Thailand's GPO leads the way in developing medical Cannabis

Thailand's GPO leads the way in developing medical Cannabis

In Pathum Thani district of Thanyaburi, Thailand — stands an ordinary two-story building on the premises of the Government of Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO). Small, old and somewhat unwritten, it is nevertheless protected and equipped with a safety system around the clock — the first batch of 140 cannabis plants cultivated for R&D and medical purposes in the upper floor.

"Today is a historic day when the GPO begins to grow cannabis. This facility is the first legal marijuana plant in Thailand," Public Health Minister Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn announced at the opening of the country's first legal pot farm last week.

Thailand celebrates a milestone for public health. An amendment made to the Narcotics Act from 1979, which classified cannabis as an illegal drug and forbade its use in hospital care. The 2019 Narcotics Act, published last month in the Royal Gazette, ends 40 years of cannabis restriction. Physicians and researchers can now use medical marijuana for medical purposes.

In the first stage of the rehabilitation of the entire 100m2 buildings on the second floor of the building, the GPO allocated 10 million Baht to the project following the amendment of the Law. According to Dr Withoon Danwiboon, GPO Executive Director, the plants are grown from seeds with seedlings grown using an aeroponic system.

Aeroponics is a cultivation technique that requires no soil or water. In the centre of the platform, each seedling is then placed on a black pot, and the roots slip into the air. Each bowl is linked to a system that sprays nutrients directly to the roots continuously. There is also a drainage system that removes excess moisture from the bed to avoid mould.

The cannabis plants will grow as long as the roots receive the right nutrients and enough light. In the closed room, LED lights are used. The light spectrum can be adjusted for each growing stage. The room also has a ventilation system and computer systems to control moisture and temperature. There is backup electricity to make sure the plants are monitored and have food 24 hours a day.

As long as the roots receive adequate nutrients and light, cannabis plants grow. LED lights are used in the enclosed room. For every stage of growth, the light spectrum can be adjusted. The room also has a ventilation system for moisture control and temperature control and computer systems. Electricity is supplied 24 hours a day to ensure that plants can be continually monitored and the food is available.

"This site is the indoor, securely controlled cannabis pilot project, " Dr Withoon said. This cloning technique will produce high yields and prevent dangerous contamination.

The GPO tried last year, from the Narcotics Control Board, to produce cannabis oil extracts of seized marijuana. It is expected to provide 18,000 bottles of medical cannabis oil. There was, however, a problem when his research team found high levels of toxic contamination in seized samples, including plum, cadmium, pesticides and mould.

"Our goal is to produce medical grade cannabis, so the plants must be free of hazardous contents and safe to use," Dr Withoon said.

Following a cabinet amendment to the Narcotics Act 1979 approved last April, the GPO developed plans to build a Small Pilot Plant. The GPO finally gave the green light last month with its Royal endorsement.

Under this amendment, a special committee was formed to monitor the use of cannabis, consisting of government agencies officials and medical and pharmaceutical experts. Anyone wishing to grow cannabis must obtain a license for cultivation from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before being approved a Minister of Public Health.

The Ministry of Public Health will soon issue three ministerial ordinances including cannabis production and distribution and also grant medical cannabis exemptions. In qualifying for a license, the applicants must be stated bodies with medical, agricultural and scientific research or universities which have medical or pharmaceutical faculties as their responsibilities. Community companies and farming cooperatives may also be eligible but must work with approved state agencies or universities.

"We need to speed up the process for at least the next five years," Piyasakol said. He said the people who want to farm cannabis would follow the GPO when producing pharmaceutical cannabis. "The law would help Thai citizens to grow cannabis.

Although the law permits the use of cannabis for R&D and medical purposes, the application for recreation is still illegal. Currently, cannabis growers must report to the FDA for amnesty within 90 days or until 19 May.