Jamaica Planning Medical Cannabis Research Center
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Jamaica Planning Medical Cannabis Research Center

The country is looking to Dr. Wilfred Ngwa's work at Harvard Medical School for inspiration and vision.

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August 26, 2019

With cannabis-based medicinal research picking up global interest from governments and universities—and with cannabis reform legislation sweeping the planet—Jamaica is developing a plan to serve as a hub for international markets’ scientific innovation and health care policy.

The Jamaican government is courting Dr. Wilfred Ngwa, director of the Global Health Catalyst at Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School. Ngwa is joined in Jamaica’s plans by Dr. Henry Lowe and Dr. Julius Garvey (son of Marcus Garvey).

Earlier this summer, Ngwa hosted a plant medicine conference that caught the attention of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Audley Shaw. At the time, Ngwa was announcing the launch of Harvard Medical School’s International Phytomedicines Institute. “I am excited about the launch of the IPI to dramatically increase access to evidence-based medicinal products from plants," Ngwa said. 

Shaw told the Jamaica Observer that Ngwa would be visiting the country soon to learn more about its climate and cannabis growing conditions. 

Jamaica legalized medical cannabis in 2017, but the industry has been slow to develop. (Regulators have issued 54 cannabis business licenses. Export licenses are forthcoming.) The country decriminalized cannabis use in 2015, honoring Rastafarian traditions while also nurturing a rise in tourism; an illicit market has thrived, even as law enforcement cracks down on illegal cannabis cultivation. Add to those developments the usual restrictions on banking and the still-stringent regulation of international drug treaties, and Jamaica’s cannabis businesses remain in a bind. The idea of a medical cannabis research institution, however, strikes at the heart of the plant’s significance in Jamaican history and culture;

“We must also not forget that Dr. Lowe and others have developed plant-based medicines in Jamaica that are now world-renowned, and are presently submitting more applications for further development of additional plant-based medicines to the Food and Drug Administration of the United States Government,” Shaw told the Observer.

The timing is fortuitous, as Shaw’s department hopes to synchronize the work of Lowe and Garvey with Ngwa’s ongoing medical cannabis research. Earlier in August, Ngwa’s Harvard research team announced that it had discovered a flavonoid derivative in the cannabis plant with “significant therapy potential” in the treatment of pancreatic cancer. (In the U.S., approximately 57,000 adults will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology.)  

“In this study, we investigate a new non-cannabinoid, non-psychoactive derivative of cannabis, called FBL-03G, to assess its potential for the treatment of pancreatic cancer,” the study’s authors wrote in Frontiers in Oncology. “We hypothesize that the use of FBL-03G will have therapeutic potential and can enhance radiotherapy during the treatment of pancreatic cancer.”

With Shaw’s plan in motion, Jamaica may be situated geographically and climatically to support research like the flavonoid derivative study—with the scope of the International Phytomedicines Institute.