By Raphael Tsavkko Garcia - Filter,

Theo, a 14-year-old living in Rio de Janeiro, suffers from a type of epilepsy that causes absence seizures—brief lapses in awareness. “It’s not exactly those seizures that we know where the person falls to the ground, but they are challenging and difficult to control and have an impact on his quality of life,” Theo’s mother, Rita Carvana, told Filter. Theo was diagnosed when he was 12. The first drug prescribed by his neurologist had little effect. Neither did the second. Carvana decided to try medical cannabis. There were many difficulties in obtaining it; “few neurologists in Brazil prescribe,” she said.

It’s difficult to buy medical marijuana in Brazil, and difficult to maintain the course of treatment—the oil is very expensive. Carvana says she used to pay the equivalent of nearly $400 per month.

Carvana managed to pay for the treatment for almost a year, suffering from the devaluation of the Brazilian currency to import it. In March 2020 she went to court to force her health insurer to cover the cost. In May, she won. Today, her health care plan covers both types of extract that Theo uses: isolated cannabidiol and full-spectrum.

“In the middle of the pandemic, it was a great relief,” Carvana said. “I was able to pay all this time but it was very expensive … I work in the cultural sector and, in the last two years we have lost a lot of standard of living, economic crisis in Rio de Janeiro is very strong. If on the one hand I had this privilege of paying for my son’s medicine, it also cost me a lot in the sense that I have many debts.”

One of the biggest difficulties in the fight for the complete legalization of medicinal cannabis is the prejudice that exists against THC. “The industry, the market, gains much more from CBD oil than from full-spectrum cannabis oil, which can have high-, medium- or low-THC dosage,” Carvana said. “The full-spectrum oil will almost always act better because of the ‘entourage effect,’ and requires smaller doses. So, we see clearly that the prejudice against THC is being fostered by the pharmaceutical industry … and this is for purely financial reasons.”

The much-desired “entourage effect”—whereby the many chemical components of a drug produce better results than any would alone—can only be obtained with full-spectrum cannabis, which is not yet found in pharmacies.