Thailand's drug laws are very strict. Period.
There's no slap on the wrist for getting caught with a small amount of marijuana – even the prescription kind, which may be legal in your state or country.
And unlike some European countries, the police do not exercise discretion on small amounts of class B drugs either.
But still, year in year out, embassy representatives are called out to Thailand’s notoriously hard prisons to talk with foreigners who've been locked up for using drugs in the Kingdom, not to mention the amount of smugglers caught each year coming through the country’s airports.
The conversation always ends the same way: “You’re in a lot of trouble”.
Get caught with a substantial amount and your only hope is a pardon from the King, sometime in the next 60 years.
Prescription drugs are heavily regulated too. Some even require a permit, and the majority you can only bring 30-days worth with you in the original packaging and accompanied by the prescription.
Of course, seldom to people get stopped and checked for a bottle of painkillers, but I always say “better safe than sorry”. I don't take any risks when travelling. Why let a holiday be ruined by an overzealous official with an agenda. Cover all bases, always.
In this post I'll cover both class A/B and prescription dugs, so you can arm yourself with the information you need to travel safely and well within the law.
Keep Your Distance from Drugs, Period!
It’s easy to get carried away at a Full Moon Party or club when a joint gets passed round, but get caught with that one joint and you could find yourself banged up with hardened murderers and rapists.
It seems like nothing back home, but no matter how relaxed Thai people are on the surface, the authorities take a very hard line when it comes to drugs.
Drugs have ravaged working class communities in Thailand and destroyed lives. Therefore, anyone doing drugs inside Thailand is perceived as a threat to the stability of society.
If people are smoking weed and invite you to sit with them (foreign or Thai), stay away.
The police will arrest everyone in the group, not just those in possession of the drug.
If you see anyone doing any type drug, be it cocaine, ICE, ecstasy or weed, take yourself out of that environment immediately.
You may well find yourself in a bar/cafe setting on an island where people are freely smoking weed. I've seen it plenty of times on Pi Pi Island and Koh Pangnan.
It might feel like you are in Amsterdam, but don't be fooled. The bar/cafe owner has likely paid the local police or mafia protection to overlook this. But that doesn't make it legal. If the police suddenly show up, you might be arrested and made a scape goat.
Also consider that the majority of Thais strongly object to recreational drug use, and as such will call the police on a condo or house where they suspect drug use is taking place.
Drug Classification Law in Thailand:
- Category I: Dangerous narcotics such as heroine;
- Category II: Ordinary narcotics such as morphine, cocaine, codeine, medicinal opium;
- Category III: Narcotics which are in the form of medicinal formula and contain narcotics of Category II, as ingredients in accordance with rules prescribed by the Minister and published in the Government Gazette;
- Category IV: Narcotics which consist of chemicals used for producing narcotics of Category I or II such as acetic anhydride, or acetyl chloride;
- Category V: Narcotics which are not included in Category I-IV such as marijuana or Kraton Plant.
Anyone caught in violation of the laws pertaining to these categories shall be punished by imprisonment or death, depending on the circumstances as determined by the Thai Courts.
Can You Bribe Your Way Out of Arrest
While it maybe true that in some cases people buy their way out of sticky situations with the police, by offering a fixed sum in exchange for freedom, depending on who you try to bribe, this may work against you as another criminal act.
The bribe is nowhere near as common as it may have been 20 yeas ago, and many foreigners exaggerate these stories too.
Also consider that the police may simply take your money and bang you up anyway. It happens.
In some instances you may be asked to pay a bribe, at which point that is for you to consider. I would never advise you to do this because you may end up in jail anyway. If you plan on staying in Thailand, you will also be in debt to a local policeman – and no one wants to be in that position.
Stop & Search in Thailand
Just because you’re a foreigner, doesn’t mean you won’t get searched in the streets of Thailand.
I have been stopped and searched in both Koh Samui and Bangkok. I was asked to empty my pockets and verify my identify.
On Samui it was a roadside stop on the Ghost Road about 1.5 km from Chaweng. In Bangkok, it was a search near Asok station as I was walking to meet a friend of an evening.
Failure to produce identification may incur a fine and a trip to the station for further interrogation, so always carry an ID card / a copy of your passport and your photo driver's license.
