Singapore will review pharma products with compounds from cannabis plant

Medical marijuana is displayed in Los Angeles, California. — Reuters file pic
Medical marijuana is displayed in Los Angeles, California. — Reuters file pic

SINGAPORE — Amid moves in the region to legalise medical marijuana, the authorities today clarified Singapore’s stand on pharmaceutical products containing cannabinoids, or chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant.

There is some published research, from controlled clinical trials, on the potential uses of cannabinoids to manage seizures and epilepsy, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Health said in a joint statement.

The pharmaceuticals must undergo “rigorous scientific review” by the Health Sciences Authority before they can be registered for supply here, as with all controlled drugs used for medical purposes.

“Manufacturers are required to substantiate the safety, quality and efficacy of the cannabinoid pharmaceuticals based on scientific evidence from clinical studies and data on the manufacturing process,” the ministries added.

There are currently no pharmaceutical products with cannabinoids in Singapore.

Cannabinoids are the active ingredients in medical marijuana – some common ones are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The products can take the form of oral solutions and sprays.

While Singapore takes a zero-tolerance stance against drugs, it will “continue to allow safe and controlled access to evidence-based medical treatment options”, the ministries added.

In December last year, Thailand announced that it approved marijuana for medical use and research. It was the first country in Southeast Asia to do so. Malaysia also began talks on legalising cannabis for medical use in September.

However, the ministries drew a clear line between pharmaceutical products containing cannabinoids and raw cannabis.

Studies have shown that unprocessed or raw cannabis is harmful and addictive, and strict laws are in place against trafficking, possession, consumption, import and export of illicit drugs.

Possession or consumption of cannabis here can lead to jail terms of up to 10 years and a fine of up to S$20,000 (RM60,025), as well as caning.

Those who traffic, import or export more than 500gm of cannabis may face the death sentence.

There are currently no studies validating the claims of unprocessed or raw cannabis being able to treat medical conditions, both ministries said.

“The Singapore government’s stand on illicit drugs, including cannabis, is clear — they are harmful, addictive and can destroy lives, families and communities,” they said.

Examples of other countries have “clearly shown that a permissive attitude towards the use of drugs exacts a high cost on society”, they added without elaborating.

The authorities’ statement today came after the Central Narcotics Bureau warned Singaporeans last October against using cannabis overseas. Any citizen or permanent resident found to have abused controlled drugs overseas will be treated as if he or she had abused drugs in Singapore. — TODAY