Doctors develop first eye medication in the Carib

Published: Sunday | August 16, 2009

Professor Manley West - Contributed

Glaucoma is estimated to affect three per cent of the Jamaican population and causes pain, visual disturbances and even blindness. Today, many persons affected by the disease are receiving relief from a drug developed by medical personnel associated with The University of the West Indies, (UWI) Mona campus. The eye drop, Canasol, was developed after 10 years of continuous and diligent research by pharmacologist, Professor Manley West, and ophthalmologist, Dr Albert Lockhart, specifically to treat glaucoma.

Professor West is an emeritus professor of pharmacology in the Faculty of Medical Sciences at UWI, Mona. Both he and Dr Lockhart received the Order of Merit from the Government of Jamaica and the Gold Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica for the development of Canasol.

The drug was an important breakthrough because it is derived from ganja, and was the first eye medication in the Caribbean to be developed at UWI, Mona for this disease. Canasol has an important benefit since it does not induce the negative side effects that are associated with synthetic glaucoma therapies.

Professor West became interested in studying the ganja plant because he had observed that country folk who used an eye wash made of ganja in water always reported to him that it made them see better. The fishermen who drank ganja tea made the same claim and further claimed that their vision at night was also better.

Dr Lockhart noted that his Rastafarian patients who used ganja had a low incidence of glaucoma. More recently, he discovered that the eye drop, Canasol, improves the integrity of the optic nerve, the nerve which causes us to see, thus preventing blindness.

In the early 1990s, Professor West also developed the drug Asmasol, to treat asthma, colds and the flu. The doctors who are now using this drug report that they prescribe it for children as well as adults, and that it is effective during both the early and the late phases of the condition. Asmasol is a derivative of ganja and is available in pharmacies throughout the Caribbean.