four nurses, and a dentist — all of whom have completed a specific medical cannabis training course.
Phra Nangklao Hospital currently treats around 890 patients who are in the final stages of cancer, stroke, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, aka Lou Gehrig's disease). The hospital's new cannabis clinic will treat patients suffering from 9 specific ailments, including ALS, stroke, coronary disease, nausea associated with chemotherapy, muscle weakening, muscle numbness, and insomnia. The clinic will only be open on Mondays from 1:00pm until 4:30pm.
Thailand's recent embrace of medical marijuana is not only groundbreaking, it is wholehearted. Thai legislators voted to legalize low-THC cannabis oils last December. In sharp contrast to the US, where it usually takes states multiple years to roll out medical cannabis programs, Thailand's medical marijuana program only took months to implement.
By this August, health officials had distributed 10,000 bottles of full-extract cannabis oils to hospitals, where doctors are already using them to treat thousands of patients suffering from chronic pain, seizures, Parkinson's, and other disorders. The following month, the country removed low-THC cannabis extracts from its list of banned narcotic substances.
Also in September, researchers at Maejo University in Chiang Mai developed a brand new cannabis strain specifically created for the country's medical program. This new strain, named Issara 01 — which comes from the Thai word for “freedom” — is the first legal pot strain to ever be developed in Asia.
Thailand continues to punish recreational cannabis users with extreme penalties, but enthusiasm for medical marijuana is growing by leaps and bounds, increasing the likelihood that the stigma against weed will soon disappear. Last week, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha hit a weed vape at a news conference, surrounded by pot leaf mascots.
Dr. Praphon Tangsrikiattikul, advisor to the public health minister, has said that health officials are currently working to continue expanding the country's fledgling medical cannabis program.