Patients worldwide are beginning to receive the benefits of medical marijuana. News is spreading on the internet about how medical marijuana is helping fight mental disorders, chronic pain and in reducing seizures in epileptics. A Brazilian couple went to extreme measures to attain a cannabis extract that they cooked in oil and fed their daughter. They are now one of only a few families that have been given permission by the Brazilian government to grow marijuana.
It happened for the first time just 35 days after Margarete de Santos Brito brought her daughter Sofia home from the hospital. Laid on the sofa in their home in Rio de Janeiro, Sofia’s little arms rose up to shoulder height and tremored, flicking between strange angles.
Late one night, her husband Marcos woke her up. On a Facebook group of parents across the world with CDKL5 children, one mother in the U.S. described giving her daughter cannabis-based medicines to mitigate the epileptic fits. “He came to bed after me, super excited, and woke me up — ‘Guete, do you know what I’ve just seen?’” Brito chuckles. “I was half-asleep, and I said O.K., let’s talk about it tomorrow.”
First thing the next morning, Brito contacted the parents in the group that her husband had told her about. They were using cannabidiol, which had shown promising results in reducing CDKL5 seizures. Under Brazil’s rigorous anti-drug laws, importing cannabidiol would be no different than importing any other form of cannabis. Brito knew that if her package was intercepted, although it was only a small amount, she could be arrested for international drug trafficking and put in jail for up to 15 years.
Within a few hours of speaking to the CDKL5 parents in the U.S., Brito decided to try it anyway. Ten days later, the extract arrived in a small jar through the mail. “It was a really hard, black paste; it looked like mechanical grease and had a really strong smell of marijuana.”
Following instructions from a YouTube video, Brito scooped out a tiny ball of the paste, the same size as a grain of rice, and dissolved it in a spoonful of cooking oil over a gentle flame before putting it in Sofia’s mouth. “It was as if I was an alchemist or something,” she says. “It was a really crazy experience for me, I can’t even explain it.”
Brito and her husband gave Sofia the medication three times a day for a month. There were some improvements, but it was a prohibitively expensive solution and the effects were nothing remarkable. But their efforts were enough to convince other parents in her social networks, at first skeptical, to try it.
Alittle over two years later, Brito took on Brazil’s tangled legal system to become the first person in the country’s history with permission to grow cannabis for medicinal purposes. It was cheaper, she argued, than importing medicines for her daughter, who has a rare genetic disorder. In October 2016, Brito entered Rio’s civil court with her friend and lawyer Emilio Figueiredo to try to get formal permission to grow marijuana at home. A practicing lawyer herself, she felt certain that she knew exactly what she had to do.
The pair were informed that they needed to take their case to the criminal court. Others might have been intimidated by this order, but Brito’s 12-year career had left her well acquainted with Brazil’s byzantine bureaucracy. On October 16, she sat in the waiting room in another courtroom in downtown Rio, a stack of carefully prepared documents at her side amid disgruntled neighbors settling noise complaints. When her turn came, she presented the case herself to a different judge and a small audience. Sympathetically, the judge simply told Brito that there was no need for a formal decision on her case.
But Brito wasn’t about to accept being told to remain in a grey area. “I knew that we needed this decision, as a political act to share, to say, ‘look, it’s allowed.’ The judges were all in favor, everyone saying the same thing — that if it was their daughter, they would do the same thing.” Brito persuaded the judge that she needed the decision: what if someone reported her to the police and her daughter’s medicine was confiscated? She received the formal legal decision granting her permission the very next day.
Today, Brito is still one of just three Brazilians with the right to grow medicinal cannabis at home — but she wants to see this change, and fast. Other Brazilians, mostly parents of children with degenerative diseases, are forced to seek out expensive medical marijuana in clandestine fashion, risking punitive jail sentences if they are caught.