When prescription medications to treat her daughter’s epilepsy started to cause her to lose her sight, Margarete de Santos Brito took on the government.
Photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
Sofia began to have epileptic fits that stumped doctors for two and a half years until they discovered that she had a genetic disorder so rare that it’s known simply as CDKL5. The disorder affects a protein necessary for brain development, causing the seizures and other symptoms.
As Ciara Long reports for Salon,
“Brito tried every medicine that doctors prescribed for Sofia. But the myriad of anti-convulsive medications had mixed success in reducing the severity and frequency of epileptic fits. Many weren’t particularly effective at all, and came with distressing side effects like partial loss of sight.”
Brito’s husband came across a Facebook post on a group for parents of children with the disorder that detailed a seeming cure for the epileptic fits. A mother had given her daughter CBD, a cannabinoid well-known for its anticonvulsant and spasm-calming properties, and it helped calm her epilepsy.
But while CBD compounds are legal across most of the United States and Canada, Brazil has been impacted by its own failed War on Drugs that has resulted in a swelling prison population in the past decade. César Muñoz at the Human Rights Watch reports of a case in which a man was sentenced to four years as a drug trafficker for having 15 grams of marijuana in his possession. This is despite the decriminalization of growing and having “personal amounts” of weed.
Brito was acutely aware of the dangers of importing CBD but also realized that she had to help her daughter. She ordered some CBD despite the risks. The initially ordered overseas wax CBD compound was expensive and didn’t do much for Sofia’s condition. But once Brito switched to using “an artisanal oil produced in Brazil,” she saw a sharp reduction in her daughter’s epilepsy.
Eventually, Brito realized that there was a way to fight for the right to medicate her daughter legally, safely, and cheaply. She went to court with her friend and fellow lawyer in October of 2016 to obtain rights for her medical marijuana grow-op. After an extended fight, Brito was given permission and is now just one of three Brazilians with this right.
Brito has been fighting the restrictive MMJ laws through her NGO Support for Patients and Research for Medical Marijuana (APEPI). The organization is pushing for increased research on marijuana alongside open access.
In August of 2017, Brito’s efforts finally paid off. North American company MedReleaf became the first export of high-quality marijuana into Brazil. Darren Karasiuk, Vice President of Strategy at MedReleaf, told HERB,
“We’re very happy that we were able to provide medicine to Margarette de Santos Brito to help treat her daughter. Medical cannabis remains a relatively new industry and the import and export of cannabis newer still. Nonetheless, we are able to work with [Ms. Brito] to ensure our medicine made it to [her] daughter.”
Brito’s actions may have even paved the way for the spread of exported cannabis, says Karasiuk,
“The success we have had in Brazil has encouraged us to continue exploring international markets; we’re working to ensure that patients in need around the world receive the highest quality cannabis-based pharmaceutical products available.”
All of Margarete de Santos Brito’s actions and hard work to help her daughter have paid off—not just for her, but for people across the world who are suffering from lack of access to proper medicine.