By Angelica Silva
Amidst a series of interminable earthquakes that have been striking Chile for several days, Paulina Boadilla took some time to chat with Cannabis.es and, getting around the technical difficulties, share her story with us, as well as her expert opinion and great heart. Mamá Cultiva is a non-profit foundation where mothers of children with refractory epilepsy, cancer and other pathologies, get together and promote the use of cannabis resin.
They started in 2012 in Chile and they haven’t stopped growing ever since. They currently work in Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and Paraguay. They have been the most visible face of this struggle, they are warrior mothers that have decided to change the world. They consider sisterhood as the key to change and Paulina is best example of that.
How were your lives changed when your daughter started taking cannabis?
We saw changes in the first week. Javiera used to inflict self harm and attacked us too, it was a very tough life. She had been wrongly diagnosed severe autism and in a week the number of seizures started to decrease. So in order to buy the oil I had to enter the areas where trafficking takes place, with the fear that this implies. We had never had any connection with drug dealers, we had never had anything to do with cannabis.
This was very complicated because my husband was a prohibitionist. He had a different view on drugs and it was not easy jumping to this adventure, but it was for the best. Before, Javiera would lose all nails all of a sudden, her hands would bleed and the doctors thought it was only normal, we went through a long list of doctors and they all thought these things were to be expected since she was taking so many drugs. Now Javiera attends a normal school and leads an incredible life. She’s a completely happy girl and is the opposite of the projections we were given. And my story is the same story of all the other mothers.
How did Mamá Cultiva come to life?
We were a group of mothers, all in the same situation of constant desperation. We would try drug after drug to no result. We have children of different ages and illnesses but there is a common factor, refractory epilepsy, which does not respond to traditional treatments, multiple drug treatments. The maximum doses used caused great harm to our children; they got drowsier while their crisis or life conditions did not improve. Imagine the change my daughter went through in a week. All I wanted to do is shout out to the world that they should use cannabis. This was 5 years ago when prohibition was totally installed here. But I was not scared, I went out, I faced the world and said there is a relief for mothers. I did not care if I was taken under arrest, or pointed at, I felt the need to tell all mothers, not only the Chilean but all of them everywhere, that there was a possibility, a better tomorrow.
Could you explain your relation to DAYA Institute?
Our organizations are sisters, we were born together and we work for new policies on drugs in our country. We have been in the different work groups of the different ministries. We know each other from before any of the foundations existed, there were no other names then: it was only Ana María and me trying to help everyone we could. Now they are more focused on clinical studies and we work more on the humanitarian side, trying to rescue mothers from all that suffering, offer them a first helping hand. Then we start to show them the way, we teach that path because in Chile every mother has to grow to obtain their own medicine.
The Daya Institute and Mamá Cultiva are always working together, in fact today we launch Mamá Cultiva Paraguay and the launching takes place from Daya. We have also made some workshops in their headquarters, although it feels now is the time to have our own place because theirs is somewhat crowded.
What is Chile’s legal frame on cannabis nowadays and what does the new 2015 law imply?
We live under Law 2000 that protects cannabis users and homegrowers in three articles. The problem is the police do not respect this law and they act at their own discretion. The law persecutes trafficking and not personal consumption, or possession of cannabis if it is meant to be consumed shortly, but police don’t really get that yet. We are modifying the law so that they won’t undermine our rights. We don’t want to be subject to their personal discretion but to the laws and decrees. But that’s going to be difficult. That argument started back in 2015, it was approved by the Health Commission and we are still in the same place. They haven’t changed one comma in the law. We are now trying to make the current law respected. When they arrest somebody we use all our might to denounce how police is stealing our medicine and how their actions result in ill people suffering. We bombard all congressmen with mail and that reduces the undermining of our rights, but our hands are still tied.
How frequent are these arrests in Chile?
There are fewer arrests now but everyday there is one happening somewhere in Chile. They chase down all kinds of growers, but our organization has not suffered any detention in the last months.
The main criticism against the Health Commission’s draft law is that six plants for self consumption seem excessive. You know lots of personal cases. Do you feel it’s a reasonable amount?
Six are too few. Not every family has the experience of a farmer. Most families get 10 to 20 gram per plant in the beginning, and even less with autoflowering kind. I grow 20 plants because I reap a supply for the whole year. Our initial demand was 10 plants and the last thing the Government said was two. That’s a joke, it’s of absolutely no use. The modification that is being implemented is even worse, the best would be for it to stay like it is now. And what’s important is for prosecutors to change the way they think and learn about the law, because right now everybody does what they want.
What has been the main obstacle you have met?
