The Royal College of Pediatricians of Thailand and the Pediatric Society of Thailand last week announced three cases of children suffering severe side effects of cannabis consumption.
One of the three was a six-year-old boy with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder who developed changing behaviours, including more severe hyperactivity, restlessness and prolonged sleep after eating a cannabis-infused snack.
The second case was a 15-year-old from Chiang Rai diagnosed with depressive conditions. After a hospital visit, he asked his father to drop by at a grocery store in the neighbourhood to buy cigarettes. It turned out that those cigarettes were infused with marijuana. Soon after, he developed auditory hallucinations and started chasing people with a knife.
The last one was a 12-year-old boy from Kalasin who developed drowsiness following the recreational use of cannabis.
Luckily, all three were immediately put under medical supervision until the side effects of cannabis use subsided.
The new law that decriminalised cannabis and hemp took effect in Thailand last month, making the country the first in Asia to decree home cultivation legal. Although the government said the primary purpose of the new law is to encourage people to use marijuana to relieve certain medical conditions and promote good health at the household level, the legalisation has resulted in widespread availability of cannabis-infused products which can be accessed by anyone.
Following last month's decriminalisation, the Royal College of Pediatricians of Thailand and the Pediatric Society of Thailand asked doctors to collect data and report cases of children who have fallen prey to the side effects of cannabis consumption.
From June 21-30, a total of nine children were found to have developed unwanted conditions after smoking or consuming marijuana. Of the nine cases, six were a result of intentional use of cannabis. Also of the nine, four received the products from friends, four made their own purchase, and one got it from relatives.
Set aside unwanted side effects of cannabis use among adults, children have become a point of concern when it comes to weed consumption following legalisation. Director-general of the Department of Medical Services Somsak Akksilp earlier warned against the recreational use of cannabis, especially among the young, and said cannabis should only be given to children as a treatment against epilepsy and only when regular medicines prove ineffective. Education Minister Trinuch Thienthong said she is also concerned about the impact on students and announced schools should be a cannabis-free zone.
The decriminalisation and liberalisation of cannabis of course create economic benefits that come from the commercial availability of marijuana, which can generate revenue both on the national and local scale.
Thailand is a country with a climate conducive to growing cannabis. Therefore, the legalisation spells hope for farmers and local companies who could benefit from the rapidly booming international medical cannabis market, not to mention the medical tourism industry where the free use of cannabis can respond to rising demands of patients.
Local businesses such as restaurants as well as food and beverage manufacturers also have come up with new kinds of products which have attracted a lot of attention, if not money, from consumers. For them, liberalisation could mean recovery from an economic slump, a consequence of Covid-19, the Russian-Ukraine conflict and anything in between. Business operators even had a plan to turn the famous Khao San Road into Thailand's cannabis hub to attract tourists and their money.
Despite such economy-saving plans and initiatives, Thailand should however take a small and careful step towards liberalising cannabis use because heading full speed in the wrong direction could take a toll on people's lives, especially when it comes to children.
Importantly, the legalisation of weed should come with public education. Recommendations and warnings from both conventional and alternative medicine experts should be listened to and shared among public and private sectors alike. People, in general, should also be made to understand thoroughly the benefits, side effects, limitations and restrictions of cannabis consumption so that they can make an informed decision to use or not to use it and so that they can in turn teach their little ones to do likewise.
To make Thailand a weed wonderland, perhaps a slow-yet-steady approach would be a good way to go.
Arusa Pisuthipan is the editor of the Life section of the Bangkok Post.