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An indica dominant strain with high CBD and low THC

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Pain control, diabetes, hypertension high on list for medicinal cannabis research

SHERINA RUSSELL-GARCIA

THE UWI MEDICINAL Cannabis Research Group is currently studying the possibilities of using the marijuana plant to discover and develop medicinal products to control pain, high blood pressure and diabetes among other ailments.

“We have restarted the research work on cannabis pioneered by Professor Manley West, who developed products to treat glaucoma and asthma back in the 1980s,” said the group’s co-chair Professor Wayne McLaughlin.

He said in 2010, through the MSc Forensic Science Programme, researchers once again started placing cannabis under the microscope “at a time when it was not legal to have it in your possession”.

He noted that during this time the MSc Forensic DNA and toxicology students learnt how to characterise cannabis. This project was developed to fingerprint cannabis and to be able to trace it to the general locale where it was grown in Jamaica.

Five years later, The UWI launched the Cannabis Research Institute and the Medicinal Research Group in tandem with Jamaica’s decision to legalise the use of the ganja plant for medicinal research and manufacture of efficacious products. The legislation also allows people to have small quantities of up to two ounces in their possession.

“Changes in ganja legislation allowed for its medical research, and now we have information on the plant itself. Six years ago, we started to look at the generic and chemical qualities of the ganja plant and link it to the soil type. We collected samples from main cannabis growing areas of St Elizabeth, Westmoreland and St Ann,” he said.

Cannabis is monospecific; Cannabis sativa with different subspecies e.g. sativa and indica. The sativa plants are tall, loosely branched and have long narrow leaves, while the morphology of the indica plants is quite the opposite. These are short, densely branched plants with wide leaves. The two main cannabinoids in the marijuana plant are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which belong to a class of diverse chemical compounds known as cannabinoids.

“Those cannabis plants that give you the euphoric feeling is due to the high THC, while those with high CDB gives you the medicinal benefit,” McLaughlin said.
“A lot of the cannabis breeding was more focused on the high THC. Our research so far has found more plants with higher THC than CDB,” he added.

But this could soon change, as in 2015 the Jamaican Government issued The UWI, Mona with a licence to grow marijuana for research purposes. The licence also permits the Mona Campus to engage independent contractors or other approved bodies in the growing of cannabis plants for the purpose of conducting research. Therefore, being able to grow the plant now is an advantage.

“Several of our graduate students will be doing different components of research into cannabinoids,” McLaughlin said. They will examine, among other things, the medicinal properties versus the psychotropic properties.
“Going forward, we want to develop the project more in terms of having full DNA and chemical profiles of all our strains, to develop a Jamaican database.”

McLaughlin added: “To move the research forward we have to have stable genetics, so that year after year the plants should yield the same chemical and genetic profile. Our other colleagues in the group are working on the chemotyping, propagation, diabetes, pain management, high blood pressure and psychiatry. They would then take the ball to do animal studies and look at the effects and to develop the products.”

Upbeat about the future, McLaughlin said: “We are trying to get funding to push research forward, and we are now writing grants to get funding for the projects.”

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