Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Ellen Campbell Grizzle | Medicinal cannabis: implications for Jamaica

Published:Sunday | July 9, 2017 | 7:00 AMEllen Campbell Grizzle

The evidence is compelling. Cannabis is a drug. It interferes with the normal functioning of the body. Advances in technology have allowed the scientific community to observe the pervasive way in which the active ingredients of cannabis affect the human body, producing positive and negative effects.

Many scholarly papers have been written about the medicinal properties of the herb and how it can be deployed as part of the therapeutic armamentarium. This is how the scientific process works to confirm the medicinal properties of any drug. Thus, Health Minister Christopher Tufton and Chief Medical Officer Dr Winston De La Haye recently urged the United Nations to remove cannabis from Schedule 1, the category in which substances with no medicinal properties are placed. This was a most sensible thing to do.

Interestingly, the Jamaican laws did allow sufficient room for the pharmaceutical regulatory agency to manoeuvre so that Asmasol and Canasol (made from Cannabis sativa) could be classified as prescription medicines more than 20 years ago. These products were available in Jamaican pharmacies, and, by specific arrangements, sold to patients in Canada and the USA. This Jamaican regulatory decision was very controversial, and the struggles of Professor Manley West and Dr Albert Lockhart to retain control of their new drug invention should be told.

Thus, while the world has rediscovered the medicinal value of cannabis, Jamaica has been using medical products from Cannabis sativa and indica for a long time. Senior pharmacists like Dr Diane Robertson recall the Jubilee Cocktail that was made at the Kingston Public Hospital and its use to treat menstrual pain in women. Certainly, most Jamaican households have bottles with cannabis soaked in white rum that are used as home remedies for pain and other illnesses. The work for our universities is to measure and validate these claims.

 

OPPORTUNITIES

 

In this new era, since the amendment of the Dangerous Drugs Act in 2015, there has been a great deal of excitement around the opportunities that will be available to many groups and individuals from a Jamaican medical cannabis industry. Of course, there are those who are less enthusiastic and predict that the opportunities for Jamaica will not be as significant as projected and short term at best.

Indeed, big pharmaceutical companies normally synthesise new molecules from active ingredients isolated from plants. Thus, we have dronabinol and nabilone, two synthesised pharmaceuticals based on active ingredients of cannabis. Jamaica must be cautious. Many may recall that we have lost out on returns from life-saving active ingredients made from the periwinkle. So, what will we do differently to protect other discoveries from Jamaica's herbal largesse and the wisdom that Jamaican communities hold about the cultivation and use of cannabis?

Ultimately, ingredients of our national response to the current huge global interest in Jamaican cannabis must inform the way that we proceed to harness international recognition and value for the Jamaican herbal largesse.

So, let me confirm that there is global interest in the Jamaican cannabis industry. This is not a myth. At UTech, we are in contact with new investors every week who are referred to us from various sources. We know that potential benefits for UTech are promising. The challenge is to concretise and streamline the many offers of collaboration into initiatives that fit the university's strategic goals while benefiting the Jamaican communities in which we are invested. We are focused on this work.

The prospective benefits for Jamaica are substantial. Despite the current narrow path permitted by the licensing regime, universities must innovate within this confined space to isolate new active ingredients, being careful to pay attention to the intellectual property arrangements established at the outset. Lawyers who understand the national and global legal framework are needed to provide guidance to scientists, inventors, and organisations who want to venture into the global space and partnership arrangements.

For tertiary institutions like UTech that are emerging into this new research and development arena without the funding advantage of other institutions, this kind of legal advice is critical. Also, much of the new extraction and isolation technologies can be used to advance the work in other areas, leading to innovative single and combined products using Jamaican herbs with their incomparable flavours and uncommon ratios of active ingredients.

Through the current medical cannabis revolution, we must push forward to derive the health and financial benefits, being mindful of the ever-present problem of ganja smoking, particularly among children and adolescents.

 

PRESCRIBING AND DISPENSING GANJA MEDS

 

An important area of concern to the global health system is the prescribing and dispensing of medical cannabis. We are aware of several models used globally that have diluted the prescribing and dispensing function involved in patient care. This means that the prescriber and pharmacists are more influenced by the desire of the client than the scientific evidence.

Jamaica must adopt a model that reduces any opportunity for diversion from the regulated market. Universities must begin the exhaustive and important work of providing training for health-care providers and the categorising of strains with recommendations for use. Certainly, I await with interest decisions in these areas that will inform the relevant regime for the practice of medical doctors and registered pharmacists in the prescribing and dispensing of medical cannabis. Will cannabis, with more than one per cent of delta 9-Tetrahydrocanabinot (THC) be handled differently?

Canada, the USA, and Israel have declared dominance in some aspects of the medical cannabis business. Some are rightly concerned about a global race in which Jamaica must keep pace. However, there are many areas of research and product development that are open for innovation. I am focused on 'out-innovating' the competition in a context in which we have little financial strength and access to critical technology in the short, medium, and long term.

I am gravely concerned about keeping faith with our Jamaican communities that deserve to benefit richly from the financial rewards that will ensue. One of the emphases of the UTech medical cannabis and herbal enterprise is to unlock opportunities that will provide sustainable development for our university and Jamaican communities through the use of scientific research, innovation, and entrepreneurship.

There are knotty issues still to be unravelled. Persons rightly perceive that there will be great financial rewards and thus are pressing for urgent action in the regulation of medical cannabis. In truth, we are missing real opportunities. It is indisputable that Jamaica cannabinols (CDB) have mystique in the marketplace and are highly desired. Universities in Canada, the UK, and business entities in the Cayman Islands are scouting for supplies to maintain their own research activities or seizing business opportunities. US-based corporations seek alliances to engage in sponsored research and intellectual property arrangements.

In the medical cannabis arena, Jamaica is in its infancy and must make progress carefully. Already, there is an echo chamber that encompasses the medical cannabis debate that must be disrupted. At this stage, new voices must be heard and diverse thinking encouraged. I remain optimistic that the Cannabis Licensing Authority and the Ministry of Health, working in collaboration with scientists, cultivators, health-care providers, clients, policymakers, and unattached Jamaicans, will find a way eventually.

- Ellen Campbell Grizzle is associate professor, College of Health Sciences, University of Technology, Jamaica. She currently leads that university's medical cannabis and herbal enterprise.

Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ellen.grizzle@utech.edu.jm.