In the last 10 years, research and legal use of medical cannabis has increased greatly in Brazil. According to neuroscientist Sidarta Ribeiro, who is a professor at the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), the advance follows the global trend of regulating medicines made from the plant, popularly known as marijuana.
“This happens a lot through the action of family members of patients, of patients organized in associations, this is growing a lot. There are tens of thousands of people who undergo medical treatment with cannabis, this did not exist 10 years ago. There are a lot of people who are authorized to import, who can buy it at the pharmacy, although it is very expensive.”
He participated in the international seminar Cannabis tomorrow: a look at the future, which took place yesterday (9th) and today (10th) at the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro (MAM), promoted by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) and the Associação de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro (MAM). Support for Medical Cannabis Research and Patients (Apepi).
Tradition and Prohibition
For the professor, the prohibition of cannabis in Brazil did not fulfill what it promised – to reduce the recreational use of the substance and the violence involved in the illegal market of the plant – and this is being perceived by the population.
“People are becoming aware that they have been deceived, that a lot of injustice has been committed in the name of this war against marijuana and that, in fact, if they need it, or if any family member, any friend needs this substance to deal with life situations or death, they are able to break the bonds of this defamation that marijuana has suffered for many decades.”
Also speaking at the event, indigenous leader and environmentalist Ailton Krenak recalls that cannabis was introduced in Brazil by African peoples and later incorporated into the rituals of some indigenous peoples 300 years ago.
“We cannot naturalize the idea that cannabis is part of the repertoire of knowledge of the native peoples here in South America. She is not native here, she came here with the people who came from Africa, right? There are people who think that it entered through the Caribbean, through Central America, there are other historians who say that the people who came from Benin, from Africa, took it to Maranhão and from there it entered the Amazon.”
Krenak highlights the importance of medicinal plants in the traditional knowledge of the native peoples, many sung in traditional rituals and other members of the founding myths of these peoples.
“The medicinal use and the ritualistic use, it was integrated with other practices, as well as the jurema. Jurema is from here, it is native, the indigenous peoples of the Northeast have the jurema rituals and have assimilated this plant that came from Africa as a plant that is related to the jurema”.
Lawyer Margarete Brito, founder and director of Apepi, explains that the association was created in 2014 to help family members and patients who saw medical cannabis as a great improvement in the quality of life of people with rare and neurological diseases, such as epilepsy. Her family was the first to get court authorization to grow marijuana and extract the medicinal oil at home, and after that created Apepi to help other patients. Currently, the association supplies the oil to nearly 4,000 patients.
This is the third event that the association promotes in partnership with Fiocruz, the first being in 2018. According to Brito, the speakers presented many advances in research, medical clarification and the use of medical cannabis in the country.
“Even by the report of participants, doctors, researchers who are in this edition, saying how much the debate has advanced. The associations are already managing to plant and open space for research. Today, Apepi has a partnership with the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro and with Unicamp, which measures all the oils. At the last seminar, in 2019, that didn’t even exist.”
She highlights the importance of maturing the debate around medical marijuana, even to make access to medicines, which are still very expensive, cheaper. For the lawyer, the price may drop with the approval of Bill (PL) 399/15, which regulates the planting of cannabis sativa for medicinal purposes and the commercialization of medicines that contain extracts, substrates or parts of the plant. The PL was approved by the special committee of the Chamber of Deputies last month, but which had the process interrupted again.
“It’s still too expensive. In addition to improving access, you generate wealth for the country, right? Because today there are countless people who still use the product that comes from abroad, paying in dollars. As Siddhartha says, it’s like you import manioc to make flour.”
The sanitary doctor and institutional relations advisor at Fiocruz, Valcler Rangel, explains that Fiocruz intends to implement actions to induce research in the area, with the aim of enabling the use of medical cannabis as a resource for public health.
“We are formulating a proposal to induce research and broad studies in this area, interdisciplinary studies, taking the biological field, clinical studies and also the social sciences. The idea is to induce studies focused on this issue of the medicinal use of cannabis, with the establishment of platforms for analysis and the creation of a permanent working group with university and civil society staff, to work on a combined agenda of institutions to tackle the difficulties of cannabis use”.
A study by the State University of Campinas (Unicamp) showed that Cannabinoids are effective in treating neurological diseases.
Studies indicate parkinson, glaucoma, depression, autism and epilepsy. In addition, there is evidence of the effectiveness of cannabinoids against chronic pain, antitumor effects and also against nausea caused by chemotherapy, in addition to their application in the treatment of spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis.
Cannabinoids have also shown evidence that they are effective for treating fibromyalgia, sleep disorders, increased appetite, and decreased weight loss in HIV patients; improvement in the symptoms of Tourette’s syndrome, anxiety and for the improvement in the symptoms of post-traumatic disorders.