This Brazilian NGO grows medical cannabis to help patients with epileptic seizures
Surrounded by barbed wire and an electric fence, marijuana plants bloom under the bright sun of a farmhouse in a mountainous area outside of Rio de Janeiro.
But this farm has nothing to do with drug trafficking. It actually belongs to a pioneering Brazilian NGO engaged in the production of medical cannabis to help patients suffering from seizures.
Margarete Brito, a lawyer by training, began cultivating cannabis several years ago to relieve the seizures of her daughter Sofia, now 12, who suffers from epilepsy.
After seeing his condition improve, Brito decided to help other patients as well. So she founded the Medical Cannabis Research and Patient Support Association, or ApÃ©pi, which produces artisanal cannabis-based therapeutic oils to help patients with ailments similar to her daughter’s.
This work took a lot of effort, as the cultivation of marijuana remains illegal in Brazil.
“If we follow the letter of the law, nothing authorizes us to do so,” Brito told AFP.
But she and her husband, Marcos Langenbach, were able to obtain unprecedented judicial authorization to cultivate cannabis for medical purposes in 2016.
Today, their farm – about a two-hour drive from the Brazilian capital – has 2,000 plants growing there to help patients with severe autism, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy.
And despite initial suspicions and the reluctance of some, Brito says the company has support in Brazil.
âWe have real social legitimacy. That’s what protects us, âBrito said.
– ‘People have prejudices’-
On a recent visit to the farm, which is protected by an electric fence and barbed wire, agricultural engineer Diogo Fonseca made his way through marijuana plants growing in large black pots and marked with their names. different varieties: Purple Wreck, Schanti, Doctor, Harle Tsu, Solaire, CBG.
These plants are used to produce therapeutic oils that meet the individual needs of each patient, depending on whether they require a higher or lower dose of cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychotropic substance with a relaxing effect.
Using a pocket microscope, the Fonseca examines each plant to determine the ideal time for picking.
In April, police armed with sniffer dogs raided the farm after someone who had worked on renovating his lab reported Apepi to authorities.
âA lot of people are prejudiced,â Brito said. “We explain to everyone how our project works, but this person believed that we were drug traffickers and was informed against us,” said Manoel Caetano, manager of the farm.
Police eventually realized the farm was a medical cannabis plantation, apologized and left, according to Brito.
– More accessible –
Apepi has established partnerships with respected scientific institutions, such as the Fiocruz Foundation and the University of Campinas. And it has quintupled in the past two years and now has 1,500 members.
Among them is Gabriel Guerra, 19, who suffers from a severe form of autism and cerebral palsy. When he was eight, he had 60 seizures a day. âBut when he started to take the personalized oilâ – a few drops three times a day – âthe attacks stopped. He started to have more independence, to look for ways to communicate,â explained his father Ricardo. Guerra.
Thanks to Apepi, products have become much more accessible to patients: 150 reais ($ 28) for a 30ml bottle, while imported products can cost anywhere from 600 to 3,000 reais ($ 113 to $ 565).
Apepi is now awaiting a court ruling which they hope would allow the farm to increase production to 10,000 plants from next year.
But the group is not very optimistic about the prospect of an upcoming legalization of medical cannabis – President Jair Bolsonaro has already indicated that he will veto a bill being debated in Congress.
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