Newswise – Research by a Chulalongkorn University biochemistry expert reveals that more than 30% of randomly tested cannabis flavored drinks contain higher levels of THC than what is allowed. The public is warned to keep their consumption at moderate levels and that children should refrain from drinking this beverage. The government should control its use and warn people about the pros and cons of cannabis.
Following the removal of cannabis and hemp from the list of controlled narcotics paving the way for their commercial and economic benefits, the cannabis flavored beverage market has undergone a rigorous expansion. There are now products such as cannabis tea and cannabis coffee, some of which can be found in vending machines, making them very easily accessible to different groups of consumers.
Information from the ninth academic conference of the Center for Addiction Studies, held recently in February 2022, reveals that cannabis use in Thailand has doubled compared to previous years. Research shows that about 1.89 million Thais over the age of 18, or about 4.3%, use marijuana, compared to about 1 million users in 2020.
The trend has raised some concerns among doctors and addiction researchers who warn that the impact of THC found in cannabis can affect those who consume large amounts of the substance continuously. This could affect brain development while putting them at risk for depression, psychiatric disorders, coronary vessel disorders and testicular cancer, for example.
Chula is at the forefront of research on ∆9-THC levels in cannabis flavored drinks
These concerns led Associate Professor Dr. Kuakarun Krusong from the Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Science, Chulalongkorn University to conduct a study on ∆9-THC or delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol levels in cannabis flavored drinks to determine if they exceed what has been determined by the Department of Health.
“With marijuana now being freely used as an ingredient in food and drink, this allows easy access to the general public, including children and young people. What we see in the media or advertisements usually only alludes to its benefits like recreational and medicinal use. What one might overlook is that the substance can still be harmful if consumed in excess. Several doctors have warned that children abstain from consuming the substance as it can affect their physical, mental and even emotional development,” explained Associate Professor Dr Kuakarun, how the research project funded by the Center for Addiction Studies began.
This research project is a collaborative effort of a team of experts. For example, the project advisor is Associate Professor Rasmon Kalayasiri, MD from the Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medical Sciences, Chulalongkorn University, who is also the Director of the Center for Addiction Studies, Associate Professor Dr. Sornkanok Vimolmangkang from the Department of Pharmacognosy and Pharmaceutical Botany, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences whose research focused on marijuana and its derivatives of natural substances with Prof. Dr. Orawon Chailapakul and Assistant Prof. Dr. Chadin Kulsing from the Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, both of whom lend their expertise in substance analysis to study the ∆9-THC levels in samples taken from these drinks.
Random Test Results
The research team collected more than 30 samples of cannabis-flavored drinks currently on sale at various retail outlets in metropolitan Bangkok, sold as teas, coffees and milk drinks. The technique used in the ∆ test9-THC is the GC-MS (gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy) which involves the separation and specification of various substances in the test sample as well as the HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography) which separates the mixture and provides quantitative determination of the target substance through the use of a high pressure pump.
“If you ask why we specifically focus on cannabis-flavored drinks sold in various stores, the explanation is that ready-to-drink drinks require FDA approval with a clear label indicating the content and amount of ∆9-THC per 100 milliliters or per 1 serving. In contrast, drinks sold in cafes are usually concocted in-house and even the same drink can have a different mix, which means that the amount of ∆9-THC can also be different. This is where it can get dangerous.
According to Assoc. Teacher. Dr. Kuakarun, sample test results show that “most drinks tested show a level of ∆9-THC within the limit required by the Ministry of Health, while approximately 30% contained ∆9-THC at levels above what is permitted by law which does not exceed 0.015 milligrams per 100 milliliters. Those who consume drinks with THC levels above the limit are exposed to health risks, especially in the case of people allergic to THC. ∆9-THC”
The search cannot, however, reveal the names of drinks or outlets and the quantities of their ∆9-THC, but it is possible to include it in a report to the Center for Addiction Studies, an agency under the Thai Health Foundation, as a basis for future policy implementation.
This year’s (2022) research is coming to an end and Assoc. Professor Dr. Kuakarun believes that in the future more research sampling will take place. This could mean expanding to other regions or sampling foods other than beverages.
Suggestions for Safe Cannabis Use
Assoc. The concern of Prof. Dr. Kuakarun is that so far there is still no recommended level of safe consumption for ∆9-THC per day in Thailand. There should be, for example, a number proportional to 1 kilogram of a person’s weight and how many micrograms should not be exceeded as this could cause side effects. The same could be said for foreign countries where the number is also unclear. Consumption of cannabis-flavored drinks could follow other beverages such as energy drinks with clear and familiar warnings not to exceed more than 2 bottles per day.
“Even stores or commercial operators are probably not yet aware of the maximum level of ∆9-THC per glass and even if they do, there can be no real regulation since there has not been an ongoing inspection. Another thing is that the drinks are all made differently. This wouldn’t matter so much in cases where the leaves are boiled and mixed into a drink since that usually gives a fairly small number of ∆9-THC. If extracted by heat or oil, there is no way to determine the level of ∆9-THC per serving.
For this reason, Assoc. The teacher. Dr. Kuakarun suggests that those wishing to experiment with cannabis or hemp flavored beverages should exercise caution and consume only moderately so as not to expose the body to high levels of ∆9-THC which could cause danger since the long-term risks are not yet known.
Proposed State Regulation of Cannabis-Flavoured Food and Beverage Venues
Food and beverage outlets that contain cannabis or hemp must have clearly posted signs informing customers of the contents of what they are serving. This is to alert customers who wish to avoid this content and parents of children who should not consume these products.
The media should publicize both the beneficial and harmful effects of marijuana
Government promotion of the economic benefits of cannabis and hemp has caused many sectors, including the media, to focus more on their benefits while neglecting to disclose any harmful effects they might cause.
“The media is now focusing more on the benefits of marijuana as a commercial herbal crop. The packaging of these products is designed to be attractive in order to entice customers to buy these seemingly harmless products. Even if someone ‘one talks about the harmful side, it wouldn’t gain much ground since it’s the side that doesn’t generate revenue and is even considered obsolete.” But we can’t deny that there is a harmful side to this substance. There are other elements of cannabis that are harmful to health but the worst is this ∆9-THC that we have discussed, especially in the case of children who may wish to try such products. I hope the campaigns focus on both aspects. One can point out the benefits but one should not forget the potential harm they can do. Assoc. Professor Kuakarun reminded us of this with great concern.
Although cannabis and hemp have been removed from the list of narcotics, this does not mean that they can be used freely. Should the level of ∆9-THC exceeds 0.2% by weight, the Board of Narcotics Control still considers it an addictive substance. The public should therefore be cautious when consuming foods and beverages mixed with cannabis or its extraction to avoid the harmful effects it may cause in the long term.