Cannabis science degree anyone? It’s now offered in Thailand
Jongkasem Julakham-Platon showing cannabis seedlings. PHOTO COURTESY OF JONGKASEN JULAKHAM-PIATON
Thailand officially removed cannabis and hemp from Category 5 on its list of narcotics on June 9.
This means these once highly prohibited plants can now be grown at home for cooking and medicinal purposes.
If you’re in Thailand, you can also smoke in private and enjoy its medicinal and health benefits by eating edibles and drinking tea, coffee or anything with cannabis.
Those wanting to grow cannabis plants for commercial purposes, however, must still obtain a permit from authorities.
But a degree in cannabis science? Well, that’s another step to make Thailand a cannabis hub in Southeast Asia.
Jongkasem Julakham- Platon, a restaurateur and owner of Toto Inasal, a Filipino-Thai-owned restaurant in Bangkok has partnered with Waldo 18 company. The company provides commercial supply chains to grow, process, and sell medicinal plants and their derivatives.
Waldo Institute of Petchburi, its education and research arm is accredited by Thailand’s Office of the Higher Education Commission (OHEC). It is under the supervision of the Faculty of Science, Suan Sunandhta Rajabhat University. The institute provides consultation, training, cross-breeding experiments etc.
“The institute is offering bachelor, master and PhD in Cannabis Science. They are also developing a new breed named Rocher Breed. It’s highly resistant and high survival rate cannabis breed. Toto Inasal will also help in the experimentation of cannabis products with food and beverages. ,” Julakham-Platon said.
She also said that Toto Inasal is the sole representative of Waldo 18 for the Filipino market as well as for future collaboration with Philippine universities or research centers.
Hemp vs cannabis
There is a difference between hemp and marijuana, although they belong to the same cannabis species. Marijuana types (indica) are shorter and have thick leaves, while hemp (sativa) grows taller and has feathery leaves.
The difference also extends to the chemical compounds – cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Hemp contains less than 0.3 per cent THC, while marijuana has a higher THC content. THC is a psychoactive substance.
Both contain CBD, the main component of oil extracts from the leaves and is not psychoactive. Recently, scientists and researchers claimed that there is really no difference and there is only one strain—cannabis sativa L.
Will ASEAN follow suit?
“It’s quite early to predict whether other Asean countries will follow Thailand’s lead. If Thailand’s market gains momentum, the export of cannabis will follow,” said Julakham-Platon.
“Hence, there’s a greater chance that other Asean countries might as well consider legalizing cannabis to take their share in the global market. Muslim countries and the Catholic-dominated Philippines might not be in the first list of countries but might be consumers of cannabis by-products,” she said.
Scene at The Dispensary, a newly-opened establishment where people can buy cannabis for medicinal purposes. PHOTO COURTESY OF JONGKASEN JULAKHAM-PIATON
In December 2018, Thailand became the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize cannabis use for medicinal purposes. Initially, only state-run hospitals were allowed to dispense cannabis oil (CBD oil) for patients undergoing chemotherapy and suffering from various chronic conditions upon the doctor’s prescription.
In January 2019, World Health Organization (WHO) changed the classification of cannabis from Schedule 4 to Schedule 1 “due to evidence that some cannabis-based preparations have a medical use”. Schedule 4 is the list of the most dangerous substances like heroin and carfentanil. This also prompted the United Nations’ Commission for Narcotic Drugs (UNODC) to remove cannabis from Schedule 4 of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. But most countries in the region are yet to consider this.
Cannabis is cultivated in some areas in Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and the Philippines. It has a long history in Southeast Asia. It is not known when exactly it was first introduced to Thailand and the rest of the region. Ganja ((กัญชา) is a Sanskrit word and also a Thai word for marijuana. It has been used as a medicine, especially as a painkiller, food, flavoring, fabric and for its psychedelic effects.
In Vietnam, those who cultivate cannabis on a small scale can be fined VND2-5 million ($86.16-215.40) and imprisoned from six months to seven years.
In Cambodia, cannabis is illegal, but there are “happy restaurants” around the country selling cannabis-infused foods.
Although widely grown and consumed as food by many Indigenous peoples in Laos, cannabis remains illegal.
Both Laos and Cambodia plan to study cannabis for medical purposes.
In Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Singapore, cannabis remains to be a narcotic drug. Offenders are facing prison sentences and worst, the death penalty.
Myanmar’s government forbids the sale or supply of cannabis. If found guilty, the offender may be punished with a minimum of 15 years in prison, with no limit on the length of their sentence. They’re also at risk of being meted the death penalty.
In the Philippines, consuming and possessing cannabis, even in small amounts, is punishable by imprisonment and fines of up to P10 million under Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.
Chuck Manansala, president of Masikhay Research, a medical cannabis research center based in the Philippines, considers the legalization of cannabis in the Philippines out of the question—for now.
Manansala and his group have been advocating for medical cannabis since 2014. He was also part of the group that drafted the first bill submitted to the House of Representatives to legalize medical cannabis in the Philippines. Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III introduced it as House Bill No. 4477, known as the proposed Compassionate Use of Medical Cannabis Act, in the 16th Congress. It was re-filed in the 17th Congress of the Philippines and is currently listed as House Bill No. 180.
Jheck Alcera suffered from insomnia, depression and alcohol addiction in 2010. She claimed that cannabis “cured” her, though “illegally” because of the stigma and the laws criminalizing its use.
In 2017 Alcera met fellow advocates at the Philippine Cannabis Compassion Society, composed of doctors, lawyers, and others like her suffering from various ailments.
“No one should be jailed because of a plant,” Alcera said.
“The advantages of legalizing cannabis outweigh its disadvantages. Advocacy groups must popularize the issue and engage in vigorous educational campaigns must be sustained until the ideology of the war on drugs is neutralized.
These campaigns must be based on science, human rights, and the concept of body sovereignty,” Manansala said.
Julakham-Platon said that the use of cannabis in Asian traditional medicine is nothing new.
“There are many advantages from medicinal to cosmetics purposes, and the only disadvantage is the bias of the people in cannabis. Laws are in place, people are well informed, and the government has run a series of experiments and risk calculations. I think there will be no issues at all,” Julakham-Platon said.
Thailand also planned to distribute one million seedlings nationwide. On June 10, an initial 1,000 seedlings were given away by the Ministry of Health in Buriram province.
People can also purchase cannabis leaves for smoking (in private) from Cannabis Dispensary which opened on June 9. Edibles, drinks, and oils are available in many cannabis coffee shops in Bangkok and other provinces.
Cannabis, or any cannabis derivatives, such as edibles, cosmetics and oils must not be taken outside Thailand, at this time.