Cannabis slammed by top medical leaders at a Ministry of Public Health forum. Costs for mental health treatment soared from ฿3.2 to ฿20 billion. Medical experts warn of a devastating impact and urged that cannabis again be relisted as a narcotic.

A civic hearing at the Ministry of Public Health on Saturday heard that Thai government expenditure on mental health treatment costs has soared since marijuana was legalised. Funding has risen from ฿3.2 billion to upwards of ฿20 billion. At the same time, medical leaders and academics warned of its devastating mental health impact. The forum also heard that pot was a gateway drug for 40% of eventual heroin addicts.

Minister of Public Health at yesterday’s forum on cannabis at the Ministry in Nonthaburi. A range of medical associations and civic bodies took part in a discussion on the government’s plans to relist cannabis as a Schedule 5 narcotic.

On Saturday at the Ministry of Public Health, Minister Somsak Thepsutin chaired a public hearing on the government’s plan to again criminalise cannabis.

Representatives of influential bodies attended the forum. 

They included experts from the Psychiatric Association of Thailand and the Royal College of Psychiatrists of Thailand. Additionally, the Royal College of Pediatricians of Thailand was represented.

Extensive array of medical associations and bodies representing the medical establishment and wider civil society gathered at the ministry’s public forum

They were joined by national youth groups. These included the Thailand Youth Institute, Children, Youth and Family Foundation, YNAC Group, and Civil Society Network.

In summary, the minister explained the government’s decision to reclassify key parts of the cannabis plant as a Schedule 5 narcotic.

He said that the cabinet was particularly concerned to hear and listen to opinions. Certainly, this would be an ongoing process.

Mr Somsak said that approaching the decision and implementation of policy in this way was appropriate. In short, he hoped to avoid making a mistake.

Minister was confident that the groups at the meeting were representative of what was really happening  in relation to the impact of cannabis in Thailand 

Significantly, he pointed out that the representatives’ associations present had memberships in excess of 30,000 people. 

Undoubtedly, they represented what was happening in wider Thai society, especially concerning the health impact of cannabis since the drug was delisted in 2022.

Minister Somsak was speaking as pro-cannabis groups and lobbyists have taken a more aggressive stance. In short, they are promising vociferous protest and legal action to stop the government from relisting the drug.

The minister, however, noted that the information before the hearing was worrisome. 

For instance, he pointed to information based on substantial research in the United States. In effect, it showed that cannabis reduced the IQ of young people by 8-9 points. In addition, it was established that it caused neurological problems among older people.

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Moreover, on May 13th, 63 leading doctors and clinicians wrote to the government about the debate. In brief, they warned of the impact of liberalised marijuana on the country’s public health outcomes.

Psychiatric Association of Thailand expert points to soaring mental health and psychiatry budgets since the drug was unleashed on the public in June 2022

In a range of submissions, the gathering heard from Associate Professor Prakan Thomyangkun of the Psychiatric Association of Thailand.

He revealed that after June 2022, when pot became a free-for-all on the streets, the impact on the public health system was both immediate and severe.

In effect, there was a sharp rise in the cost of psychiatric care. At length, this saw the budget within the public health system rising to meet demand. Following the delisting of cannabis, Professor Prakan said the budget shot up from ฿3.2-฿3.8 billion to ฿15-฿18 billion.

At the same time, this only reflected the impact of those who sought treatment. The figures also tallied with reports from doctors and clinicians in the field.

A November 2022 report compiled by Dr Muhammad Fahmee Talib of Prince of Songkla University’s Faculty of Medicine was damning. In short, it showed a 566% rise in Emergency Ward admissions linked with marijuana or cannabis consumption among Thais.

Cabinet would welcome the forum submissions made on Saturday. Minister  confirmed that cannabis mental illness costs zoomed from  ฿3.2 to ฿20 billion

Minister Somsak Thepsutin told his audience that the information provided would be of great benefit to the cabinet.

Presently, he pointed out that the government needs to seek permission from the Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) to relist the drug. Essentially, the plan is to relist the leaves and buds of the controversial plant.

Minister Somsak himself confirmed the statistics. He was aware that more Thai people have been developing illnesses because of the widespread use and availability of marijuana products on the market.

Undoubtedly, the drug has caused a wider prevalence of mental illnesses and suffering. At the same time, his cost figure was even bigger at ฿20 billion per annum. This was the cost within the health system specifically linked to cannabis.

‘The budget for the treatment of patients who used cannabis jumped from about ฿3 billion since cannabis was delisted from a narcotic drug to ฿20 billion last year. This is very high and makes us worried about cannabis use,’ Minister Somsak said.

Government committed to again outlawing the drug

Simultaneously, he assured the participants that the forum hearing was part of the government’s plan to again outlaw the drug.

At one point, the forum heard from Kriangkrai Puengchuea of the Substance Abuse Academic Foundation. He told participants that there are 7,700 cannabis shops presently in Thailand.

Mr Kriangkrai pointed out that these shops sell primarily dried cannabis buds for recreational pot use.

In essence, this is recreational cannabis use. In addition, he added that research in Western countries shows that 40% of chronic heroin users began using that drug through cannabis. Undoubtedly, it is the key gateway drug.

Dr Manit Srisurapanont of the Royal College of Psychiatrists of Thailand said US research links cannabis to mental health issues.

Unquestionably, it was leading to mental health issues in Thailand. In addition, it was causing long-term mental disorders and lower IQ.

Mr Arthit Satienwaree of the Youth Network Against Cannabis (YNAC) said public awareness of the drug is low.

At this time, it was being used everywhere because it was legal. He spoke of its abuse, particularly where children had eaten food mixed with cannabis without knowing.

He confirmed that his organisation supports relisting the drug as a narcotic. The YNAC sees the substance as a threat to children and teenagers.

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Further reading:

Condemnation of previous pot policy from medical experts as Thailand’s pot shops are set to close

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