LAST year Jamaican scientist Dr Henry Lowe made history when his drug, developed from cannabis, to treat acute myeloid leukemia was granted “orphan-drug” designation by the United States Food and Drug Administration.
“Orphan-drug designation” means that special status has been given to a drug to treat a rare disease at the request of a sponsor. Dr Lowe’s drug was described as a non-cannabinoid developed from the cannabis plant — marijuana. He now has permission to continue his research.
“As far as I am aware, this is the first time that anyone from a developing country like Jamaica has been able to achieve this feat of starting from the isolation of a bioactive molecule and working it up to provide a new drug from scratch, which is recognised by the FDA – the world’s leading food and drug regulator and approval agency,” Dr Lowe said in making the announcement.
It was said that the development holds the potential to earn Jamaica more than US$250m within three years in the US market alone.
Although these earnings are mind-boggling, the hope of a possible cure that its development could bring to certain — at present— fatal strains of leukemia is inestimable.
Many doctors realise today that they now have to direct their investigations away from chemotherapy in cancer patients. For most cases, chemotherapy at present is the only known cure, but it is also known that in some patients it can trigger other diseases — far more serious than the one it was intended to cure. However, much investigation has to be done before scientists can reach their goal as there are so many properties in the marijuana plant that it is difficult to know what part, and in what proportions it is best applied for a particular medical problem.
Apparently, marijuana is a breed of the cannabis plant that contains tetrahydrocannabinol concentrated in the buds, which is the chemical that produces the psychotropic effects that gets people high. This is the marijuana that introduced Bahamians to drug peddling, permeated every level of our society and launched The Bahamas on the international stage as a “nation for sale”. This degradation is still at the root of today’s social problems. And this is the reason that marijuana has such a bad name and is banned in many parts of the world.
The other component of the marijuana plant is hemp. This side of the plant apparently does not contain the destructive properties that form the weed that is peddled on the streets today. The cannabis oil extracted from the hemp is what one hears a great deal about with stories of miracle cures for some, but nothing more than a comfortable antidote for pain for others. It is heard in almost awe-like whispers among the medical fraternity in the US as scientists are on a frantic search for something that will lead them away from the eventual disasters of too much chemotherapy.
There are doctors who will assure you that the worst that cannabis oil can do is make the patient more comfortable, it is not addictive, nor does it interfere with any other medicines that might be prescribed. Some patients are cured, leaving the medical fraternity mystified because others with the same treatment do not survive. However, many doctors see some light at the end of the tunnel and are desperate to answer the question: Why some and not others?
There are remarkable survival stories of parents, who defy the law to save the life of their child. They do not even confide in their doctors. They find outlets that are producing the oil, and secretly administer it. However, one only hears the success stories.
In Baltimore recently, we had the privilege of meeting a little girl who is referred to as the “miracle” child. She was eight years old when she was taken to the hospital for a check-up. It was discovered that she had a brain tumour the size of a golf ball with fingers stretching out from it carrying leukemia to the rest of her body. There was leukemia in her bone marrow. After much treatment, all medical options had been exhausted. She was sent home to die under hospice care.
Desperate, the parents were told by a nurse about a doctor friend “who thought outside of the box”. At that stage said the distraught father, “I would have got a witch doctor for my daughter.” The person came down from Philadelphia. She talked with the parents, told them about the experiments with cannabis oil. She told them about the endless possibilities, telling them that nothing could be guaranteed, except that if it did not save her life, at least until the end it would give her a better quality of life. “The possibilities are endless,” the desperate parents were told, “but I can guarantee nothing.”
Four days later, a small box arrived, and under the guidance of a doctor over a ten-week period there was a marked difference. She was taken to the hospital where X-rays showed a change that her specialist who had been treating her could neither understand, nor explain. The parents were called the next day to take her to the hospital. It was discovered that the tumour with its tentacles had disappeared.
The following day, the specialist got in his car and drove to the family home. The little girl, now the picture of health, cycled down the garden path on her four-wheeler to meet him. Afraid of the legal consequences, the father was reluctant to talk. Eventually, the doctor was told that all the medications that had been prescribed by her specialists had been stopped, and the little girl was only being given the cannabis oil. The doctor could not believe it. Last month the little girl celebrated her 11th birthday. She is still in remission, and all the mystified specialist can say: “I have seen a miracle, which I cannot explain.”
Just before Christmas, accompanied by Santa Claus, this little girl visited another little boy. In the end, she survived, he didn’t. The doctors want to know why — and so the search is on to crack open a new kernel of knowledge that might lead to a cure of a branch of leukemia for which today there is no cure.
And so Rev Dr Ranford Patterson, president of the Bahamas Christian Council, we agree that the marijuana that abounds on our streets today must be eliminated, but no doors should be shut to science. God created the marijuana plant in which many mysteries are still locked. As someone quipped: “Only God has the answer, and he ain’t talking!”
We suggest that Dr Patterson should get on his knees and have a little conversation with the Almighty.