EducationAwaiting Asian Adventure? Considering cannabis-based legislations when travelling in Asia

Awaiting Asian Adventure? Considering cannabis-based legislations when travelling in Asia

14 min read

Lucy MacKinnon


Please note that this information does not constitute legal advice and should not be solely relied upon. It is crucial to thoroughly review the current travel advice for each country before making any travel arrangements or embarking on a journey with medical cannabis.  

Daydreaming of exploring Asia’s incredible landscapes, culture, and vibrant cities is a common occurrence for many, and nations like the Philippines and Singapore feature on bucket lists around the world as a ‘must-see destination’. But, Asia is also extremely well known for enacting strict punishments to suspected drug smugglers and traffickers. 

Because of this, it is imperative that medical cannabis patients read up on the regulations relating to cannabis-based treatments before attempting to book a flight or board a plane with medical cannabis. 

The NHS always advise contacting the Embassy or Consulate of the country you are planning to visit to check your medication’s controlled drug status and enquire about any permits or authorisations required, as well as getting a personalised letter from your prescribing clinician, well in advance of travelling. 

In general, it's always best to keep medicines and medical equipment in their original containers and in quantities that coincide with their prescribed dosages, in hand luggage for extra ease at Security and Customs, but this can be more complicated with medicinal cannabis. 

In this article we explore the medical cannabis laws and legislations in place in Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Israel, and India to make sure that you’re able to enjoy every last second of your Asian adventure.

Medical Cannabis and Thailand

In June 2022 cannabis was legalised in Thailand, making it the first Southeast Asian country to do so. In this law change, every part of the cannabis plant was removed from its scheduling in category 5 of Thailand’s controlled narcotics list, and prisoners serving time for cannabis charges began to be released and cleared of charges and told they can apply for reparations from the state. 

Now, in Thailand medical cannabis prescriptions can be issued when patients have a medical certificate from a medical professional that states what medical conditions the patient has, why medical cannabis has been recommended to them, and by whom. Although legal, cannabis cannot be bought or sold to those under 20, pregnant or breastfeeding in Thailand, and public consumption is prohibited and penalised with heavy fines and prison sentences. 

Interestingly, although each part of the cannabis plant has been delisted from Thai Narcotics list, extracts containing over 0.2% of THC are still prohibited and have strict import and export restrictions surrounding them. However, this has led to the emergence of a large grey area because this law only seemingly applies to extracts, and so now the THC flower market in Thailand is booming. 

However, the government has announced plans to scale back their current cannabis laws, and reinstate legislation surrounding the recreational use to only allow medicinal uses in Thailand. This is being led by the newly elected Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, who plans to expedite this in the next 6 months.

For Thai residents, accessing medical cannabis appears to be relatively straightforward, however unfortunately the same cannot be said for tourists wishing to visit whilst carrying their own cannabis-based medicines. According to guidance for travellers from the Royal Thai Embassy in London, Cannabis, Hemp, and Tetrahydrocannabinol are all listed as either prohibited narcotics, or prohibited psychotropic substances, and therefore permits for their entry into Thailand will not be granted.

Considering the country's relatively liberal stance on cannabis, and their acknowledged appreciation for its therapeutic benefits, this does seem like a strict stance to take. We’d advise asking for more information or advice from the Thailand Food and Drug Administration and the Embassy about planning ahead for your upcoming trip. 

Medical Cannabis and Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, cannabis is locally referred to as Kansa or Ganja, and despite an increasing number of cannabis themed tourist havens and hotspots appearing, Sri Lankan law remains strict on the permitted uses of cannabis and can be extremely difficult to navigate.

Cannabis Sativa L. is legally allowed to be used in Sri Lanka for the manufacture of ayurvedic medicines, which is a traditional practice of natural medicine, dating back over 3,000 years. In certain Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Ayurveda is largely held in the same regard as Western medicine, and is based around the concept that lifestyle factors such as mediation, good diets, and yoga, as well as natural therapies such as herbal remedies can help to rebalance, or restore the body, mind, spirit, and environment. 

