Japanese Cannabis Regulation Reform – Finally?

When it comes to medical cannabis, Japan is far behind.

Way, way back. There is officially no legal access to medicinal cannabis in Japan. But some people are finding relief with hemp derivatives CBD products, a market that has taken root and is growing rapidly due to a legal loophole.

Cannabis in Japan

In fact, cannabis has a long history in Japan, dating back to its prehistoric period. Hemp fiber and seeds have been discovered in the remains of human habitations from the Jomon period (10,000 B.C to 300 B.C).

Throughout history, hemp was a widely cultivated crop and played an important role in Japanese daily life. People wore clothes made from hemp, used hemp ropes in various ways, made hemp paper, ate seeds and made oils. Hemp fields were abundant throughout the country.

Beyond its practical applications, hemp was also revered as a sacred plant in our indigenous religion Shinto and was (and still is) used in various ceremonies.

And cannabis was also well regarded as medicine. It was included in the pharmacopoeia and was prescribed to treat asthma, alleviate pain and improve sleep, among other uses. Cannabis tinctures and cigarettes were widely available in pharmacies and advertised in newspapers.

Advertisement for cannabis cigarettes in a national newspaper, 1895.

Imposed ignorance

That all changed when Japan lost Second World War, and the winner, the United States, forced the country to ban cannabis entirely, as part of the Narcotic Control Act. Japanese hemp farmers – more than 50,000 of them at the time – protested. So the Japanese government negotiated with the American army of occupation and managed to separate the cannabis from the rest of the narcotics. They were also able to obtain a statutory exemption allowing mature hemp stalks and seeds under the Cannabis Control Act. Enacted in 1948, this prohibitionist measure has dictated Japanese cannabis policy without revision or modification for nearly 75 years.

Think about it. In 1948, no one in the world knew it was THC that made you tall No one knew we had an endocannabinoid system in our bodies. No one knew the scientific basis of how cannabis can help people with a wide range of ailments, which we understand to a great extent today.

Science advanced, but we didn’t. Japan’s Cannabis Control Act was simply imposed on us. And the Japanese, famous for our obedient nature and deference to authority, for better or for worse, we obeyed.

Slow steps of change

Seven decades later, however, even our thoughtful obedience is reaching its limits. News about cannabis law reform and new scientific discoveries “elsewhere in the world” comes to us every day via the Internet. The world is now smaller, news travels faster.

In 2013, derived from hemp CBD products began to leak into Japan. Due to the loophole in the Cannabis Control Act, CBD Products are legal to import and use as long as the manufacturer declares that they have been produced from mature hemp stalks and contain no detectable products. THC. Despite this absurd requirement, the CBD The market has shown steady expansion, especially after 2019, gaining momentum every year, attracting a whole range of new consumers, including children.

Green Zone Japan, an organization founded in 2017 by a Japanese MD and myself, helped a 6-month-old boy with Ohtahara syndrome (early infantile epileptic encephalopathy) to achieve therapeutic doses (according to the famous study led by NYUDr.’s Orrin Devinsky) of a CBD product currently in the Japanese market. The child’s seizures stopped!

This generated considerable interest—and hope—among Japanese families with epileptic children and their doctors, setting off a chain of events that culminated in a March 2019 announcement by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (MHLW), the Japanese equivalent of FDAwhich “will allow clinical trials of a drug derived from cannabis to be carried out”.


A 6-month-old Japanese epileptic child helped CBD.

The drug planned for clinical trials is Epidiolex, pharmaceutical CBD produced by GW Farm al UK and approved as a treatment for severe pediatric epilepsy in many countries, including the United States.

GW The Japanese Pharma entity, created for this purpose, submitted a formal request to conduct an Epidiolex study, and it has been approved by the Ministry of Health. But the clinical trial has been slow to start.

Yes, it’s just Epidiolex, a CBD isolate, and yes, it’s only for intractable epilepsy. However, the government’s recognition of the potential therapeutic benefits of a cannabis derivative is a great first step towards the legalization of medicinal cannabis in Japan.

Murky future of medical cannabis

So where do we go from here?

In January 2021, the Japanese Ministry of Health announced that it planned to review the Cannabis Control Act for possible reform. This was expected, because if the clinical trial of Epidiolex is successful, the current law, which prohibits the use of cannabis for any purpose, including medicine, should be changed. A court of 12 “experts” was formed; after meeting eight times, it presented a recommendation that identified four areas for reform. The authorization of medicinal cannabis is one of them. The reform is expected to be addressed during the regular session of the Diet (parliament) in 2023.

The use of whole plant cannabis should be incorporated into the “dirty drug” framework of natural herbs that the Japanese are already familiar with.

That sounds encouraging. However, things are not that simple. The term “medical cannabis” can mean many different things to different people, and it is unclear exactly what Japanese officials are referring to when they mention the therapeutic use of cannabis.

There is a lot of confusion about this in a country where the illicit use of cannabis (for recreational and/or therapeutic purposes) is so limited. Some people simply cannot understand that it is possible to use cannabis medicinally. When they hear that medical cannabis is legal in 37 US states, many Japanese people think it means that doctors are giving cannabis to patients in hospitals. Still others are under the impression that medical cannabis refers exclusively to Epidiolex. In fact, most Japanese are unaware of the difference between state-run and unregulated nationwide hemp-derived “medical cannabis programs.” CBD market

Obviously, education is crucial before we can begin a productive discussion about how to shape the future of medical cannabis in Japan. I, for one, would love to see the use of whole plant cannabis incorporated into the ‘dirty drug’ framework of natural herbs that the Japanese are already familiar with, in addition to the pharmaceutical approach. And for this to happen, reform of the current law is necessary.

There is a long way to go before we have a decent medical cannabis program in Japan, but now the first step is being taken.

Naoko Miki is a book translator and co-founder of Green Zone Japan, a non-profit organization that provides up-to-date, evidence-based information about cannabis to Japanese medical professionals and the general public. She translates Project CBD articles for your site in Japanese as well. Copyright, Project CBD. May not be reprinted without permission.

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