Thailand enters $17 billion cannabidiol market for health uses, cash crop

21, Apr. 2021

Companies such as pharmaceutical producers, food supplement businesses and herb extractors have expressed interest in obtaining the cannabis plants and extracts after the government approval in March (Photo courtesy of  Government Pharmaceutical Organization)
Companies such as pharmaceutical producers, food supplement businesses and herb extractors have expressed interest in obtaining the cannabis plants and extracts after the government approval in March (Photo courtesy of Government Pharmaceutical Organization)

By Chalermlapvoraboon Valaiporn

BANGKOK, NNA—The Thai government's recent approval for businesses and the public to use non-narcotic parts of the hemp and cannabis plants have attracted euphoric interest from the private sector and communities wanting to grow them for therapeutic purposes.

The government also wants to promote the cultivation of hemp as a new cash crop as the global cannabidiol (CBD) market has seen a boom in recent years.

In March, it officially gave the green light for hemp to be used in the production of products such as medicines, breakfast cereals, rolled oats, food supplements, snacks and beverages, as well as beauty products and health supplements.

Currently, five Thailand-based firms have been designated to commercially process and produce hemp products. They include Hemplab (Thailand) Co., DOD Biotech Public Co., Eastern Spectrum Group Co. and Global Consumer Public Co.

Also appointed is Supreme Pharmatech Co., which is applying patented nanotechnology to maximize nutritional value of hemp seed oil, said the company.

It will blend hemp seed oil with other edible plant-based oil such as avocado, blackcurrant, carrot and grape seed for poly-oil products. Hemp oil will also be mixed with fish and krill oils.

The company will also use hemp oil in oil-solid products containing liposomal ingredients like vitamins, amino acids and in products containing herbal and fruit extracts.

Supreme Pharmatech CEO Milint Winthasiri told NNA she is still waiting for the government’s approval to start producing those products.

Among those indicating strong interest in the cannabidiol market is Thailand’s major media conglomerate, JKN Global Public Co. Its subsidiary, JKN Health and Beauty Co., signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with DOD Biotech Public Co. in March to carry out research and develop food supplements containing hemp ingredients.

“Based on our success in the past, JKN’s dietary supplements have been well received by customers,” said Jakkaphong Jakrajutatip the CEO of JKN in a company statement. “We are confident that food supplements and beverages containing organic real hemp extract from JKN will also succeed,” she said.

DOD will focus on R&D for 10 products, which will be distributed by JKN Beauty when manufactured.

Thailand-based beauty product supplier, Rojukiss International Co. (KISS), has also inked a R&D MOU with DOD. The company is known for distributing beauty products and supplements under brands like Rojukiss, PhDerma, Best Korea and Sis2Sis, throughout Southeast Asia .

Meanwhile, Thai agro and food giant, Charoen Pokphand Foods Public Co. (CPF), has collaborated with the country’s leading agricultural university, Maejo University, to embark on hemp research with aim of growing the plant as a new cash crop.

According to CPF, the university in northern Chiang Mai province has been studying hemp and cannabis since 2011 and specializing in organic farming methods.

Weerapon Thongma, president of Maejo University, “I am sure we will be able to develop great species as well as a good growing technique and how to make the best use of hemp extracts in the food industry. It will benefit farmers, consumers and the country's economy.”

Ready-to-eat meals infused with hemp are expected to be launched by CPF within this year, the company revealed.

Pushing for hemp to be the new Thai economic crop, Pansiri Kulnartsiri, chairman of the government subcommittee on hemp, told parliament, “Firstly, Thai weather and geography are suitable for growing hemp. Secondly, Thai farmers are specialized in agriculture. Thailand is also a source of food and health products that are widely accepted at a global level.”

The public health authority has allowed government offices, community enterprises and companies to register their plan to use approved parts of cannabis and hemp in the production of products for medical uses, textiles, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

However, individuals are still prohibited from farming them unless they are registered with a community enterprise, which must have at least seven members.

Sellers and producers are allowed to use hemp and cannabis leaves that are not attached to the flower pod. They can also use the stems, branches, roots as well as hemp seeds.

However, the flowers of both plants and cannabis seeds are definite no-nos as they are still classified as illegal narcotics.

Meanwhile, 137 registered cannabis plantations and one hemp plantation have sprung up in Thailand. Growers must surrender all flower parts to the health promotion hospitals in their district or to the food and drug administration of Thailand.

Farmers can also hand cannabis flowers to the government's pharmaceutical organization in return for some cash. It will pay up to 45,000 baht ($1,440.92) for one kilogram of top-grade flowers, which contain more than 12 percent of cannabidiol level.

Thailand’s health authorities have already allowed the distribution of tetrahydrocannabinol extracts from cannabis for medicinal purposes.

They are disseminated to 700 state-owned hospitals to support more than 65,000 patients.

Import and export of hemp and cannabis products remain controlled and subject to scrutiny. Currently, Herb Treasure Co. is the only company in Thailand allowed to export cannabis products.

With the recent boom in hemp and cannabis usage and production in many countries, it is estimated that the global market could hit 500 billion baht ($17.6 billion) yearly, with the combined categories of medicines and food products accounting for 70 percent, said public health minister and deputy prime minister Anutin Charnvirakul.

In Thailand alone, the cannabis market is estimated to reach $661 million (20 billion baht) within the next three years.

For many years, lobbying groups have been urging the Thai government to legalize the use of hemp and cannabis parts in healing products. After all, the country has had a long history of their traditional cultivation by local communities and reviving it in a big way would also help support their livelihoods.

According to the Highland Research and Development Institute (HRDI), hemp cultivation was noted in 2005 by Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn for the first time in the northern region where there are many royal agricultural, food and handicraft projects to support poor villages.

The princess, who is a champion of Thai agriculture, is a sister of reigning Thai King Vajiralongkorn.

Hemp agriculture has been long practised and preserved by the Hmong minority group in Tak province. They use hemp stems and other materials to make bags, clothes, scarfs and prized collectibles.

On the special features of hemp, the highland institute said hemp fibers are known to be tough and yet soft, stronger than cotton, provide warmth better than flax and absorb moisture better than nylon.

The leaves and roots are used for self-medication and consumption traditionally, while the more durable parts of the plant have been used to make handicrafts. On the other hand, cannabis is used mainly as a remedy for body aches and stiffness.