By Chayut Setboonsarng

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand plans to distribute about 10,000 bottles of cannabis oil next week for hospital patients, a government official said on Thursday, the first official use of medical marijuana since a law legalizing it came into effect this year.

The Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) will deliver 4,500 5ml bottles of cannabis oil to the Ministry of Public Health to be distributed to hospitals on Aug. 7 for about 4,000 registered patients, GPO executive managing director, Withoon Danwiboon, told a news conference.

The remaining 5,500 bottles will be gradually distributed later.

Thailand, which has a tradition of using cannabis to relieve pain and fatigue, has legalized marijuana for medical use and research to help boost agricultural incomes.

Cannabis oil will be used to treat patients who suffer from nausea from chemotherapy, epilepsy, and aches and pains, Withoon said, adding that patients with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and in palliative care would also benefit.

The GPO will begin planting its second crop of cannabis plants later this month and by early 2020, it plans to expand production to greenhouse cultivation and aims to produce 150,000-200,000 bottles of the oil.

“We have to speed up production because there is an under supply,” Withoon said.

For five years, foreign investors and imports of cannabis will be prohibited to allow the domestic industry to build up capacity and knowledge, he said.

Thailand’s Rangsit University said on Friday that it has produced four types of medical cannabis products.

The university’s Medical Cannabis Research Institute has launched prototypes of cannabis water tablets, cannabis oil, an oral spray and phrasa kamcha, a recipe based on traditional medicine.

“We’ll continue research on the medicine on cannabis because we believe there’s great potential on it,” the university’s rector, Arthit Ourairat, told reporters.

Anutin Charnvirakul, a politician who campaigned for legalizing marijuana and is now health minister, said in a separate statement on Thursday that cannabis must only be used for medical purposes, not for recreational ones.

Steps would be taken to allow public health volunteers to grow cannabis at home for health benefits, but it would not be allowed to be sold.

A new civilian government has said it has made developing the medical marijuana industry a top priority to create economic opportunities in rural areas.

(Reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson)