How Will Ordinary Filipinos Benefit from the “Medical Marijuana Law”

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After the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) “initially” approved the medical use of cannabidiol (CBD), a compound in marijuana that has many health benefits, it announced on Monday that “it does not necessarily increase the chances of the government’s legalization of medical marijuana”. According to DDB chairman Catalino Cuy, “With this regulation, there is no need for a separate medical marijuana law since mechanisms already exist to allow the use of dangerous drug compounds in medicine form.” Cuy also clarified that the DDB has no power to legalize medical marijuana. Firmly stating that marijuana use will remain prohibited in the Philippines, be it recreational or medical, he also added, “We only reduced some requirements which we discovered were unnecessary to provide the medication for compassionate use of our patients”.​

Led by the Philippine Cannabis Compassion Society (PCCS), an organization of patients supported by parents and family, as well as advocates/volunteers, pushing for the secure access to affordable, safe, and available medical marijuana, the separate compassionate medical marijuana law, House Bill No. 279, is being proposed with the help of various advocates to recognize other health benefits and to make the medicine more accessible to public since under the current bill RA 9165 or Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, the process is still difficult for Filipino patients to acquire the medicine. In addition, advocates also claim that the current option available, which is Epidiolex, a medicine that only contains CBD, is very expensive and is impossible from ordinary Filipinos to afford. In a post from Sensible Philippines’ Facebook page on Tuesdaya network of pro hemp / marijuana / alternative healthcare advocacy groups and individuals, it cited details from Medical News Today website which states:

“Epidiolex is a brand-name prescription drug. It’s used to treat seizures caused by two forms of epilepsy: Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. Epidiolex contains the drug CBD. It was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in June 2018, the first drug approved to treat Dravet syndrome. Epidiolex is the first FDA-approved drug made from cannabis. It is available only as a brand-name medication and is not currently available in generic form. It annually costs $32,500 (Php 1,643,362.50) per patient. Epidiolex can cause mild or serious side effects. Serious side effects from Epidiolex aren’t common, but they can occur.”

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Marijuana was proven cure for cancer and other kinds of serious diseases by many studies decades ago. In addition, advocates claim that not only CBD provides relief to various diseases but the compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is a psychoactive that is potentially damaging to the brain cells when abused, is also an anti-inflammatory effective aid for pain, migraines, insomnia, anxiety, and also helps in fighting cancer cells. With regards to the THC’s potential benefits to epilepsy, scientists from the University of Sydney learned that small doses of THC can be effective in reducing seizures. The university’s Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics found this from a study. In this study, it tested 51 samples of medicinal cannabis extracts from the black market that Australian families were giving their children. In 98 percent of the samples, THC was present. The quantity was not enough to have an intoxicating effect.

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According to the study, “just over half of the extracts contributed to a 75-100 per cent reduction in seizures, while a third of extracts improved cognition, and a quarter helped with language skills”. The findings suggested more research should be done on how THC could be “incorporated into a legal medicinal cannabis formulation or be used in conjunction with current anti-epileptic drug treatments”.

Anastasia Suraev, the research associate stated that, “We need more rigorous scientific studies to be able to confirm the parent reports of how effective these cannabis extracts [containing THC] are. The majority of families we spoke to were provided their [illegal] cannabis products on a compassionate basis, so either for free or by donation. For the remaining families, they paid around $270 for a month’s worth of product, which equates to around $10 a day. When you compare it with the current legal schemes… for a child with epilepsy a legal product costs around $1,100 per week and this equates to around $160 a day. In a year that’s about $60,000 and that’s a huge discrepancy and that is something that the average family simply could not afford.”

Anastasia Suraev also added, “while governments were taking steps in the right direction by easing access to medicinal cannabis for epileptic children, many families may keep turning to the black market because the products were much cheaper”.

Meanwhile, according to Philippine Cannabis Legal Resource Center – CannaLegal PH, a Manila-based legal and advocacy resource center which aims to reform Philippine cannabis laws, and lobby for a people-centered and rights-based drug policy”, “We have to start somewhere. By starting with the approval of cannabis extract CBD for epilepsy does not mean other medical conditions were excluded, or a particular condition was addressed for whatever reason.  Epidiolex is a big pharma brand and the only US FDA approved medical cannabis. If Epidiolex was approved for pain management, then DDB will approve it for pain management first here in the country.”

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The group also added, “Thousands of patients and their families are desperately waiting for the publication of the implementing rules of the new board regulations, for them to properly file their licenses to import, possess, acquire and use medical cannabis in processed and medicine form as approved by foreign FDA counterparts. The state can no longer ignore that cannabis is medicine; and that there are other industrial and non-medical uses of it. However, there is still a greater need to revise our current drug laws to further ease and legalize the use of cannabis as medicine in the country. To all the politicians, policy makers and legislators, let us no longer deny the constitutional right to health of the patients and their families. Legislate and regulate the use of medical cannabis now! Cannabis is medicine!”

As of now the DDB is currently studying and considering the regulation guidelines for the medical use of CBD which “only covers importation of CBD in tablet form and does not legalize the use of marijuana, a power that belongs to Congress. The proposed regulation has supposedly been “approved in principle” by the drug policymaking body of the government but will be confirmed by the board at its next meeting. It is in consultation with various sectors to finalize the proposed regulation on the use of CBD in medicine”. Meanwhile, the Malacañang palace also reassured that President Rodigo Duterte is in favor of the use of marijuana but for medical purpose only.


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Alter Picar

Alter Picar is a writer, translator, self-published author, songwriter / musician, community worker, non-profit organization manager (volunteer), mental health advocate / educator, librarian, and organic gardener.