Surprising drug classification

I haven’t been posting lately due to a variety of reasons, most of all are my move back to the US this coming Sunday, and the absolutely wretched chest cold/cold-like disease that has floored me well enough so that my packing and other preparations for moving leave me utterly without energy.

Which brings me to my discovery of the day- that many brands of over the counter (i.e. non-prescription) cough medicine in Japan contain codeine. I find this rather surprising considering the general strictness of pharma regulations in this country, such as the rule that even drugs as mild as aspirin cannot be sold except in a pharmacy, which means that if you have a headache late at night the only medicine you’ll find in the corner convenience store that can help you is going to be whiskey.

In a related bit of trivia, I was bit puzzled to learn that due to a quirk in the Taiwanese legal code, ketamine has become the new drug of choice there for teenagers. According to the Taiwanese (Republic Of China) narcotics control law, ketamine is classified as a “minor” or category 3 drug, which means that possession is only a ticketing and not criminal offense. Oddly, cannabis (marijuana) is a category 2 drug, along with cocaine, morphine, and about 150 presumably dangerous chemicals I’ve never heard of-despite that fact that the aforementioned category 3 ketamine can actually be fatal in large doses (although rarely.)

Incidentally, cannabis is fairly strictly banned in Japan as well, following the 1948 passage of the Cannabis Control Act, which is said to be based on the corresponding American law. I have read in a couple of places that cannabis consumption was in fact a part of Japanese religious practice until quite recently-which considering the existence of names like 麻生 and 麻美 seems quite believable-many people in Japan actually believe the Reefer Madness version of reality. Still, while I don’t expect a more rational drug related policy in any of the three countries I have lived in (US, Japan, Taiwan), at least the availability of over the counter cough syrup with harmlessly small doses of codeine is a bright spot of common sense.

2 thoughts on “Surprising drug classification”

  1. Ketamine was only designated a narcotic in Japan in January of this year. The first arrests made the news last week.

  2. I vaguely recall reading that MacArthur imposed Japan’s cannabis ban after too many GI’s were sitting around smoking the reefer. I think that was in Japanese Street Slang, though, which is quite a dubious source.

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