Medical Cannabis Law in Brazil – Luiz Miguel, Arthur Araripe, Brazil

On the 14th January 2015, cannabidiol – one of the most common cannabinoids found in Cannabis – was reclassified by ANVISA (National Agency for Sanitary Vigilance) as a legalized and controlled substance, approved for its therapeutic use, throughout all Brazilian territory. Despite the progress made, the bureaucratic process leading to the decision and the appalling ignorance concerning the issue demonstrates Brazil’s delay regarding drug policies, endangering those who necessitate it for medical purposes.


The Drug

Already approved in some countries, such as Israel and the United States, CBD is widely used when treating anxiety disorders, multiple sclerosis and, according to recent studies, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, it was a revolutionary research, conducted at São Paulo University (USP), which provided proof of cannabidiol’s anti-anxiolytic properties and allowed the development of a new treatment for social phobia.


Unlike THC, the psychoactive substance present in Cannabis sativa, the medical derivate of marijuana has not presented collateral effects nor psychotic symptoms on its users, possibly acting as a counteragent to the hallucinogenic stimulus caused by the first. In spite of this, the drug is still prohibited in most countries, fact that inhibits further studies on the substance and reinforces taboos.

As stated in an open letter to ANVISA, written by several doctors from Brazilian universities, “CBD’s permanence on the proscribed substances list is unjustifiable”. Even if the matter is still controversial inside the medical community, doctors have, more than once, demonstrated their support to the cause, leading to a change of perception by the nation’s government.


Whenever someone needed to use drugs containing the aforementioned active ingredients, they had to contact a doctor, who, in turn, contacted ANVISA and filed a special request to import said drug. In a trial of over forty days, the agency would schedule and postpone several hearings, thus making the substance’s acquisition lengthy and costly.

For this purpose, it was required a prescription, a medical report attesting the real urgency regarding the remedy usage and another to indicate the benefits it could bring upon the applicant. It was also binding the presentation of a comparative analysis with medical alternatives, these registered and legalized in Brazil

A notorious case is the one of Gustavo Guedes, who was diagnosed, aged 15 months, with a grave epilepsy disorder known as Dravet Syndrome, in which over sixty per cent of the children assailed by it die before reaching six years. As soon as his mother, Camila, became aware of her infant’s condition, she sought the help of professionals and, aided by her friend, filed for the import permit.
It was then tragic when, after thirty nine days of exhaustive paperwork, Gustavo died only receiving the needed medication for ten days, not enough for the medicine to be fully absorbed by the organism, action that takes over a month. As to contribute to the seriousness of this situation, forty eight hours previous to his decease, government officials adjourned a session that would ease the pharmaceutical’s import. It would not be the first time to happen.
At the time, the bureau stated that the case would not change the way the issue was dealt with. This was an action criticized by former Education Minister and current Republican Senator Cristovam Buarque, who emphasized that Gustavo’s death was a consequence of the absence of Cannabis-derivatives medicinal use regulation, subsequently theorising that, if said drugs were easily bought in a pharmacy, “instead of needing a thousand permits from several organs”, the child would maybe be alive.

Political Extent
Nonetheless, the existence of a law legalizing the use of medicinal plants and herbal therapeutic treatments past 2006 and the blatant dearth of legal adjustment makes room for social stigmas perpetuation and the tabooing of marijuana, in such contexts. The apathy of the Brazilian political class regarding the subject is worrisome and contributes to the endurance of a “taboo cycle”, where politicians overlook the question fearful of society’s disapproval and never stimulate a change of mind in the general public, who, in turn, elect representatives either against or indifferent to the issue.


This vicious behaviour, while carving the current panorama, allows for dire interpretations of the law and often represents moral paradoxes, especially relative to the buying of cannabidiol, once its clandestine importation constitutes international drug trafficking to be condemnable with a twenty-five to life sentence. Luckily, however, authorities have demonstrated fathom in these cases, redirecting them to the competent authorities, rather than taking judiciary precautions.

Recently, the Senate Commission for Human Rights (CDH) proposed a debate about drug regulation and usage, approaching themes concerning both recreational and medicinal modalities and analysing society’s and experts’ opinion to guide a reformulation of current politics. The project started off as a popular suggestion about Cannabis production, commerce and use, in agreement to Brazil’s national policy for popular participation, mostly well-known for the “Ficha Limpa” (Clean Slate, freely translated) campaign, which took action against corruption avoiding convicted politicians from running for office.

Future Unfolding

Considering the fact that CBD’s reclassification served as a revolution in the way marijuana is seen by society, from a plant used in order to some minutes of hallucinations, to be faced as a progress in the pharmaceutical field. According to the Harvard Medical School psychiatrist, Lester Grinspoon, marijuana will be the wonder of our time, like penicillin was in the past.

This great achievement only accelerates other goals to be reached, such as the legalization of THC, the substance responsible for the hallucination of marijuana that acts by binding to endocannabinoid receptors in the brain, causing the user a reduction of anxiety and pain, and is also useful in combating attention deficit disorder, migraines and nausea resulting from chemotherapy. According to a survey published on an american newspaper, Journal of Biological Chemistry, THC has anticancer properties,  it helps in reducing tumors and prevent cancer spread throughout the body

A few days after the reclassification news, the CEO of ANVISA, Jaime Oliveira, was questioned about the regulation  of  other substances in cannabis, citing THC as an example. Oliveira agreed that, without a doubt, the THC situation has to be explored and analyzed, and stressed that it is important to understand that it has a basic difference from the CBD, which is the fact that it is psychotropic. Therefore, the analysis requires a deeper  information depth than the CBD.

We cannot deny that the CBD’s reclassification is a big step for the medical marijuana regulation in Brazil, but we can not let this war end here and let a lack of information deprive Brazilians from using a substance with such a huge therapeutic potential. We must remember that we should not confuse and mix the medical marijuana’s release with the recreational use. These are two indispensable themes and both must be addressed, but each has its time, and the separation of this two marijuana utilities are important to it be released successfully.

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