Also consider that if an officer thinks you are under the influence of drugs when stopped, you may be taken to the station for a blood test.
Prescription Drugs Law: Narcotic & Psychotropic Substances
If you are traveling to Thailand with prescription drugs that could potentially contain illegal substances under Thai law, you should read the guidelines as you may need to get a permit.
The Food and Drug Administration of Thailand sets out the guidelines for cases where medications contain prohibited narcotics or substances:
The traveler is allowed to carry for his personal treatment medications which contain substance classified in Category II, III, IV, provided, however, that the quantity of which shall not exceed 30 days of usage. The traveler is required to obtain a permit “Form IC-2” issued by the Food and Drug Administration.
The traveler is also required to do the following:
- Submit the application form (see the links below this list).
- Carry a medical prescription issued by a Doctor identifying the medical condition of the patient as well as the necessity of the medical treatment, the total amount of the dosage and the name, address, license number of the doctor.
- Carry a certificate issued by the competent authority that the patient has authority to carry the medication.
- The traveler is required to declare the medication he is carrying into or out of Thailand. He is also required to present the document or medical certificate upon entry to the Red Channel and upon exit to the Custom VAT Refund.
- The medical certificate should be kept by the traveler all through his stay in the country.
- The medication is required to be kept in the original prescription bottle with the contents clearly marked.
- The traveler is not allowed to sell nor supply medications to another.
The guidelines are ever-evolving, and therefore it is necessary stay on top of new developments to Thai drug laws concerning prescriptions and the use of drugs inside the country.
> Click here to find out if your medication requires you to fill out the permit form.
> Click here to fill out the form if you have identified from the guidelines that your medicine is a controlled substance.
* IMPORTANT: If you take medication that is considered a narcotic/psychotropic substance and you want to carry it into Thailand, you should request the permit at least two weeks before the arrival date.
Using, Buying & Selling Anabolic Steroids
Thailand has a reputation as a steroid haven for bodybuilders, with all sorts of body enhancing drugs available over the counter.
But be careful, because steroids could land you a jail sentence, even though you may be readily sold the drugs by a willing pharmacy.
Anabolic steroids have a maximum penalty of a jail sentence, as opposed to a maximum penalty under the Narcotics Act of death.
While most police couldn’t care less that you are obsessed with making yourself look like the incredible hulk, many will use the opportunity to fine you and take you down to the station.
Buying for resale is a different category, and getting caught posting steroids back home, selling from a website inside Thailand, selling to friends inside Thailand, or attempting to leave with a suitcase-full from the airport could land you in serious trouble.
Get caught with enough to be suspected of selling or exporting (illegally) and you could end up in the slammer: read the story of Richard Crawley and Ashley Vincent Livingston.
Valium, Xanax & Other Related Drugs
Xanax is another drug that can be bought in many of Thailand’s pharmacies, as can Valium, Rohypnol and a host of other drugs. But it’s not legal. The pharmacies can and do get fined for selling these drugs, and if you don’t have a prescription, you will too.
Most expats will tell you not to worry, that nothing will happen. But my advice is to exercise caution and know the law on what you are buying and carrying.
If you go through customs with the wrong drug, or get stopped and searched and caught with something you shouldn’t have, a great trip could quickly descend into a nightmare.
No doubt you’ve heard the old “you can pay your way our of anything in Thailand’ talk, but the reality is that not every policeman can be bought, as discussed previously.
Your best bet is to stay away from using drugs banned drugs and mixing with those who do drugs.
If you have any doubt over the legality of a prescription drug you intend to travel with, get a letter from your doctor to verify your prescription and obtain the necessary IC-2 permit.
Important Notice: I will no longer reply to comments asking whether specific prescription drugs are allowed into Thailand. I am not a pharmacist and can't properly advise on the ingredients of drugs.
You can Google the drug you have been prescribed to determine its ingredients, or ask your doctor for confirmation. Then read the document linked in this post to determine whether your drug requires a permit.
If in doubt, use the email address on the form to contact the FDA – they usually reply within 48 hours. You will then know whether you need to fill out the form and get a permit.
If you have any problems submitting the form or accessing the website, please contact your local Thai embassy.
Post updated: July 2017.