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In Chile, mothers give epileptic kids covertly grown marijuana

SANTIAGO, CHILE – Paulina Bobadilla was beyond desperate. The drugs no longer stopped her daughter’s epileptic seizures and the little girl had become so numb to pain, she would tear off her own fingernails and leave her small fingers bleeding.

Bobadilla was driving on a mountain road with Javiera, intent on ending it all by steering their car off a cliff.

“All I wanted to do was to die along with her,” the 34-year-old mother recalled of that day in April 2013. “I told her: ‘This is it.’ But then she said, ‘Mommy, I love you.’ I looked at her and I knew I had to continue fighting.”

Bobadilla’s desperation to ease her daughter’s condition is an emotion familiar to other Chilean parents who say medical marijuana can help their children and who, rather than wait for Congress to act, have taken matters into their own hands.

Despite the risk of jail time, about 100 parents have formed a group, Mama Cultiva, or “Mama Grows,” to share knowledge about cultivating marijuana to extract cannabis oil for their seizure-stricken children.

In clandestine meetings, the parents exchange tips and listen to cultivation experts explain how to grow and reproduce plants. Bobadilla and most of the members grow marijuana in their backyards, even though they could face up to 15 years in jail for doing so.

Chile allows consumption of the drug, but growing, selling or transporting it is illegal. Approval to use the drug as medicine is hard to win, and requires navigating a bureaucratic puzzle that most see as a waste of time. A proposal to decriminalize such use is making slow progress before lawmakers.

During a recent meeting of Mama Cultiva, a mother named Susana patiently separated leaves from a marijuana stem in preparation to extract oil while, nearby, her husband tended to their son who screamed as he convulsed in a seizure.

Susana, who declined to give her last name for fear of being prosecuted, and other parents later practiced the steps needed to reproduce plants with cuttings — a lesson that left them smiling with satisfaction.

Growing plants is slow work and members complain they sometimes must resort to buying from illegal dealers. Susana said one dealer even tricked her into buying the male strand of the plant, which does not produce the prized oil.

“I explained to him that it was for my sick son, that I needed marijuana from the female plant, but he sold me the male one,” she said.

Gabriela Reyes, 23, credits the cannabis oil with saving her 7-month-old son. Lucas spent the first months of his life in a hospital, suffering up to 300 epileptic seizures a day, she said. When he no longer responded to anti-convulsion medication, doctors told her his condition was terminal.

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