Unraveling the Science Behind Ganja “We aim to change their perception that Jamaica is about a bunch of Rastas and tourists getting high,” researcher Carole Lindsay said chuckling. She has been leading the chemical analysis of every strain of cannabis the University collects from farmers. A professional analytical chemist, Lindsay noted that creating the chemical profiles of the plants found in Jamaica is critical to protecting both the country’s and the University’s interests. “Our local strains of cannabis are vulnerable because we assume that with all the interest in ganja, people could be bringing in plants to grow them here. We also know that farmers have been doing their own cross breeding for years,” she explained. Aside from ongoing research into the properties and effects of cannabis, The UWI was among the first in the world to successfully develop medicines from the plant. Its work, going back to 1972 when ophthalmologist Albert Lockhart and pharmacologist Dr. Manley West began investigating the anecdotes of fishermen who attributed their exceptional night-vision to their consumption of ‘ganja teas’. From their research, the Department of Pharmacology in 1987 released the Canasol (TM), eye drops to treat glaucoma and followed that success in later years by a number of pioneering marijuana-derived pharmaceuticals: Asmasol for asthma; Cantivert also used to treat glaucoma; Canavert for motion sickness and Cansens for treating viral infections. “They (the products) were sold on the local market but we really never managed to export it because of the cannabis. But what it showed clearly, was that there are substances in ganja which can provide effective treatment of glaucoma and asthma,” McDonald, a surgeon by training said. Much of the University’s work in cannabis is unknown internationally because the laws that prohibited the use of marijuana severely hampered the 28 – THE PELICAN/ISSUE 14
Analytical Chemist, Carole Lindsay (left) and colleague, Dr. Lauriann Young PHOTOGRAPHY BY: ZADIE NEUFVILLE
University’s research programme as well as the marketing of the products. In Jamaica, the ‘weed’ is also listed as a dangerous drug and until April 2016, possession attracted penalties of imprisonment. The 1961 UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs criminalised the possession of ganja, a plant that had been used for generations as traditional medicine by local healers and householders. When parliament ratified the amendment to the Dangerous Drug Act on April 15, it revived decades old research ambitions at The UWI and other local institutions. It also paved the way for a “broad permit” that facilitated the planting of the first legal cannabis plant, thereby establishing The UWI’s own ‘ganja’ plot and officially initiating the production and testing of cannabis derived medicines. The amendment that was inked on February 6— birthdate of the late reggae icon Bob Marley—relaxed rules on the use of ganja on the island. Nowadays, possession of two ounces (56 grams) or less, no longer results in jail time. Rastafarians can freely use ‘ganja’ as a sacrament for the first time since the birth of their movement in the 1930s and householders are allowed to grow up to five plants.