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Positive Effects of Cannabis Drawing Attention in Japan

File photo
Wild cannabis plants are seen in Gunma Prefecture.(Courtesy of Gunma prefectural government)

Tokyo (Jiji Press)—While cannabis usually conveys a negative image related to health damage and crime in Japan, its positive effects are recently drawing attention in the country.

The revised cannabis control law was enacted in early December, allowing the use of medicines containing substances derived from cannabis.

People with intractable epilepsy, for which existing drugs are not very effective, are eagerly waiting to be administered Epidiolex, a drug developed by a British company.

Epidiolex’s main ingredient is cannabidiol (CBD), a substance extracted from cannabis plants. The drug has already been approved in the United States as a treatment for intractable epilepsy.

While clinical trials for Epidiolex are ongoing in Japan, the drug could not be used before the enactment of the revised cannabis control law. If the drug is approved by the health minister and put on the market, it would give a ray of hope to the some 20,000 intractable epilepsy patients in Japan.

“I wonder how our lives would have been if this drug had become available much sooner,” said the mother of a 29-year-old man who suffers from Dravet syndrome, a form of intractable epilepsy.

The woman, a resident of the city of Hakodate, Hokkaido, northern Japan, said that watching her son suffer sudden epileptic seizures is “painful and agonizing.” The seizures occur as many as 40 to 50 times a day, according to the mother.

All sorts of medicines have been tried, to no avail. The mother said: “I hope this drug will become available as soon as possible. We plan to try it soon after it goes on sale.”

There is growing interest in products containing CBD.

According to a survey conducted by Yano Research Institute Ltd., the Japanese market for CBD-linked products totaled ¥18,541 million in 2021, up 85.9 pct from the preceding year, and is estimated to reach ¥82,979 million in 2025.

CBD is used in a range of products, such as supplements, foods, electronic cigarettes and beauty serums, and more and more stores are selling such goods.

Cannabis usually has negative associations in Japan. Recently, people in the country who ate gummy candies containing hexahydrocannabihexol, or HHCH, a synthetic compound resembling a psychoactive ingredient of cannabis, complained of feeling unwell. Cannabis-related crimes are also taking place.

CBD could change that poor image. “The market for CBD products is expected to expand further,” Yano Research said.