Valeria Salech knew her son’s laughter the day she gave him cannabis oil for the first time. The product of endless bureaucracy, he had not been able to obtain allopathic medication to treat refractory epilepsy, a disease that Emiliano suffered from since birth and that led him to suffer up to 200 seizures a day. “I heard him laugh, it was moving and funny at the same time, but the first thing I thought was that he wanted to tell everyone what had happened,” he remembers. That day, Salech planted the seed of a network of mothers dedicated to the cultivation and production of marijuana to treat illnesses in their children for which conventional medicine provided an insufficient or no response.
Six years later and still with prejudices about the cannabis plant and the judicial and police persecution of growers and consumers, Salech and a group of women created “MamáCultiva”, an organization that was born in 2016 to fight for a legal framework for planting. and consumption for medical purposes of marijuana, whose values are recognized worldwide by science thanks to the properties of cannabidiol (CBD) for the treatment of diseases such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease or cancer, among others. Although they achieved a law and a subsequent regulation that expands rights, they now fear that, if the right-wing candidate Javier Milei is elected president in the November 19 elections, the achievements will collapse, investigations will be paralyzed and a framework will not be promoted. legal that benefits them.
Like Emiliano, in Argentina thousands of people turn to cannabis for non-allopathic treatments for diseases. Although in 2017 Congress passed a law that regulates medical and scientific research and authorizes the import of CBD oil, it was not until November 2020 that the Argentine Government regulated the norm, but broadened its bases, since it allowed controlled self-cultivation through a registration with the Ministry of Health and the sale of oils, creams and derivatives. According to official data, until mid-2023, there were 200,000 users incorporated into the National Registry of Persons authorized to grow cannabis (Reprocann), including consumers and family members who take care of care tasks.
At the headquarters of MamáCultiva, located a few meters from Congress in the heart of Buenos Aires, the fragrance of carefully treated plants takes over all the rooms, from the laboratory where they produce oils, creams and ointments to a space where they give workshops to other women who arrive desperate after having visited one doctor’s office after another without a solution.
Unlike other women, Salech, 49, the president of MamáCultiva, never had a prejudice against marijuana. One day, in search of a solution for her son’s seizures, she came across a video of a woman in the United States who stopped her teenage daughter from having a similar condition with a few drops of cannabis oil rubbed on her gums. He immediately got in touch. It was 2009 and what would follow would be years of research and a life dedicated to the fight, which would lead her to achieve a law, take part in cannabis exhibitions or travel to a congress of experts on marijuana use in the heart of the Brazilian jungle.
YamilaPeluso, 44, experienced a similar situation with Joaquín, her 12-year-old son diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. “He didn’t sleep or control his sphincters, he didn’t have friends at school, he got frustrated and became depressed. He told me: ‘I’m useless, I came in failed.’ One day, my mother sent me a video of Valeria talking about cannabis,” he says. So, he had to break down his own prejudices. “I didn’t want to know anything, until a doctor recommended it to me.” Joaquín took the oil and that night, for the first time, he was able to sleep. “After a month he was talking, he wanted to play. Now we have a normal life, this has also improved our quality of life,” she says excitedly. Salech listens to her with an attentive gaze and summarizes: “It’s magical.”
It is common for people who suffer from autism to report an improvement in symptoms due to the therapeutic use of cannabis and in some countries it is even recommended by doctors. However, at the moment there is not enough scientific evidence of its effects in these patients.
Science has shown, however, that CBD is effective in the treatment of drug-resistant epilepsy and that it reduces the frequency of seizures, resulting in an absolute life change. A study by Argentine neuroscientist Silvia Kochen published in 2023 by the journal Epilepsy & Behavior also specifies that it is safe and adverse effects are reduced. “It is a disease that for 70% of patients there is a cure without impact on cognitive ability, but there are 30% who have epilepsy that do not respond to medical treatment, despite the fact that there are 20 drugs, which leads to looking for alternatives” Kochen said at an exhibition in 2022.
From stigma to prejudice
Julieta Molina, 34 years old, member of MamáCultiva, explains that after the creation of the organization many other mothers began to have information. “We prepared workshops and 300 people came. Many even told us that they were waiting for us to bring out a drum of oil to distribute,” adds Salech, laughing.
For Molina, reaching out to MamáCultiva was essential. Her son Pedro was born and a few days later he began to have imperceptible involuntary movements. “At the medical consultation they underestimated me, they said it was common,” he says. Then he came across a neurologist who gave him his first introduction to cannabis as an alternative. By then, her baby was having frequent seizures. “I had the stigma, until then I used marijuana recreationally,” he says. For this reason, he started smoking cannabis: “I gave him the cannabinoids through his breast milk and he stopped convulsing. “The doctors said it wasn’t in the books.”
“It’s not going to cure them,” Julieta continues. “Our children are not going to be neurotypical, but we can afford something that improves their quality of life and makes them happy.”
The fear of a reversal of the rights achieved
Although she warns that the law passed in 2017 was positive, the president of MamáCultiva clarifies that it is not what they would have wanted, because it barely recognizes the plant’s therapeutic capacity or suggests that research should be promoted. However, they clarify that the Government regulations decreed in 2020 “broaden” the norm, by allowing not only the sale of oils, but also including a very broad comprehensive concept of health, which includes the physical, psychological and social. With this perspective, the standard allows self-cultivation for users, patients and researchers who register in a registry, without discriminating based on specific diseases or pathologies. In addition, it allows the transport of marijuana, something prohibited by current drug law. “It enables us to have cannabis in our portfolio,” Salech said.
In any case, Salech, Peluso and Molina fear a reduction in achieved rights that will lead to persecution in the event of a possible change of political sign by the Argentine Government. “The advance of the right in the country puts us at risk and that means putting our children at risk. It would stigmatize us again and return us to hiding,” Salech emphasizes. She fears the arrival at the Casa Rosada of Javier Milei, the ultra candidate who came second in the presidential elections of Argentina, who during the campaign promised to close the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (Conicet), where dozens of projects are being carried out. linked to cannabis for medical purposes.
In 2021, when asked about the eventual legalization of cannabis, he stated: “If the human being who decides to consume marijuana is responsible for the bill, I have no problem.” The Peronist candidate Sergio Massa, the most voted in the last elections, was in favor of regulation, not only for medical purposes, but also for productive purposes. As Minister of Economy, he launched the National Cannabis Agency this year, with the aim of advancing the creation of a cannabis industry that in a first stage could create 5,000 jobs, linked to the production of textiles and cosmetics.
Reap the fruit of the struggle and new challenges
Eight years after the creation of MamáCultiva, Salech is committed to continuing to expand rights, not only for the youngest children, but also for women in charge of care tasks. “Today many older adults approach us who are not mothers but have illnesses of all kinds and the most important thing is to listen to them because they are alone,” says Yamila.
This organization also teaches workshops and coordinates with universities that offer specialized courses in cannabis, while producing oils, creams and ointments to finance them.
“The plant came to us because there was resistance to the prohibition that was strongly sustained throughout Argentine history. There were people who became professional and put their bodies to it, they avoided the stigma or being arrested,” recalls Salech. Concentrated, but with a smile on her face, the president of MamáCultiva looks over the plants one by one that look neatly illuminated and surround the environment with citrus aroma. “We are better mothers with marijuana,” she says.