In Peru, a group of mothers have turned to cannabis medicine to treat their sick children — in response, the country’s president has now proposed legalizing medical marijuana.
The organization Buscando Esperanza, which means “Searching for Hope,” was founded by mothers Ana Alvarez and Dorothy Santiago. Their goal has been to campaign for medical marijuana in Peru, where possessing more than eight grams of cannabis is illegal.
Alvarez taught herself to make a cannabis oil using alcohol and blackmarket weed after realizing how much the plant could help her 17-year-old son, Anthony. He’d been suffering from seizures multiple times a day due to Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, a rare, severe form of epilepsy, as well as tuberous sclerosis, a condition during which tumors develop on the brain and other parts of the body. Anthony had already been seizing up to eight times a day, and then experienced a psychotic episode, pushing his family into even greater desperation to find something that would help. He had been taking more than a dozen pharmaceutical drugs, but they hardly helped. Then Alvarez started making cannabis oil, having turned their home in Lima into something of a chemistry lab.
“After three days of taking marijuana oil, Anthony started to reconnect with life, he began to socialize, he began to sleep, he began to eat, and little by little he started to recover,” she said. “The change after three days was something extraordinary and from that moment my fight began.”
She teamed up with Santiago, whose five-year-old son Rodrigo has the same condition as Anthony. When Rodrigo took the cannabis oil, he went seizure-free for two whole days, and started to eat and sleep again, Santiago said. “He began to connect with people. He had never been able to make visual contact with anyone except me,” she said. “We know this is not a cure but it gives our children quality of life. We want it to be available to other children with the same condition.”
Now Buscando Esperanza has more than 200 members, many of whom get a homemade cannabis oil preparation informally from Dr. Juan Lock, who provides palliative care next door to Alvarez. He says the idea is to help people who suffer from conditions that conventional or pharmaceutical medications have failed to solve.
However, in February the police raided Alvarez’s apartment. The sympathetic public response caught the attention of Peruvian President Pablo Kuczynski, who’s since proposed legalizing medical marijuana for “serious and terminal illnesses.”
One poll suggests that 65 percent of Peruvians support cannabis legalization, though it’s still unclear which way the heavily conservative Congress will go on the issue. The country’s largest anti-drug organization, Cedro, has indicated it would only support children’s use of medical marijuana if it had no THC in it. Since only about 300 children in Peru have the same condition as Anthony, Dr. Alfonso Zavaleta, Cedro’s scientific consultant, says the country could import a synthetic cannabis product for them.
Only a few countries in South America have medical marijuana, including Colombia, Chile, and Uruguay. Still, Alvarez is going forward using black market weed to make her son’s cannabis oil. For mothers like her, a change in law would offer protection for something they’re doing anyways: utilizing cannabis, the best available option, to treat their kids.