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Cannabis could combat Hepatitis C

Published:Tuesday | February 21, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Medical marijuana

As various nations continue their Black History celebrations in February, one focus that is often overlooked is the contributions of black scientists and technologists. Their contributions, which are most times expensive, challenging and time-consuming, do not have the gloss and excitement of sports and music.

Even so, a group of black research scientists, led by Jamaican Dr Henry Lowe, have found a breakthrough in the treatment of hepatitis C using cannabidiol, one of the most prevalent chemical compounds in the ganja plant.

The discovery made by Lowe and his research team of Dr Ngeh Toyang and Prof Wayne McLaughlin of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, was reported in the January-March 2017 issue of Pharmacognosy Research (a peer reviewed publication of the Pharmacognosy Network Worldwide).

The team found that cannabidiol, one of the two major bioactive compounds in the marijuana plant, is very destructive to the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is responsible for cirrhosis of the liver and also causes liver cancer.




The World Health Organization (WHO) states that diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C is particularly low in poor and developing countries, killing approximately 700,000 people each year, most of which are in the poor, developing countries of the world. It is estimated that Afrocentric people have substantially higher rates of chronic hepatitis C and hepatitis C-related deaths compared to other ethnic groups.

Lowe, who has been a pioneer in the research of medicinal properties of ganja, said there is currently no vaccine against hepatitis C and there is only one drug to treat HCV which costs over US$85,000 per treatment.

"This is a novel discovery, made over two years ago, but took time to do additional research and development on the cost-benefit of the discovery. A patent has been filed to protect our intellectual property, and we are now in the process of completing the formulation for a nutraceutical product by year end and preparing for clinical trials next year. It is our ambition not only to work hard at scientific discoveries of this type for health care, but also for wealth creation," Lowe said.




According to the report, "The current surge in the interest in medical cannabis globally has rekindled research to validate

the medicinal properties and medicinal potential of the bioactive molecules of the ganja plant. Cannabidiol (CDB), the molecule from ganja under discussion, is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant and is credited for several medicinal properties. It is also known to have beneficial effects against inflammation/pain, neurological conditions, cancer and other ailments."

"Here in Jamaica, we are feverishly trying to come to grips with the subject of medical ganja. However, to date, there is no definition of what medicinal cannabis is and whether or not all products with this label need to be approved by the Ministry of Health. Hence, at this time, cookies, drinks and a variety of other things are being peddled all over Jamaica as 'medicinal cannabis'. This, of course, is dangerous and could have severe medical and political outcomes," Lowe said.

- Dr Lowe is the founder of Medicanja, Jamaica's and the region's first ganja-centric company which has been conducting cutting-edge research and development of novel products in medical ganja. Medicanja Limited was established in 2013 to conduct scientific and clinical research, develop, produce and commercialise a range of pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals and functional foods designed to treat and manage a range of health-care conditions, and create and maintain wellness.

- Dr Ngeh Toyang is a senior scientist on Lowe's research team, based at their lab in Baltimore, Maryland, in the United States. He specialises in the research and development of novel health-care products from medicinal plant resources.

- Wayne McLaughlin is a professor of molecular biology in the UWI Medical School at the Mona Campus in Jamaica. He is also chairman of the Medicanja Scientific Advisory Committee.