In Sri Lanka The Ayurveda Act of 1961 permits Ayurvedic physicians to obtain cannabis and opium from the Ayurveda Drugs Corporation of Ministry and Drugs to create these medicines. However, the cannabis obtained is often in dry purified powder form and has been sourced through police raids or illegal shipments, which greatly affects the quality of medicine. 

Only Ayurvedic practitioners are allowed to sell cannabis-based medicines in Sri Lanka, and there are estimated to be around 16,000 of these doctors practising in the country currently. Now that we’ve established the regulations surrounding the use of medical cannabis by residents in Sri Lanka, let's have a look at those relating to its importation by visitors to Sri Lanka. 

Cinnamon Air, a Sri Lankan airline, advise travellers to be mindful about the status of controlled substances and medicines in Sri Lanka before travelling. They also recommend becoming aware of the strict laws enforced against drug traffickers and those found to be illegally possessing controlled substances, and keeping a copy of your FP10 prescription on your person at all times if you need to travel with a controlled substance. 

The National Medicines Regulatory Agency also provides guidance for travelling into the country with certain types of medicine. Their website states that if a particular medicine is not available or registered in Sri Lanka, the NMRA may allow the importation of the medicine if the patient has a letter of Authorisation. Patients must write to ask for this authorisation, and fill out an online application for a Personal User Licence, including a valid copy of their prescription, a signed application from their prescriber and a copy of their ID. If accepted, the patient will receive a Personal User Licence allowing them to import up to 100 doses of their medication into Sri Lanka with them.  

Medical Cannabis and South Korea

In recent years, there has been a global surge in the popularity and appreciation of Korean entertainment and music, commonly known as K-pop. This, in turn, has caused South Korea to edge to the top of many peoples ‘must visit’ list, and many medical cannabis patients are no different. 

Unfortunately, however, the advice available online relating to travelling into South Korea with cannabis-based products is conflicting – and so it is essential to seek individual authorisation and approval from the UK Korean Embassy, who can be contacted on

In South Korea it is believed that certain patients were granted access to cannabis-based medicines in early 2019, however the South Korean Ministry operates under similar restrictions to the NHS, and only allows the prescription of licensed cannabis-based medicines: Epidiolex, Sativex and Marinol.

The Financial Times reported that South Korea was the first East Asian country to legalise medical cannabis, which was done in November 2018 by altering the Act on the Management of Narcotic Drugs ‘to allow non-hallucinogenic doses of medical marijuana’. To access these products, patients have to apply to the Korea Orphan Drug Centre, a government body responsible for public access to rare medicines, after receiving a prescription for them. Then the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety consider these applications on a case by case basis, and authorise medication dispensation when appropriate. 

However, Korean law bans any kind of cannabis or cannabis product imports from countries that have not fully legalised cannabis, which can make it extremely difficult for travellers wishing to visit South Korea with their medication. The US Embassy & Consulate in the Republic of Korea state “marijuana, CBD oil, and hemp-derivative products are heavily regulated in the Republic of Korea and should not be brought into Korea, including on airport layovers. Even with a U.S. based prescription, possession of these products can result in deportations and arrests”, and so extreme caution is advised.

However, a press release on the official e-government website of the Republic of Korea, issued 29th November 2018 states “Cannabis-based medicines’ for self-treatment can be imported from the first half of 2019”. This press release from the Drug Policy Division Department is extremely brief and doesn’t expand as to whether this applies to individual passengers and tourists, or South Korean residents. 

Because the information available online is so polarising, it cannot be emphasised enough how important it is to directly contact the South Korean Embassy before attempting to travel with medical cannabis. Without official approval, passengers, and patients are at risk of being arrested by the Korean Custom Police or being directly deported back to their country of residence. 

Medical Cannabis and Israel

Although many associate Israel with deeply historical and religious tourism, as the birthplace of Jewish culture, in the medical cannabis world Israel is well renowned and highly regarded for its contributions to cannabis research. After the discovery of THC in Israel by Raphael Mechoulam and Yacheil Goani in 1964, dedicated research teams in the country have continued to investigate how cannabis interacts with the body, and the medicinal use of cannabis has been permitted in Israel since the early 1990s. 

