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Nov 27, 2016
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Marijuana is an illegal substance in the Philippines and is part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s intense war on drugs. But, as many medical studies have established, it also helps manage pain for a diverse list of maladies, from rheumatism to cancer. So the debate rages: to legalize for medicinal use or continue to outlaw.

The national agenda

A month and a half into President Rodrigo Duterte’s term, 700,000 drug users and pushers surrendered to the Philippine National Police. This unprecedented voluntary submission was, no doubt, triggered by Duterte’s single-minded war on drugs. Three months after he was proclaimed president, about 1,800 people have been killed in relation to the drug war.

This bloody context puts the issue of medical cannabis use in the Philippines on rather sensitive ground. Cannabis—whether used for medical or recreational purposes—is illegal in the Philippines. It is counted among the dangerous drugs that the government is up in arms against.

'This bloody context puts the issue of medical cannabis use in the Philippines on rather sensitive ground. Cannabis—whether used for medical or recreational purposes—is illegal in the Philippines. It is counted among the dangerous drugs that the government is up in arms against'

 

However, a growing voice is clamoring for a rethinking of the status of medical cannabis, at least in this part of the world. Advocates swear by the medical benefits of cannabis, and pushing for clearer definitions for what should be outlawed. On the other hand, groups against legalizing cannabis for any purpose say all that will do is endanger Filipinos, particularly the youth.

Now, we’re curious. What do these advocates see—particularly the Philippine Compassionate Cannabis Society—that they’re willing to risk getting caught up in the Philippines’ war against drugs? (FHM attempted to reach groups that are against the legalization of medical cannabis in the Philippines. Unfortunately, none had confirmed interviews as we went to press.)

Here’s what we know, so far:

Although there aren’t any official records describing the use of medical cannabis, Filipinos have been “unofficially” using it for years without putting it on the record

As recent as three generations ago, Filipinos in some provinces treated stomachaches by taking cannabis leaves like how your grandmother takes her pito-pito “tea.”

 “Based on reports from Isabela, Samar, Davao, Iloilo, and the Cordilleras, the elders would tell someone who had a stomachache, ‘Pumitas ka lang ng dahon diyan at pakuluan mo,” says Chuck Manansala, founder of Medical Cannabis Research Center in the Philippines.

Studies by independent groups back up this seemingly simplistic and random tummy ache treatment

Institutions such as the University of California Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research, have actually proven that cannabis does ease pain and inflammation. These studies say that medical cannabis is especially effective in cases that are caused by inflammation: cancer, the growth of tumors, chronic problems in the nervous system, rheumatism, etc.

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The Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002 (RA 9165), which former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed into law in January 2002, started the medical cannabis regulation ball rolling. Except there was no specific mention of cannabis.

RA 9165’s Section 2 promises that, “the government shall…aim to achieve a balance in the national drug control program so that people with legitimate medical needs are not prevented from being treated with adequate amounts of appropriate medications, which include the use of dangerous drugs.”

Encouraged by President Duterte’s openness to the use of medical cannabis, and to clarify vague issues in the existing drug laws, Isabela Representative Rodolfo D. Albano III has refiled the Philippine Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act (or House Bill 180) in the 17th Congress

“An act providing compassionate and right of access to medical cannabis and expanding research into its medicinal properties,” begins this house bill.

Manansala simplifies it for us: “Whatever [systems] exist for morphine will be applicable for medical cannabis under this bill…It intends to create a controlled environment where planting [cannabis] is [done] under a controlled environment with high security to prevent pilferage, theft, diversion of the plant.”

The bill also plans to create an ID system where patients in need of medical cannabis are given their choice of treatment in a safe and affordable setting.

House Bill 180 goes on to explain: “Its objective is for the patient to have access to safe, affordable, available medical cannabis prescribed by a registered physician in cases where cannabis has been found to be effective in prevention, treatment, and management of specified symptoms, illnesses, and diseases.”

'Its objective is for the patient to have access to safe, affordable, available medical cannabis prescribed by a registered physician in cases where cannabis has been found to be effective in prevention, treatment, and management of specified symptoms, illnesses, and diseases'

House Bill 180 goes on to explain: “Its objective is for the patient to have access to safe, affordable, available medical cannabis prescribed by a registered physician in cases where cannabis has been found to be effective in prevention, treatment, and management of specified symptoms, illnesses, and diseases.” 

Medical cannabis doesn’t come in the form of joints

Much as many would like to assume, giant pot sessions aren’t how medical cannabis is administered. Instead, it comes in the form of oil, capsules, suppositories, in a form that can easily be vaporized, and in a concentrated form that is usually used for epileptic patients.

The side effects of cannabis, according to research, are so mild that a nap can supposedly take them away

“The worst that can happen to you [if you use cannabis], according to research, would be nausea, dizziness, and paranoia—or the fear of being caught,” says Manansala. “Sleep it off and it’s gone when you wake up. Hindi nakamamatay ang paggamit ng cannabis on its own. Now, if you smoke [weed] and drive, that’s a different story. If you smoke [weed] then drink alcohol, that’s a different story.”

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'The worst that can happen to you [if you use cannabis], according to research, would be nausea, dizziness, and paranoia—or the fear of being caught'

Our body actually has its own natural supply of cannabinoids—the compounds found in cannabis that bring that high

Studies done by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse have found that our body has its own endocannabinoid system. What this system does is it creates homeostasis, or a state of balance. “Cannabinoids can calm down an overactive immune system, and strengthen it if it is weak,” says Manansala.

The war on drugs: futile or effective?

Amid domestic and international humanitarian calls to stop the wave of killing, President Duterte stands firm on his campaign promise: to wipe out drug users and pushers one way or another.

Is it working, though? You be the judge.

Yes, it is.

According to a report done by Philippine National Police (PNP) OIC Public Information Officer Police Senior Supt. Dionardo Carlos, July 2016 saw a 9.8 percent drop in crime volume (with 50,817 recorded crimes) compared to the period of July 2015 (with 56,339 recorded crimes). In an interview with Radyo ng Bayan in early August, Presidential Communications Office Secretary Martin Andanar attributed this drop to Duterte’s tough stance against drugs: “Ito ay isang pagbabagong nararamdaman ng Pilipino saan man silang sulok ng bansa hanggang sa pinakaliblib na barangay kung saan may droga at krimen.”

No, it isn’t.

Richard Branson, member of the Global Commission on Drugs Policy, and also an entrepreneur, believes decriminalizing drug use—not punishing it—is the solution. In a debate with Ian Blair, retired Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, Branson said, “We examined the war on drugs over the last 40 years and came to the conclusion it has failed.” Case in point: Portugal did not legalize drug use, but decriminalized it instead, getting the health department to help regulate. The government used the money they saved from supporting prisoners for, instead, rehabilitating the users. And, “Portugal has seen a big reduction in heroin use, and in drug-related break-ins…” says Branson.

 

This story first appeared in the September 2016 issue of FHM Philippines.

Some edits were made by the FHM.com.ph editors.

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