By AVA TURNQUEST
and FARAH JOHNSON
Tribune Chief Reporter
LEADING Jamaican scientist Dr Henry Lowe is urging Bahamian officials - and those in the Caribbean - to liberalise cannabis for medical and scientific use to cement the region's stake in the industry.
Dr Lowe projected cannabis-based products will be imported to the country just like pharmaceutical drugs within the next two years, and is lobbying for regional cooperation to push back against developing countries from fully entering and dominating the market.
He argued political stigma around adult use should not stall research he believes will allow Caribbean states to benefit from standardising the cultural and traditional practices of plant or "bush" medicine.
Dr Lowe spoke with The Tribune following the launch of 12 cannabis-based nutraceutical products by his company Medicanja Limited - the first medical cannabis company in Jamaica and the CARICOM region - last month.
"If other people are seeing the virtues and the efficacy and the safety standards," he said, "and if we wait for the world to catch up to us, they're not only going to catch up but surpass us. And then we turn around to purchase from them, because that's really what's going on now," he said.
"I can guarantee you in another year or two we will all be importing cannabis-based products from the United States and Europe just like we do pharmaceutical drugs. So the time is now and we don't have a lot of time and we have to move on this right away.
"What a lot of people don't realise in this whole thing is a lot of hypocrisy is there. Let me say why I say this. The UK is the largest exporter of cannabis, I bet you didn't know that. In the United States we have all these states that are developing and doing their own thing, it's not legal federally but they are still doing it."
Dr Lowe added: "But the poor developing countries are really held back. We are struggling in Jamaica to make sure that we develop our industry and be ready for the take off because it's going to come and I think it's going to come within the next two years."
Medicanja uses plant and natural resources to manufacture cosmeceutical, nutraceutical and pharmaceutical products. Dr Lowe and his partners Professor Manley West and Professor Albert Lockhart are renowned for their groundbreaking glaucoma treatment Canasol - both the first eye-drop and the first medicinal commercial product from cannabis.
"Despite all the fights and everything else," he said, "we got the support of the police and the politicians of the day because they saw where we wanted to go and they supported us. So that was the start and then other products have been developed but the big problem is, which is just a little better now, but we still have problems.
"We were able to develop a number of products but could not get them marketed and sold because of the ban although they were purely for medicinal purposes," he said.
In 2017, Dr Lowe and his team of researchers developed a drug to treat acute myeloid leukemia (AML), which was granted orphan-drug designation by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
"This is why it's so important to get the political leaders on board," he continued.
"We did this early, because while our government and the political leaders at the time couldn't come out publicly and endorse in the early stages, they have done it now.
"When we launched Medicanja, which is our flagship company for cannabis, we got on board the former governor general, the former prime ministers from previous government and the sitting government and they became our leaders and literally gave endorsement - so that helped us to move very quickly."
He added: "But it's all about education and understanding. Education is a continuum and let this be the start."
Dr Lowe told The Tribune he has now turned his focus to advocacy in hopes to encourage regional scientists to take a leading role in the development of standards for traditional, herbal medicine.
"What a lot of people don't realise is up until 1960, roughly 70 percent of all medications came directly or indirectly from plants and to a lesser extent, animals," he said.
"But that was the basis of where the synthetic chemist came in and they began to design drugs and what we're finding now is that though some of them are quite effective, sometimes they kill the patient before having the cure, and even when the patient is not killed they develop a lot of side effects which sometimes even trigger even new types of diseases and ailments that they didn't have before."
Dr Lowe said a big challenge for traditional medicine was the lack of standardisation.
"There is a real problem because nobody has developed the standardisation," he said.
"Nobody knows exactly what is in some of the medicines. People use them and they work but in modern times we should be able to say exactly what it is and even without having it in single molecules as the FDA and others would like, we could still know what is in there. What are the major bioactive ingredients, so that we could make better medicines from these.
"We can understand doctors having reservations because they were trained in the classical way to have pharmaceutical details given to them, and then they use it as a prescription. Nobody has detailed the products from cannabis for health care purposes and once this begins and doctors understand and know more about it, this is going to be great."
This week, Bahamian naturopathic and homeopathic Dr Derek Pinder, owner of Herbal Healing Centre, echoed Dr Lowe's call for the government to facilitate Bahamian research.
"Being one of the quieter leaders in the field of herbal and natural medicine, The Bahamas has always been behind so we're really looking forward to this. We're not shouting from a rooftop but there is much work going on here in The Bahamas. It's not only the cannabis, there is a great discussion and research going on in the field of guinea hen weed for the treatment of cancer.
"Dr Lowe has the patented formula for glaucoma using cannabis, but it goes beyond the cannabis. Anything that's growing in our backyard: shepherd's needle to guinea hen weed, we can use as medicines."
"We have to get back to the basics," Dr Pinder added, "once we get back to the basics I think we'll be able to enjoy 100 percent health again. It's no sense in reinventing the wheel."