Homegrown: Chile's marijuana moms break law, desperate to rid epileptic kids of pain
Their reasons are simple: traditional medications are not effective and they cost eight times as much as a month’s supply of cannabis oil.
One parent was driven to such desperation that she was apparently seconds away from driving her car off a cliff with her sick daughter in the passenger seat.
"All I wanted to do was to die along with her," Paulina Bobadilla, 34, told the AP of her daughter’s epileptic seizures, which the medication could no longer manage. The pain was so bad the girl would easily tear her own nails out just to numb the sensation elsewhere.
On that day in April 2013, the only thing that prevented her from carrying out her wish to die together with her daughter were the words “Mommy, I love you.”
“I looked at her and I knew I had to continue fighting,” Bobadilla continued.
Unable to watch their children suffer as they wait for Congressional approval, the small group of 100 parents formed the Mama Cultiva (Mama Grows) collective. It promotes the medical use of marijuana and pays no mind to jail time. Their mission is to educate people with the necessary skills for cultivation and to save their children from pain, as they grow the plant in their backyard. The purpose is extracting cannabis oil – increasingly lauded by modern science for its therapeutic effects on a whole range of conditions where traditional medicine fails.
Sometimes it’s not even about the benefits of traditional vs non-traditional medicine: Bobadilla was struggling to set aside $800 a month for approved medicine that did not come close to alleviating her daughter’s suffering.
The price of producing a large crop of cannabis oil? $100 – one-eighth the cost. And the parents say there are actual benefits.
“We are a group of mothers of children with refractory epilepsy associated with the Daya Foundation [a body that supports the group]. We chose to use oil of cannabis,” reads their mission statement on the Facebook page.
This is not a commercial venture, they stress. All the cultivation and oil extraction is done by the individuals. The organization exists only to pass the knowledge on.
Right now they are forced to hold secret meetings away from the eye of the law, though it is no secret they grow the plant in their backyards. Punishment for this could extend to 15 years’ jail. Under Chilean law, only consumption is allowed, not production.
Another mother that grows, Susana, would not give the AP her last name for fear of prosecution. She says her sickly son screams from pain.
In a cruel twist of fate, she was cheated by a dealer even after she explained that the plants were for her ailing boy: he sold her the male variety, which does not produce the oil.
Another woman, Gabriela Reyes, 23, had her seven-month-old in hospital the entire time – the infant experiences up to 300 seizures each day. Remarkably, gaining some knowledge in oil extraction, Gabriela was able to reduce the number of seizures to just 12, just by adding a few drops of the oil to her daughter’s baby bottle.
All of the parents noted how their children were now able to “sleep better,” with results manifesting themselves a mere week later.
Curiously, although the Santiago government allowed a crop to be used in a study to determine pain reduction effects in adult cancer patients, Mama Cultiva would not be admitted to the program, the justification being that the group focuses on children.
Although some 15,000 Chilean children appear to be completely immune to legally-approved treatment, the government won’t budge. Medical authorities and related agencies claim the medicinal advantages of marijuana provide “insufficient evidence” for a government program to be rolled out. They say evidence of the plant’s harmful effects still far outweigh the benefits.
The parents of children in agony beg to differ, and plan to continue flouting the law in the face of Big Pharma pressure.
"We have to make sure that the rights of users, of patients, to affordable medicine ... is guaranteed before the pharmaceutical industry takes it all over," says Ana Maria Gazmurri, president of the non-profit group supporting Mama Cultiva Daya Foundation.