The Jamaican “stoner” stereotype has seeped its way into every corner of the world. Through the celebrity of reggae music and Jamaican Rastafarian artistes, Jamaica has become synonymous with the celebration of cannabis (or if you prefer one of its other names, marijuana, high grade, herbs, kush, or plain old weed).
Yet despite this international association, cannabis remains an illegal narcotic in Jamaica. Recently, the use of small amounts of cannabis was decriminalized in a 2015 amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act. Still, the marijuana industry remains highly underdeveloped, and the sale and distribution of cannabis remains a criminal offense.
In today’s world, where many countries have begun to capitalize on the economic potential of medical marijuana and marijuana tourism, Jamaica is still behind in the race to dominate the worldwide cannabis industry. However, we are slowly starting to take steps to catch up.
Cannabis and the Body
Cannabis, the drug produced from the Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica plants, has long shown potential as a substance with several medicinal properties. Cannabis contains a large number of compounds, known as cannabinoids and terpenes, which interact with the body in various ways.
Our body is full of little hotspots that, when stimulated, results in the release of different substances to the brain. These hotspots are known as cannabinoid receptors, and the substances they produce are known as neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters send signals to the brain to control things like sleep, mood, movement and so on.
Usually, our cannabinoid receptors are stimulated by compounds naturally produced by the body, known as endocannabinoids. But sometimes, outside substances are able to come in and interact with these hotspots. Cue THC.
The traditional “high” associated with cannabis use (euphoria, elevated mood, distortions in time perception, etc.) is created by the substance delta-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). While the effects of THC are most commonly known, THC is just one of the many cannabinoids in the plant.
Cannabis in Healthcare
Much of the medical potential for cannabis surrounds its other cannabinoids – cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN). CBD won’t get you high, it has no psychotropic effects. It has been reported to show help patients suffering with conditions such as epilepsy, anxiety, drug addiction and chronic pain or inflammatory conditions. CBN has been touted as a pain reliever and a sleeping aid. The problem with most cannabis claims is that there is not enough research available to verify them – so most of the beliefs are based on anecdotal evidence.
In addition to CBD and CBN, cannabis also contains a number of compounds known as terpenes and terpenoids, which have also shown early medicinal potential. But with cannabis plants producing over 120 different terpenes, there is much more work to be done to explore what each of them can do!
This is why there is so much potential for the medicinal cannabis industry, but it will require a lot more time, money and research before the true potential can be determined and quantified.
Cannabis and Tourism Industry
Cannabis also offers economic opportunities in other ways. Some cities and towns have embraced “marijuana tourism”. By legalizing recreational use of the drug, they are able to attract tourists who may not be able to use the substance where in their home countries. Some have even coupled medical marijuana with marijuana tourism by creating experiences for persons to explore the therapeutic benefits of cannabis.
Cannabis is also used in spiritual experiences in a number of different cultures, including Greek and Indian religions, and our very own Rastafarianism. Its users take advantage of its mind-altering effects to experience a religious or spiritual connection.
Questions We Should Ask
There are many questions surrounding the long term effects of marijuana use. Many persons are concerned that cannabis may have detrimental effects on mental health, brain development and the formation of addictive habits. Because there is still so much research that is needed on cannabis, it is hard to draw conclusions on the safety of the substance, and these concerns should be investigated as thoroughly as the potential benefits.
For most Jamaicans, lighting a “spliff” (a rolled cannabis cigarette) is the most common method of consuming cannabis. This leads to concerns about the negative health effects that smoking has, such as throat and lung irritation and the inhalation of toxic substances that could lead to cancer.
By exploring other methods of cannabis delivery, such as tinctures, sprays, and edible products, some of these concerns may be alleviated. But as with everything else in the developing cannabis world, more research will be needed.
Jamaica is in a uniquely advantageous position to play a leading role in the worldwide cannabis industry. Our island is a source for many indigenous Jamaican strains of the cannabis plant, and across the world, our culture is already associated with marijuana.
Institutions such as Biotech R&D, international cannabinoid science company Citiva, and the University of the West Indies have begun research into the medical applications for Jamaican cannabis compounds. Some of these medicinal cannabis products are already on the market in Jamaica.
Companies have also begun to explore cannabis products, and with the formalization of the Cannabis Licensing Authority, the Jamaican government has started to crack the door open for breakthroughs in the cannabis industry.