The first difficulty was the medical community. They treated us as if we were desperate mothers who would reach out for any possible solution without judgement. They said this was not beneficial at all for the kids, and that they were going to be much worse cognitively. The truth is our kids woke up with cannabis, the opposite to their diagnosis. But in general we have met a positive response, we have an unbelievable support, more than 70% of the population agrees with legalization of medical cannabis.
There are many laws being passed nowadays that make the doctor’s prescription necessary. What’s your opinion on this and how easy is getting a prescription for cannabis in Chile?
We don’t work with prescriptions because each family grows its own plants. In Argentina, for instance, they need the prescription and then they need to ask for imported oil, something that only certain people can afford. There are doctors in Daya that advise the families but with craft oils. We discarded import oil because that segregates a part of the population. Healthcare in Chile is awful, it doesn’t cover anything, the public system is almost broke and the ISAPRE don’t cover for refractory epilepsy. We are trying to ensure every family has access to these medicines and homegrowing is the only way. Chile’s reality is different to other countries where importing the oil comes first and then there are the rest of options. We started with homegrowing and that is not discussed.
Voice of wisdom: warnings
Let’s look at Argentina’s laws on medical cannabis, the proposal in Spain by Ciudadanos Party or the Colombian Order. Could you explain to people what the consequences of leaving medical cannabis to pharmaceutical companies would be?
It is a big mistake. The great pharmaceutical industry uses only the CBD cannabis oil, and that is useless for most of our kids. In the research studies made, 60% of these drugs were useless or had secondary effects. Obvious thing: it is a synthetic substance, not a natural one. Furthermore, we have come to realize that we need the whole plant and not isolated components. After years of using cannabis, we know that for most kids suffering from spasticity, CBD causes more spasticity. Experience has taught us that.
There are more than 8.000 families growing cannabis for different pathologies in Chile and we do not want only the CBD but the whole plant. The big industry wants to keep us under the yoke, and they are using fear and spreading terror amongst families because of the psychoactive component THC, but I encourage everybody to study THC because it is also fundamental for a number of pathologies. That is why we can’t leave homegrowing aside when the big industry comes. Sativex entered Chile, it is a drug that’s supposed to have been produced using the whole plant and costs a million pesos. Only 1% of Chileans can afford such a treatment. What is the other 99% expected to do? Are they supposed to remain suffering, waiting on someone to feel compassion for them and donate a bit of cannabis? And let’s not forget the big cannabis industry is claiming only CBD works for epilepsy. I have been on several discussion boards on different countries where they were lying blatantly.
Lots of families comply with this to set precedents. They think it will probably be easier to achieve more in the future but they are wrong, we have to get the whole plant in, not allow them to do what they want with the CBD. We cemented homegrowing after fighting for five years and that is what we are going to keep defending. It’s the only way we can democratize access. If we let the big industries keep everything to themselves, the same thing will happen to our kids as it happened with the prescription drugs. They will be ill again, we will be enslaved again because that’s their business model, to ensure there will be collateral effects so that you will have to buy another drug that gives you relief from the harm the first one did to you.
You mentioned that you had been in Spain not long ago. Tell us about your experience and what you thought of the medical cannabis situation in Spain.
We were in the presentation of the Medical Cannabis Observatory in Madrid. Just today I learned they are going to offer a homegrowing extraction workshop and it honestly made me feel very happy. I’m happy to see that’s the path they are going to follow. I thought they were going to take sides with the pharmaceutical industry, because they are biologists, chemical engineers and researchers for the most part, but I am very happy for what is about to happen. I think is on May 16th they are having their first workshop and that means they are committed to citizens.
We also spent some time with the Dosemociones families. It’s a group led by Carola Pérez where we realized that most of them prefer the pharmaceutical companies to produce the oil for them, but there was a small group that said they wanted to grow because they were tired of the pharmaceuticals and they wanted their kids fully recovered. So it’s a pleasant surprise that those people are being given options.
I think the Observatory is a good idea and Spain needs to support its researchers. We started here without any doctors or researchers, without universities. Spain is home to some of the main authorities in the subject, like Cristina Sánchez or Manuel Guzmán, and you have to take advantage of that knowledge, the will to work and all of that experience. I think the Observatory has to be advertised because it is fundamental that citizens know there is an alternative and that there are people fighting for them.
You need to be very brave to look a disease in the eye and say: “you are not going to beat me”. But it is even more remarkable that, once you find a cure in an illegal substance, you make the decision of changing the world, you commit to share that knowledge with whoever wants to listen to you, reaching all social classes, giving voice to thousands of families that were invisible. Paulina is that kind of person that says goodbye thanking us, because this kind of interview reassures her that she’s on the right track. Like any other superhero, she is, above all, humble.