Mother in Chile grows cannabis to provide relief to sick children

In Chile, mothers grow cannabis at home to relieve their children suffering from various pathologies, such as refractory epilepsy or cancer, due to a lack of finding effective treatments through traditional medicine. However, they deplore the fact that this practice remains “stigmatized and criminalized”, even though the use of cannabis for medical purposes is theoretically approved in the country.These women are grouped together within the foundation “Mama Cultiva”, was created in 2012. Its founder, Paulina Bobadilla, has a granddaughter with tuberous sclerosis of Bourneville, a genetic disease characterized by the development of benign tumors in various organs, one of the symptoms of which is epilepsy. Her daughter thus suffers from refractory epilepsy, ie resistant to antiepileptic drugs.

“For five years, I followed exactly what the doctors said, and there was never any improvement.”

Paulina Bobadilla explains why she started administering cannabis to her daughter:

Previously, she took six anticonvulsant drugs per day, dosing maximum, but she continued to have epileptic seizures throughout the day, and the side effects were very many: she had eye diseases, irritability problem, she beat herself and tore her hair and nails, felt nothing … For five years I followed what the doctors said to the letter, and there was never improvement. In addition, these drugs cost us 600,000 pesos per month. [soit 667 euros, alors que le salaire minimum chilien est de 356 euros, NDLR], and they were not replaced. One day I saw a report about a little girl in the United States like mine, who had started undergoing cannabis treatment. So we thought this was the way to go, and we started talking to doctors about it. But everyone discouraged us and told us that it was “crazy” to want to administer cannabis to a child, etc.

“Cannabis has completely changed his life and ours”

Having said that, because we were desperate and there was nothing to lose, we still tried it with cannabis in the form of oil bought from a street vendor. After one week, her seizures and irritability decreased markedly. So we started growing cannabis.

Cannabis plants at Paulina Bobadilla’s home.

We currently grow cannabis from different strains: some have a high concentration of THC, others of CBD … [Ce sont des cannabinoïdes, c’est-à-dire des substances chimiques présentes dans la plante. Le premier a des effets psychotropes, contrairement au second, NDLR.] From that we make resin, and we administer drops of that resin in his mouth. One drop contains 1 mg THC and 0.45 mg CBD. But we have tried different combinations, of course, it will not cure her disease. But now she only has one epileptic fit a week, she can talk to us and live normally, which is invaluable. Cannabis has completely changed its life and ours.

Paulina Bobadilla’s daughter.

Paulina Bobadilla’s daughter.

But it continues to be followed by doctors and we have not completely given up traditional therapies: we simply supplement them with cannabis. And at the moment we only spend 50,000 pesos [soit 56 euros, NDLR] in traditional medicine dosed at least every month.
“We promote the entire facility”

At the beginning of “Mamá Cultiva” we were just nine families, united in a WhatsApp group. Today, the foundation brings together more than 8,000 families. We market the entire plant, from which we produce oils, resins, ointments, beverages, cakes … We campaign for democratic access to medical cannabis, through lobbying with legislators and doctors. We also organize workshops to teach families how to grow cannabis and to inform them about their rights, with lawyers. With the pandemic, we have tried to continue certain activities through virtual platforms.

Workshop to learn how to grow cannabis.

Theoretically approved cultivation of medical cannabisAccording to lag 20,000 from 2005, drug use was decriminalized in Chile. On the other hand, the fact of cultivating or extracting substances from it is considered a crime that can be punished with imprisonment.

The law, however, provides for exceptions for medical use: having small amounts of drugs is thus considered a crime, unless it can be justified that they are intended for medical treatment. Similarly, it is a crime to grow cannabis, unless it can be justified that it is intended for personal use in the near future (which includes therapeutic use). Finally, consumption and possession of drugs in connection with medical treatment is expected to be “justified”.

“Since the pandemic began, we have registered 58 searches of agricultural families”

However, Paulina Bobadilla believes that this text does not go far enough.

The law decriminalizes drug abuse, but it does not legalize it, so it is ambiguous. Although it theoretically protects consumers and producers of medical cannabis, its interpretation depends on prosecutors and police. [Ces derniers saisissent souvent les plants de cannabis des personnes qui les cultivent, le temps de vérifier s’ils sont réellement destinés à un usage médical, NDLR.]Since Sebastián Piñera returned to the presidency of Chile in 2018, it has been a very tough drug policy. Agricultural families are stigmatized and criminalized: we are told that we did not look for all possible solutions before we went to cannabis, the pharmaceutical industry criticizes us, there have been arrests and searches … Since the beginning of the pandemic, we registered 58 searches of agricultural families.

That’s why we need the law “Cultivo Seguro” [“Culture sûre”, NDLR], which will strengthen the 20,000 law.

This is a bill passed by the deputies in 2018, but not yet by the senators. If the latter give the green light, a medical prescription will now suffice to be approved for growing cannabis for therapeutic use. The police will thus not be able to seize plants in patients with prescriptions. The Chilean College of Medicine is, however opposite to this bill, due to the “potential side effects” of cannabis.

Promotion of the law “Cultivo Seguro” on the foundation’s Facebook page. The second photo shows Paulina Bobadilla and her daughter.

Since its creation, “Mamá Cultiva” has also established itself in Argentina, at Mexico, i Colombia, at Paraguay and at Peru.Article written by Chloé Lauvergnier (@clauvergnier).

Article written in collaboration with