Medical Marijuana: Mexico Permits Millions Of Epilepsy Patients To Use Cannabis

John Houck

Legal medical marijuana will soon be available south of the border. On Friday, lawmakers in Mexico overwhelmingly approved a bill authorizing cannabis for medical use nationwide.

The popular bill passed by a 374-7 vote in Mexico's Chamber of Deputies. As medical marijuana legislation was previously accepted by the Senate five months ago, it will move to President Enrique Pena Nieto for signature.

Pena Nieto originally proposed the idea to update Mexico's cannabis prohibition law last year. At the very least, the new law will help Mexican citizens get access to alternative medical treatment.

The language of Mexico's medical marijuana bill tasks the Health Ministry with creating rules for the use, import, and production of products made from cannabis. Up to one percent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical responsible for marijuana's infamous high, will be allowed in products. Growing marijuana, as long as it is for medical or scientific purposes, can also be done without penalty.

While some marijuana advocates wanted a much broader marijuana use law to help combat drug-related violence, legalization of pot is a major policy shift for the country. In 2016, Mexican authorities stopped prosecuting certain people caught with small amounts of marijuana. Additionally, permits were given out on a case-by-case basis that authorized the cultivation and possession of weed for personal consumption. Until now, these limited exceptions to marijuana prohibition law were not available to all Mexican citizens.

According to Representative Arturo Alvarez, medical marijuana "is a step in the right direction." Legalization will allow for controlled and managed use of the drug, instead of forcing citizens to get cannabis from drug cartels that already have a major hold on the country.

As marijuana research continues to find medical promise for the substance, the time is right for medical cannabis in Mexico. Earlier this month, a survey released by the Por Grace Foundation found eight out of 10 children diagnosed with refractory epilepsy experienced a reduction in symptoms after using CBD oil. Additionally, more than 20 percent of the children were able to decrease the amount of traditional anti-epileptic drugs they were taking.

In a separate survey conducted by Mexican pediatric neurologist Dr. Saul Garza, children taking between five and seven milligrams of CBD oil had an 84 percent reduction in seizures. Of the 39 patients participating in the four-month study, seven had no seizures nor side-effects whatsoever while taking the cannabis product.

According to MarketWatch, 1.5 million people suffer from epilepsy in Mexico, many without access to suitable treatment options. As much as 30 percent of patients have refractory epilepsy, which is resistant to most anti-epileptic medications. The passage of Mexico's medical marijuana law will not only open up more choices for these patients but will also allow for more study of cannabis' potential for reducing or stopping epilepsy symptoms.

Once a fierce opponent of legal weed, Pena Nieto wants to be more aligned with the drug policy of the country's northern neighbor. Still, the future status of legal medical weed in the U.S. remains unclear.

Ever since Jeff Sessions was appointed the new U.S. attorney general, the pot community has been trying to decipher if current marijuana laws in several states will go by the wayside. Throughout his political career, Sessions has been a staunch opponent of marijuana use, even recently saying the plant is "unhealthy for the country."

However, with more than half the U.S. population admitting to using marijuana, it is unlikely the current administration will pursue such a substantial crackdown on cannabis. President Trump will probably leave the marijuana legalization question up to the states, while the attorney general will spend resources in other areas of the drug war, such as the current opioid addiction crisis.

Medical marijuana legalization in Mexico has the potential to help millions of patients seeking alternative medicine, while at the same time, possibly cut down on violent crime perpetrated by illegal drug organizations. As cannabis becomes more socially acceptable and studies find more medical benefits, legalization laws will continue to expand worldwide.

[Featured Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]