PETALING JAYA: The move to legalise cannabis for medical use should only be carried out once its medicinal values are proven and the public has been fully educated about its use, say health experts and a non-governmental organisation.

So far, they say there has been no rejection to the call for cannabis to be legalised for medical use.

Malaysia is now looking into the possibility of legalising cannabis for medical purposes.

Persatuan Pengasih Malaysia president Ramli Abd Samad said efforts to educate the people about the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes should be doubled so the public understand and accept it as medicine.

“When we talk about cannabis, all they think about is ‘drugs’, but morphine is a type of drug too, yet it is used in hospitals as medicine.

“We need to educate the public to accept that cannabis has properties that can be used as medicine but there are also substances (in it) that can be used to get high,” he said.

Citing an example, Ramli said the effects of alcohol and cigarettes are more dangerous than cannabis but they are sold openly, but not everyone buys them as they are able to make an informed decision.

“We are ready to help with public awareness campaigns,” he added.

Ramli said Malaysia could experience a spillover effect from Thailand’s decision to provide one million cannabis seeds to its citizens for personal use.

“Thailand will produce more cannabis and when production is plentiful, the price will go down, but since we don’t have the supply it will be expensive here,” he said.

“So there will probably be a spillover effect that may cause cannabis to be smuggled into the country.”

A neuroscientist from Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Department of Human Anatomy, Assoc Prof Dr Mohamad Aris Mohd Moklas, said there will be parties who would take advantage of such legalisation – drug dealers, for example.

“But in other countries when they legalised cannabis, did drug addictions become worse? No.

“That is why education is important,” he said, adding that data gathered from his ongoing research and publications from other countries have found that there is medicinal value in cannabis.

Mohamad Aris, however, emphasised the need to have strict regulations such as obtaining special permission from the government to plant cannabis.

“Perhaps if we can have a very clear classification of the different types of cannabis in the law that differentiates those with and without active compounds (tetrahydrocannabinol or THC), then we can definitely allow CBD (cannabidiol that has a low THC level) to be used in the medical industry.

“Once regulated, certain groups of people can be allowed to take cannabis as part of their alternative treatment – with clear and strict regulations,” he said.

CBD and THC are two components in cannabis. THC is commonly used recreationally as it gives a euphoric feeling.

CBD that has a lower than 0.03% THC level will not make anyone high but provides pain relief, antidepressant and anti-psychotic effects.

Universiti Malaya’s Centre for Addiction Sciences director Assoc Prof Dr Rusdi Abd Rashid said the inability to use CBD hampers psychiatrists’ efforts to give their patients the best treatment.

“Some of my patients suffer from chronic pain, autism and depression. When they use the medicine that we prescribe now, they vomit continuously. This causes them to become more depressed.

“CBD can be used on a daily basis without leaving any severe effects such as with other painkillers.

“Unfortunately, information on the benefits of CBD was only gathered from patients who took it secretly or from observational studies,” he added.

Dr Rusdi said requests were made for CBD to be allowed for treatment and research purposes, but were rejected.

“I also requested to use it for research, and Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin allowed us to do so using only products that are on the market. We can’t plant the trees.

“However, when I went to the National Pharmaceutical Regulatory Agency (to request a clinical trial import licence to conduct research on CBD), our request was rejected because cannabis is still listed under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952,” he said, adding that more scientific studies are needed to prove cannabis’ medicinal values.

Concern about any abuse of cannabis, he said, should not have risen given that the request for legalisation is only for medical use.

“Even if we wish to allow for it to be legalised and cultivated in Malaysia, we can always follow in the footsteps of Thailand, which uses genetically modified cannabis plants that won’t give the high effects yet can produce CBD,” he said.