Monday August 26, 2019

Thai Citizens Suffering from Cancer to Start Taking Country’s First Legal Doses of Medical Cannabis

The 5-milliliter bottles are being rolled out to 12 hospitals across the country that will in turn dole out doses to the first 4,000 registered patients

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Bottles of extracted cannabis oil are displayed during a press conference at Thailand's Health Ministry in Bangkok, Thailand, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. VOA

If all goes as planned, Thai citizens suffering from cancer and a handful of other diseases and disorders could start taking the country’s first legal doses of medical cannabis within days.

The Government Pharmaceutical Organization delivered its premier batch of cannabis oil to the Ministry of Public Health last week, eight months after Thailand became the first country to legalize the drug for medical use in Southeast Asia, a region known more for its harsh anti-drug laws.

The 5-milliliter bottles are being rolled out to 12 hospitals across the country that will in turn dole out doses to the first 4,000 registered patients. Somsak Akkslip, director general of the Health Ministry’s Medical Services Department, told VOA that those hospitals could start prescribing the medicine as soon as the end of this week.

Thailand’s then-military junta amended the country’s tough narcotics laws in December in a bid to cash in on a flowering global medical cannabis industry projected to be worth $5.8 billion by 2024 in Asia alone, according to Prohibition Partners, a UK-based research group.

Thai, Citizens, Cancer
If all goes as planned, Thai citizens suffering from cancer and a handful of other diseases and disorders could start taking the country’s first legal doses of medical cannabis. Pixabay

The cause received a major boost in March, when the Bhumjaithai party made a strong showing in the general election on a platform to fully legalize marijuana, the psychotropic variety of cannabis. The party splashed pictures of the plant’s pointy leaves across its posters while its president, Anutin Charnvirakul, preached the profit potential of giving each household the right to grow up to six pot plants each.

Anutin parlayed his success at the polls into a spot on Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s new cabinet as minister of health, the perfect vantage from which to push his plans. He made a spectacle of the cannabis oil’s arrival last week, even reportedly dancing before the cameras, drawing bemused speculation that he may have sampled the supply, which he later denied.

Medicinal use only

But hopes that Thailand will go the way of Canada and the few other countries that have legalized cannabis for recreational use any time soon are premature, say officials and industry watchers.

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Despite the recent rollout of medical cannabis oil, Anutin has been backpedaling on his campaign talk “badly” since taking office, said Chokwan Kitty Chopaka of the Highland Network, a local advocacy group in favor or legalizing recreational use.

Even his push for pot plants in every home has morphed into plans to let a select group of public health volunteers nurse a few pots of hemp. The cannabis variety is low in tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical that gives the plant its psychotropic power, but high in its cousin cannabidiol (CBD), also valued for its medical applications.

“So I don’t see recreational being [legalized] anywhere in the near future,” Chokwan said.

Somsak agreed that there was little apatite for legalizing recreational use among the senor officials of the new government, dominated by ex-generals and the pro-military Palang Pracharath party. The typically conservative Democrat party, another key player in the ruling coalition, has come out staunchly against it.

Thai, Citizens, Cancer
The Government Pharmaceutical Organization delivered its premier batch of cannabis oil to the Ministry of Public Health last week, eight months after Thailand became the first country. Pixabay

Even convincing them to let households grow their own marijuana plants for sale to the medical market could prove tricky, he added, and would happen only if the pilot with health volunteers and hemp proves successful.

“If we can do this with high quality, and [the] Thai population has very high discipline, then we can grow it, I mean the people can grow it in their house,” Somsak said. “But that is a long time [away].”

Even so, the health services director was bullish on the Thai medical cannabis industry’s future.

“Cannabis can be grown in Thailand very easy, and I think our climate is very … good for cannabis to be cultivated, so I think it’s very high potential,” he said.

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“The first few years we have to [work] out the technology, how to cultivate with high quality to get the high CBD and without … other toxic agents,” he added.

Chokwan and Somsak both said it would likely be at least three years before Thailand was ready in terms of both quantity and quality to export its product.

Prohibition Partners, in a report on Asia’s cannabis market published in May, predicted that Thailand’s medical cannabis business could be worth $237 million within five years.

But with Australia and China also on the verge of becoming major CBD producers, and other countries in the region showing interest as well, Chokwan said Thailand could yet miss out if it moves too slow.

She also worried that average Thai farmers will see little of any local windfall, as they would need to effectively run their cannabis farms under the government’s auspices.

“For small guys it’s kind of really difficult to try and partner up with the government if you don’t have the funding to put in the infrastructure of grow. And a lot of grow and licensing that’s going on now, or the ones that are trying to get licensed, are usually backed by bigger companies,” she said.

Chokwan warned too that much of the added profits will end up in the black market if the burgeoning medical cannabis business stimulates demand and raises prices — as she expects it to — and the government can’t keep up.

Bryan Arkaporn has his doubts the government can.

The 21-year-old business major found out he had epilepsy five yeas ago, after blacking out during his first seizure on a train ride in Japan. He has been taking pills every day since to keep the seizures at bay, but also grows his own pot for added help and occasionally buys cannabis oil from a friend who makes it himself.

He hopes the cannabis oil the government comes up with will be cheaper than the pills he takes for $6 a day and better for his liver in the long run. But videos the government has posted online of its greenhouses and lab work have left him uninspired.

“If I know someone that makes better medicine, maybe I will just go for the black market,” he said. (VOA)

Next Story

Women with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) at Elevated Risk of Getting Cancer

It's reasonable to assume that sleep apnea is a risk factor for cancer or that both conditions have common risk factors, such as overweight

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Women, OSA, Cancer
The study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, is based on analyses of registry data, collected in the European database ESADA, on a total of some 20,000 adult patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Pixabay

Women with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) appear to be at an elevated risk of getting cancer than men with the condition, warn researchers.

The study, published in the European Respiratory Journal, is based on analyses of registry data, collected in the European database ESADA, on a total of some 20,000 adult patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). About 2 per cent of them also had a cancer diagnosis.

“It’s reasonable to assume that sleep apnea is a risk factor for cancer or that both conditions have common risk factors, such as overweight. On the other hand, it is less likely that cancer leads to sleep apnea,” said Ludger Grote, Professor at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

According to the researchers, advanced age was associated with elevated cancer risk, but adjusting the data for age, gender, body mass index (BMI), smoking and alcohol consumption nevertheless showed a possible link between intermittent hypoxia at night and higher cancer prevalence.

Women, OSA, Cancer
Women with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) appear to be at an elevated risk of getting cancer than men with the condition, warn researchers. Pixabay

The connection applied mainly to women and was weaker in men.

“Our results indicate a cancer risk that’s elevated two- to three-fold among women with pronounced sleep apnea,” Grote said.

The condition of sleep apnea is well known to the general public and associated with snoring, daytime fatigue, and elevated risk of cardiovascular disease, especially in men, said the study.

This research paves the way for a new view — that sleep apnea may possibly be connected with increased cancer risk, especially in women.

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“Above all, the focus has been on the connection with one form of cancer: malignant melanoma. Cancer of the breast or womb may now become a new area. There may be a combined effect of female sex hormones and stress activation, induced by nocturnal hypoxia in sleep apnea, that can trigger cancer development or a weakening of the body’s immune system,” Grote concluded. (IANS)