Indonesian mothers fight for medical marijuana for their children | Health News

Medan, Indonesia – When Pika Sasi Kirana was born, there was no sign that anything was wrong.

A plump baby weighing 3.4kg (7.5lb), Pika soon became a hyperactive child and by the time she entered kindergarten, she was just like any other child in her class. An avid singer, she also enjoys dancing and biking in the afternoons, making her mother Santi Warastuti and dad Sunarta proud as they watched their only child grow up.

But when Pika was about five years old, her health suddenly took a turn for the worse. She started vomiting frequently at school and fainted. When Warastuti, 43, took his daughter to the doctor in Denpasar on the Indonesian island of Bali, Pika was prescribed epilepsy medication.

Her condition did not improve.

Warastuti, who used to work as a fashion designer, told Al Jazeera: “Nobody really ever said the word ‘brain palsy’. “It only appeared one day on her doctor’s notes.”

After a written diagnosis, Pika’s health deteriorated rapidly, and the doctors could not seem to slow the progression of the disease or offer any solutions to make Pika more comfortable.

“Every time I go to the doctor, they constantly change the dosage or the type of medicine,” says Warastuti. “Nothing works.”

Warastuti began looking for other ways to ease her daughter’s grief, who was unable to do anything on her own and now needs 24-hour care. In the end, she found an unlikely solution in a country known for its strict drug laws: medical marijuana.

Warastuti first heard about medical marijuana while she was working in Denpasar and her European employer told her how the drug was being used in Europe and other countries to alleviate a variety of diseases.

Warastuti campaigning for the legalization of medical marijuana on the streets of Jakarta, Indonesia.
Warastuti participated in the weekly Free Car Day in Jakarta to raise awareness of its campaign. The sign reads ‘Help, my child needs medical marijuana’ [Courtesy of Warastuti]

While moving back to his hometown of Yogyakarta in the hopes of finding more effective therapy for Pika, Warastuti met Dwi Pratiwi, another mother and plaintiff in a Constitutional Court case, who brought in her son Musa. She went to Australia for medical marijuana treatment.

Musa, who also suffered from cerebral palsy, has passed away. However, by getting to know him, Warastuti was able to witness first-hand how medical marijuana can help people with the disorder – which affects their ability to move and maintain balance – by helping to alleviate muscle atrophy and facilitate more comfortable sleep.

Research is ordered

When Pratiwi asked the mothers to sue, Warastuti did not hesitate.

However, their attempt to legalize the drug in Indonesia for medical purposes was met with stiff opposition and on July 20, the Indonesian Constitutional Court rejected Warastuti’s application. , Pratiwi and another mother of a child with cerebral palsy requested a review of Indonesia’s Drug Law. 2009 banned the use of marijuana for any reason.

According to Claudia Stoicescu, an associate professor of public health at Monash University in Indonesia, the country stands in stark contrast to its neighbors when it comes to its legal position on cannabis.

“Thailand legalization the consumption of cannabis in June this year and in Malaysia the medical use of cannabis was legalized regulations since last year,” she told Al Jazeera.

“In Indonesia, possession of cannabis carries harsh punishments, including substantial jail time, often in overcrowded and inhumane conditions. These criminal justice system penalties for marijuana users are more detrimental to an individual’s health, well-being, and quality of life than marijuana use itself.”

Warastuti said she was not surprised when the Constitutional Court rejected the mother’s proposal to legalize cannabis for medical purposes but was pleased when the judge ordered the Indonesian government to conduct scientific studies. Learn more about the medical use of cannabis.

“I knew the legal challenge would be denied, but the ruling also spurred medical marijuana research that we need to appreciate. In Indonesia, it is difficult for people to accept the legalization of medical marijuana because they think that cannabis just gets you high, but there are good and bad ways to use it.”

“It’s like a knife used to cut things, but it can also be used to stab someone and kill them. However, you can still buy knives everywhere,” she said.

Indonesia classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance, according to the 1961 United Nations General Convention on Drugs, which means it is classified as a drug with a high potential for abuse, not for medical use. and there is no safe level of use under medical supervision.

Indonesian police destroy cannabis plant discovered in Aceh
Indonesian police destroy illegal cannabis plants during an operation in Seulimeum, Aceh Besar, Aceh province, Indonesia. The country classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance – a drug with a high risk of abuse and unacceptable medical use. [File: Antara Foto via Reuters]

However, medical researcher Stoicescu says the country should reschedule cannabis, something World Health Organization suggested since 2019.

“Most researchers agree that occasional cannabis use does not lead to health problems for the vast majority of people who use it. However, the Indonesian government often claims that cannabis plays the role of so-called ‘gateway drugs’ that can lead to involvement with other illegal substances. She said.

Looking for a compromise

According to Eka Prahadian Abdurahman, branch manager of the Addiction Recovery Community Association in Medan, North Sumatra, opponents of legalization often argue that the drug can be used for recreational purposes.

“The government is not yet ready to invest in research into cannabis as a medical drug, while many scientifically proven overseas studies are also being used sparingly by the government,” he said. for drugs made from natural ingredients other than marijuana . “

Abdurahman, an advocate for legalization, added that rewriting the law to allow the use of cannabis in medical situations is not straightforward.

It’s unclear how long it will take the Indonesian government to research the potential benefits of medical marijuana, and in the meantime, Warastuti said she’s thinking about potential compromises.

While she has yet to think about other legal options, she wants to lobby in the future for the government to support funding of medical marijuana treatment in other countries such as Australia for citizens. Indonesia wants to go there.

She also wants the government to consider allowing individuals to buy medical marijuana from other countries for use in Indonesia without fear of prosecution if full legalization is not allowed in the country.

Back in Yogyakarta, Warastuti said the Constitutional Court’s decision was not the end for her and Pika, now 14.

“I need to try to do everything to help my daughter and we will fight and never give up,” she said.

“It may not be my destiny to be the one to get medical marijuana for my daughter, but hopefully we have started something, and in the future others will be able to access this drug for everyone. their children because of my actions.”

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