Cannabis Breeding Moms
By Aranzazú Ayala y Mely Arellano from LADO B. See the full version in spanish: “Desintoxicando narrativas. Mujeres y cannabis en México”.
“This is not just my fight” explains Margarita Garfias, the mother of Carlos, a young man with multiple disabilities. “It’s the fight of thousands of mothers in the Mexican Republic.” A fight many families have to face alone, and that, in most cases, ends up becoming a battle which is fought only by mothers whose children have some kind of ailment such as refractory epilepsy or rare diseases.
Margarita Garfias is a cannabis breeder mom, but that was not her fist option. In the past, before that, she tried using an oil that had been approved for medical use: a food supplement that is high in Cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of marijuana, which she had to import. “Each bottle cost 6,500 pesos —Carlos used to take two bottles and a half per month—, and it was not covered by our insurance, so we had to pay for a customs agent, but it was worth it because Carlos’s epileptic crises started to decrease”.
Unfortunately, however, it was not enough. Carlos’ body had been receiving the medicine for 12 years and so, by month eight, it had developed a resistance to the oil. “That’s how we had to resort to the US then, and see whether we could get some other oil, or hemp or cannabis supplement which was high in CBD but with a 3% of THC (which distinctive feature is that of regulating the immune system), while THC was still not legal in Mexico”.
According to researcher Mara Islas, CBD is a non-psychotropic component of cannabis (marijuana) “that offers a wide range of opportunities to treat various ailments.”
THC is the compound of cannabis that is associated to the psychedelic effect of the plant, which is the reason why it has been mostly stigmatized and historically prohibited.
The new oil helped Carlos for about a year until his body developed tolerance to it once again. Nonetheless, that gave Margarita Garfias enough time to learn how to grow and where to buy the seeds “by following tutorials and thanks to the help of other moms who were already breeding. I watched every medical tutorial on YouTube very carefully”. Soon enough she had her first harvest.
Before using cannabis, Carlos had to be hospitalized twice a year as a result of status epilepticus, “[which is] when a seizure lasts longer than five minutes and it does not stop. In those cases, it is necessary to induce a barbiturate coma to disconnect the brain in order to reboot the nervous system”.
From the moment Margarita started producing her own oils and giving them to Carlos, his epileptic crisis decreased. “When we started using THC, his immune system got stabilized, and he could forget about hospitalizations.”
“So far he hasn’t been hospitalized in four years now. For him this means a better quality of life. And for the family it results in a better economic situation since, as the public health service does not have all of the services that boys and girls like Carlos usually need, it is usually the parents the ones who end up paying.”
“Governments —she explains regretfully— have never paid attention to us. They never even reached out to offer a therapeutic scheme so that these patients could at least have some quality of life.”
2015 marked the beginning of the fight led by Margarita Garfias and other mothers to manage to introduce a reform that would allow them to breed cannabis with medical purposes, but before that there were others who, desperately seeking to aid their sons and daughters, had already started doing it.
Along with the calm brought about by the use of cannabis for her and for her son — both in terms of health and family finance — there was also a feeling of “deep insecurity on account of the legal certainty that what we are doing is still illegal.”
“As there was no regulation, doctors could not write prescriptions [to use cannabis]. Doctors can only prescribe well-known medicines —which, by the way, are very few and quite expensive — like epidiolex, a medication developed for children suffering from refractory epilepsy. But a bottle costs around 28,000 pesos per month, and I think that even if I managed to get the prescription, I still wouldn’t be able to afford it. That’s the only thing Carlos could get with a medical prescription.”
In fact, according to Margarita Garfias’ experience —along with that of other mothers who face the same challenges —, most doctors refuse to see families the moment they learn about them using cannabis. “It is very frustrating. They force us not only into a legal exile, but into a medical one too.”
Danaé Ochoa, another mother who breeds cannabis for the treatment of her daughter, Maya, mentioned that their doctor went as far as to even suggest she was using the plant because she also wanted it to smoke. “And I was like: if I did so, it would not be any of your business because the patient is the girl, not me.”
The situation was such that, upon witnessing how much her daughter’s health kept improving as a result of her consumption of cannabis, she made the decision not to tell their doctor that she was not administering some of her medications anymore.
Danaé Ochoa is a certified “cannabis carer”. “I have a US certification and another one from Chile. I was able to obtain the one issued in the United States by taking the program online but in order for me to get the Chilean certification, I had to travel there so that people —and doctors in particular— could see that we do not do this irresponsibly.”
Deep down, the fear is related to criminalization, as “everything was illegal back then. In fact, it still is illegal because, in spite of the fact that the regulation (for the medical use of marijuana) came into effect a week ago —when it should have been effective back in 2017—, and the fact that there is now a little bit of a softer approach towards the recreational use, still what
I’m doing is breeding, transforming and administering cannabis to a disabled minor, and that is still absolutely illegal,” Danaé Ochoa admits.
“Familias y Retos Extraordinarios” (Families and Extraordinary Challenges) is a civil organization which was born exactly on May 18, 2018. It is the organization through which Margarita Garfias, Danaé Ochoa, and other mothers fight to drive the legal framework initiative for the regulation and use of cannabis.
“(…) Our career dates back a long way though. As moms, we submitted three initiatives at the moment of the call for the Constitution of Mexico City, and the three of them managed to make it”. Garfias is referring to that moment when the Federal District (Distrito Federal) became Mexico City and there was a public call for the writing of its Constitution.
These three initiatives resulted in the long-delayed recognition of unpaid care works, along with the existence of people with multiple disabilities — “because before this constitution, in Mexico nobody talked about multiple disabilities, our children were less than nothing”—, and the therapeutic use of cannabis.
Now they are seeking federal acknowledgment. In 2017 they succeeded in making the medical use of marijuana approved, even though the regulation was published much later on, in January of this year. Regarding care works, it was only in November 2020 that the initiative that modifies section 4º of the Constitution went to the House of Deputies. This is precisely the section that acknowledges the right to care and the right of women to their own time, as well as the creation of a National System of Care.
This will “put the focus on the needs of people with multiple disabilities, who are the ones that require greater care and support in order to have an autonomous and decent life. It is also going to help women profit from more free time so as to be able to provide quality of life and an improved economic well-being to our loved ones.”
Apart from its legislative lobbying, “Familias y Retos Extraordinarios” assists and provides support to other mothers who are getting started in the medical use of cannabis. The organization has its own medicine bank and it also collaborates with food pantries, gives talks, and organizes discussions with specialists in nutrition and neuropediatricians “who, unfortunately, many mothers cannot have economic access to otherwise.”
“Familias y Retos Extraordinarios” also holds workshops on co-responsibility of care works for other mothers in the group, and empowers state leaders to start rising their voices. The organization has also come in contact with the Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos (National Human Rights Commission) as it is “important for mothers to recognize themselves as subjects of rights, and that they recognize their children as subjects of rights too, not just as subjects of good will.”
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