Brazil liberalizes access to marijuana derivative

Marijuana, plant leaves seen here, will become an unavoidable policy issue for health watchdogs in coming years, a conference heard Wednesday (AFP Photo/Justin Sullivan)

Brasília (AFP) - Brazil said Wednesday it will remove cannabidiol, a derivative of marijuana with a range of therapeutic benefits, from a list of banned substances in a move saluted by health campaigners.

Last month, Brasilia permitted prescriptions for cannabidiol prescribed by neurologists and psychiatrists while stopping short of making it generally available over the counter.

Health watchdog Anvisa decided to go a step further after ruling there is no evidence the medicine is addictive and after studies showed the substance could help patients suffering from a range of illnesses including epilepsy and alcoholism.

"This is a great victory, a major change for all children suffering from epilepsy," said Valdir Francisco Vaz, whose son was prescribed cannabidiol last year.

He told AFP his son has since had far very few epileptic seizures and that he has seen cognitive benefits.

"His quality of life has been transformed," added Vaz, who had added his support to a recent campaign to have cannabidiol made more widely available -- though it will still require a prescription.

Anvisa chairman Renato Porto stressed the decision did not mean any softening of Brazil's stance on other cannabis derivatives, which remain banned.

Last year, neighboring Uruguay became the first -- and so far only -- country to allow citizens to grow, buy and consume marijuana.

However, leftist Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff says she has a conservative position on drugs and is not planning similar liberalization.