Sat | Mar 23, 2019

Ja could rake in billions when marijuana industry lights up

Published:Monday | February 4, 2019 | 12:20 AM
Professor Wayne McLaughlin speaking on UWI research into marijuana at Gleaner Editors' Forum last week.

Jamaica boasts a staggering 98 per cent variation in its marijuana strains, which could equate to billions of dollars in earnings when the local medical cannabis industry takes off, University of the West Indies (UWI) Professor Wayne McLaughlin believes.

“The monetary value because of this wide-ranging strain variation is going to be massive and a distinct advantage for the Jamaican medicinal cannabis industry,” McLaughlin said, while giving an update on research being undertaken by the UWI, some of which will be on display at The UWI Research Days 2019 later this week.

“We are looking at the different genotypes, and the diversity is really high – about 98 per cent diverse and genetically different strains of marijuana in Jamaica. So whether a grower produces, for example,indica in St Ann or ‘skunk’, which is historically is grown in Westmoreland, the farmers will know that they are producing remarkably different strains, as much as 98 per cent, which means a wide variety of medicinal use can be gained from them,” he told a Gleaner Editors’ Forum last week.

McLaughlin and his team of researchers started doing detailed work back in 2010, coming out of a forensic science programme at the university.

“So the idea that we could able to trace, for example, cannabis coming out of Westmoreland or St Elizabeth using genetic markers began there. So that was our first start, and we were able to show that genetically, you could map every collection of the plant from Negril, Westmoreland, all the way up into the Bagdale Mountains, parts of Manchester, and St Ann,” he said.

Strain identification

The professor said that part of the investigation was to help to identify indigenous strains of marijuana using the genetic markers, and out of that, two labs have been set up to identify the different chemical build-ups, CARIGEN and CARITOX, which is now a major dependent of the industry for research.

“One of the labs can quantify completely the chemical profiling; so the cannabidiol (CDB) and the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and all the other cannabinoids, the turpines can be confirmed in each plant that the farmer brings to us,” he said.

CBD is found primarily in extractions from the hemp plant. It is sold in gels, gummies, oils, supplements, extracts, and more, while THC is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana that gives the ‘high’ sensation. It can be consumed by smoking marijuana. It is also available in oils, edibles, tinctures, capsules, and more. Both compounds interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system but they have very different effects.

“Part of our study is to make sure that the Jamaican strain remains fully Jamaican – although that’s going to be very difficult, having had for many years a time when we had hybridised and [brought] in other strains to breed with our own,” McLaughlin said.

In the meantime, however, McLaughlin said that developing the local marijuana genetic markers is going to be very important, not only for traceability factors, but also for consistency of the product’s quality, which will impact its growth and monetary value going forward.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com