Sat | Mar 23, 2019

The benefits of standardised medical cannabis

Published:Wednesday | February 13, 2019 | 12:07 AM

Medical cannabis has a long and rich history in Jamaica, both as a sacrament and as medicine. While the possession of medical cannabis has been legal since 2015, if prescribed by a doctor, patients may still find it challenging to have access to a medicine that they believe is safe and effective in a format that works for them (such as dried flowers, oil, or softgel capsules).

Patients may be able to source cannabis, but how do they know they are getting a product with standardized concentrations of the active compounds THC and CBD?

How can they be sure it’s free from pesticides, heavy metals, and microorganisms? Patients can grow their own plants, but what should they do if they prefer to ingest cannabis in an oil or a capsule form, or if they wish to avoid smoking?

THE NEED FOR SAFE MEDICINE

Crude cannabis and cannabis products bought on the street may be contaminated during cultivation and storage. The most common contaminants are microbes, heavy metals, and pesticides.

Laboratory testing of medical cannabis benefits patients and doctors by guaranteeing a lack of unwanted ingredients, while ensuring that the levels of the medically important cannabinoids THC and CBD that appear on product labels are accurate and standardised.

This is the value of using dedicated and quality controlled cultivation facilities, with special production rooms for vegetative growth, flowering, harvesting, drying, and packaging that are designed using the clean room model of the pharmaceutical industry. Every room is maintained under strict sanitation and environmental controls so that all surfaces are clean and free of contaminants and the air is free of particulate matter and microbes.

A WIDE RANGE OF DOSAGE FORMS

Smoking dried flowers is not the only way to consume medical cannabis.

The Jamaican Ministry of Health considers smoking cannabis to be a health hazard and encourages patients to ingest cannabis oil extracts or capsules that contain cannabis oil, which are becoming available from regulated producers.

Ideally, cannabis oil extraction from dried flowers uses clean technology like CO2 extraction to avoid the contamination and safety risks that can result from popular extraction methods that use solvents such as butane.

Cannabis oil can be consumed as is or encapsulated in softgels for convenience of use and to control dosing. Medically approved vapourisers are now also available in some countries for those patients who need inhaled cannabinoids to manage their symptoms.

Patients, as well as their doctors and pharmacists, deserve to have access to safe and effective medical cannabis that is produced in the same way as their other medicines.

This is possible if they can obtain medical cannabis from reputable sources that have grown, harvested, extracted, and packaged the products in strictly controlled facilities, overseen by governmental regulatory authorities such as the Medicinal Cannabis Unit of the Ministry of Health here in Jamaica.

In this way, the medical potential of cannabis can be harnessed in the most efficient and modern way to the benefit of patients and the comfort of their doctors.

Dr Mark Ware, MBBS (UWI), is the Chief Medical Officer of Canopy Growth Corporation. Email yourhealth@gleanerjm.com.