Graciela Elizalde suffers from Lennox-Gastaut syndrome
Monterrey (Mexico) (AFP) - Grace can finally sleep through the night without being awakened by one of her epileptic crises since the eight-year-old Mexican girl started taking cannabis-based medicine a month ago.
Her parents have seen a marked improvement in their daughter's conditions since she became the first person authorized to take medicinal marijuana in October.
"Her reaction has been very good. Since she took the medicine, we noticed that she could sleep all night," her father, Raul Elizalde, said from the family's home in an upper-class neighborhood of the northern industrial hub of Monterrey.
"Her nocturnal epileptic crises have practically disappeared and she's sleeping very well. This was the main change that we saw," he said, as his wife fed Grace, who sat in a baby high chair, and her younger sister, Valentina in their living room.
Grace has become a symbol for those battling to break Mexico's prohibitionist laws against marijuana in a country that has endured a decade of drug cartel violence.
The girl's parents secured an exception to Mexico's laws after they won a court battle in August, forcing health authorities to grant them the right to obtain cannabidiol (CBD), a therapeutic oil.
It was a first victory for those advocating for legalization.
The Supreme Court issued a historic ruling on November 4 that opened the door to the legalization of marijuana by authorizing four people to grow and consume cannabis for their personal, recreational use.
Days later, Senator Cristina Diaz, a member of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), introduced a measure that would allow imports and consumption of medical marijuana, saying it would benefit 5,000 Mexicans.
While President Enrique Pena Nieto has reiterated his opposition to legalization, he suggested that his government could change its mind depending on the outcome of a debate of experts in the coming months.
Other countries in the region are moving faster. More than 20 US states authorize medical marijuana while Colombia said last week that it would do the same.
Chile's Congress is debating whether to legalize the drug while Uruguay has done so already.
Opinion polls show that a majority of Mexicans oppose legalization, though a survey by El Universal newspaper this month showed that 79 percent back the drug's use for medicinal purposes.
The national discussion has raised hopes among people like Grace's parents, who believe that medical marijuana can improve the quality of life of patients after other traditional medicine has failed.
- Tastes like chocolate -
Grace has Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, which caused her to have as many as 400 epileptic fits per day. She moves in a wheelchair and her parents feed her.
On a recent day, her mother, Mayela Benavides, squeezed the chocolate and mint flavored oil into Grace's mouth as her daughter sat in her baby chair.
"We tried other medicine which tasted terrible. The good thing about CBD is that it tastes good," said Benavides, an engineer.
The medicine is not a cure, but the goal is to reduce the number and intensity of seizures that Grace endures. The drug costs $250 for 100 milliliters, a small fortune for Mexico but which her parents can afford.
She still experiences seizures. As she sat in her high chair, Grace suddenly started shaking, closed her big brown eyes and tightly squeezed her mother's hand for a couple of minutes. Her body finally relaxed and Mayela wiped her mouth.
"She just had one of her crises. But the crises that she's had in the mornings all her life are changing. They're less intense and less frequent. We're on the right path," Mayela said, writing the hour and duration of the latest seizure.
- Vote this year? -
Doctors told the parents that it would take two months for changes to be really noticeable and that her dose could be increased.
Senator Diaz, who is also from Monterrey, said she hoped that her bill will be approved before the end of the year. Colleagues from other parties are backing it, she said.
"We are only talking about imports of medicine, not eliminating the ban on making them in the national territory. But it's a first step," Diaz told AFP.
"For children like Grace and many other people, improving their quality of life is urgent."