On the Israeli government website, there is a page to apply for a permit to own and use medical cannabis in Israel. There are two ways to apply, either through a specialist doctor who is authorised to issue these permits, or by having a specialist in your condition apply to the Medical Cannabis Unit for this approval on your behalf. 

In this case, the doctor must complete an online application providing their details and the patient's details, a summary of their medical information and report of any medications they are taking. Approval documents from other specialists are also required, however it is not entirely clear whether this form is only for residents of Israel, or open to all. We’d advise clarifying this, and the types of any other documents you may need, with the Israeli Embassy or Consulate well before attempting to travel. 

This advice is also given by International Insurance, a team of insurance agents who specialise ‘in the needs of expats, nomads, and international citizens living or travelling abroad’. Their feature on travelling to Israel explains that so long as the proper permissions are granted, people can legally travel into Israel with a month's worth of medication. 

The International Narcotics Control Board go into more detail and state that when travelling to Israel with controlled medicine or substances, patients must present a number of documents at Customs. This includes a valid, physical and up to date copy of their prescription, a doctor’s certificate endorsed by the health authorities in the traveller's country or residence, and a certificate allowing its entry into Israel, issued by the Israeli Ministry of Health. So long as this documentation is in place, the Israeli Ministry of Health permits patients to carry up to 31 days of narcotic or psychotropic substances with them into the country. 

Medical Cannabis and India

The Cannabis plant has deep roots in Indian history and has been utilised over the years in many different ways, as a component in medicines and remedies, in traditional religious ceremonies, or as an industrial material and a recreational substance. Known in India by various names such as Bhang, Ganja, Charas and Vijaya depending on its usage, cannabis was confirmed to be legal for medicinal uses at the Delhi High Court last year. 

As a nation, the law governing cannabis in India is the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985. This law permits certain parts of the cannabis plant such as the seeds and the leaves, but bans the sale of others like cannabis flower and cannabis resin. 

However, different states within India have their own regulations that dictate the sale, consumption, possession, and purchase of cannabis, some of which have legalised the sale of cannabis-infused medicines, such as Bengaluru - who opened their first medical cannabis clinic in 2020. Despite these varying regulations, it appears that the medical cannabis market in India is still relatively large, with predictions estimating its value at US$13.13 million in 2023. 

Although cannabis-based medicines and products are available in India, it appears that importing these medications as a tourist is extremely difficult. There is a long list of banned drugs provided by the Department of Drugs Control, that are prohibited for manufacturing and sale in India, and so it is assumed they are also prohibited from entry. However, this list is very vague and many of the uses associated with medical cannabis such as sedatives, analgesics, and anxiolytics are listed as prohibited items. 

There is also a customs form available titled ‘application form for import of life-saving drugs, medicines, equipments’ available from the Delhi government website for patients to fill out, however it is unclear what medications or equipments are classed as ‘lifesaving’. This form also has a section for the treating specialist to enter their Delhi Medical Council Registration Number, and so it is assumed the doctor would have to be registered with the DMC in order for this application to be official. 

For these reasons, it is crucial to check with the Embassy before attempting to travel to India with medical cannabis. Sanskara also recommend contacting the High Commission on for further advice and information about taking medical cannabis to India on holiday, and advise to do so well in advance of your planned departure date.

Please note: 

Our aim is to provide you with relevant information to help you to make better-informed decisions when travelling with your prescribed medical cannabis, but we cannot provide any guarantees, conditions, or warranties as to the accuracy of the information in this article. It is a general guide only and not a substitute for obtaining your own legal advice.

Releaf understands that embarking on your medical cannabis journey can be overwhelming, and even slightly intimidating – that’s why we offer tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and our unique medical cannabis card to give you the peace of mind that your treatment is protected, all based on your medical cannabis prescription.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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With five years of journalism and healthcare content creation under her belt, Lucy strives to improve medical cannabis awareness and access in the UK by producing high quality, credible content.

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