Head of Healthcare & Life Sciences Industry Group | M&A, Bangkok
Partner, Healthcare & Life Sciences Industry Group | M&A, Bangkok
As we enter the critical stage in our fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and its lingering effects on the world’s economy, business operations, and our daily lives, it is encouraging to see that the healthcare industry, including innovation and investments in this area, both globally and in Thailand, remains strong and resilient despite the pandemic. This outlook on growth and innovation also applies in the area of cannabis.
According to a recent article published in the BBC[i], in its commitments to ESG (environmental, social and governance) issues, British American Tobacco, the UK’s largest tobacco firm, is increasingly diversifying its business strategy from its traditional tobacco business to also focus on cannabis related products.
Locally in Thailand, the Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) continues to push forward with the issuance of various sub-regulations to fully implement the legalization of certain parts/extracts of the cannabis and hemp plants for use in food products to benefit the industry and businesses in Thailand – with F&B (food & beverages) being an area heavily invested in by conglomerates in Thailand. In the issuance of these regulations, the safety of consumers remains paramount and the MOPH has provided more clarity on the requirements with respect to the quality and standards of food products containing cannabis and hemp parts/extracts, as well as requirements on labelling, health benefit claims, and nutrient content claims for these products.
Along with the trend of cannabis legalization and the related public policy debates spreading to more parts of the world, the movements around the legalization of psychedelics may also become one to watch in the future. Although psychedelics, such as psilocybin (more commonly known as magic mushrooms), lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), MDMA (ecstasy) or ketamine, continue to be regulated as narcotics and psychotropic substances, respectively, in Thailand and there have not been many public policy debates or studies locally to push for the easing of restrictions on the use of these substances for medical purposes, certain literatures and debates around the legalization of these substances for medical use have emerged in the US, Canada and the UK. Although clinical research and studies as to the medical benefits of these substances (for example, to treat psychiatric diseases, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)) have been argued by some research and academic institutions to be even more compelling than those for their cannabis counterparts[ii], it remains to be seen whether this trend will catch on in the market in Thailand and the rest of Asia.
Despite the pandemic, it is encouraging to see that, along with the key countries in the world where cannabis has been legalized, investors’ appetite in medical cannabis and hemp related investments in Thailand remains strong and with the full support of key regulators, we see a lot of potential for investments, business and commerce in this area going forward.