How to access medical marijuana in PH

Posted at 10/07/13 4:47 PM

Just ask Dangerous Drugs Board for an exemption, says DOH's Tayag

MANILA - Myca and Jun Yutuc did not know that they could legally access medical marijuana, the drug they could have used to save the life of their child, Moon Jaden Lugtu-Yutuc, in the Philippines.

Moon Jaden suffered from a rare form of epilepsy.

Their doctors, perhaps, did not know too.

“We talked to the neurologist of our child, the doctor just laughed at us and said [the drug was illegal. [He] said we should not believe in everything we hear,” Myca told ABS-CBN News’ Punto por Punto.

Jun said a similar advice came from Moon Jaden’s doctor at the intensive care unit when their daughter was still fighting for her life. “She got to the ICU on August 18 [2013]. By August 21, we were already telling the doctors we wanted to use marijuana. They told us it was not possible because there were not enough studies to support its use.”

Weeks after, the doctors realized Moon Jaden could no longer handle the spasms. Jun said the doctors already urged them to bring Moon Jaden home and use alternative means, such as marijuana.

After reading various studies and watching videos about medical marijuana, Jun set out to look for suppliers – underground.

“We were supposed to implement the process, but the suppliers could not give it to us because of the typhoon that ruined the marijuana in August,” Jun said.

The earliest the suppliers could give them was December. On September 19, however, Moon Jaden passed away.

Legal, illegal

In the same show, Assistant Health Secretary Eric Tayag said Moon Jaden’s parents could have accessed marijuana even without going underground.
He said marijuana remains illegal in the country by virtue of the Dangerous Drugs Act.

A quick look into the law provides, in section 11, that “the penalty of life imprisonment to death and a fine ranging from P500,000 to P10 million shall be imposed upon any person, who, unless authorized by law, shall possess any dangerous drug…”

Tayag explained, however, that they could have sought the Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) for a certificate of exemption.

“There are just regulations that need to be followed, such as a prescription via the yellow form.” The yellow prescription form is used to purchase dangerous drugs for medical purposes.

He called this “compassionate use.”

Section 2 of the law also provides that the “government shall, however, 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.”

Tayag, however, warned those who may use the provision in dealing with drugs. “Even if you have medical reasons, if you don’t have the papers, you are liable under the law. So do not go underground.”

No instructions?

Asked if doctors know this, Tayag said he has no idea.

In an interview with ABS-CBNnews.com, however, former Philippine Medical Association President Oscar Tinio said there's not even one instruction from the Department of Health nor from the Dangerous Drugs Board nor any other government agency regarding the matter.

“As far as I know, marijuana has not gained nor is an accepted treatment modality in any form or illness in our country. I have yet to receive any instructions, guidelines or policies from the DOH, Food and Drug Administration, and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency on the use of marijuana as a treatment modality,” he said.

In a separate text message, current PMA chief Leo Olarte said: “Medical marijuana is not legal under the law. The Dangerous Drugs Board cannot grant exemption.”

Tinio said he asked pharmacists about it and they too have not received any information on the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Would he prescribe marijuana to patients? Tinio said he would not at this time because there is not enough evidence to support its success in patients.

But is he open to such causes? He agreed, as long as “it’s noble and would help alleviate the sickness and sufferings of patients.”

The debate

The marijuana debate is not actually new. Doctors abroad have been debating the success rate of marijuana, also known as cannabis and Indian hemp.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, presented an exhaustive report about marijuana’s medical uses.

On CNN.com, he apologized for not accepting the use of marijuana. “I apologize because I didn't look hard enough, until now. I didn't look far enough. I didn't review papers from smaller labs in other countries doing some remarkable research, and I was too dismissive of the loud chorus of legitimate patients whose symptoms improved on cannabis.”

In his documentary, Gupta saw the uses of marijuana in epilepsy and cancer cures. It has also been used for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, lymphoma and diabetes.

There was also wide media coverage of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s decision on whether to allow sick children greater access to medical marijuana.

After being confronted by a father whose sick child needed marijuana, Christie finally made the decision days after.

He agreed to sign the bill nicknamed “Pot for tots” as long as there will be limitations such as the need for at least two doctors’ approval.

In the Philippines, the impasse may yet be answered in a broader forum between the DOH and the doctors.

Meantime, the Yutuc couple is now advocating the wider use of medical marijuana. “Mababalewala ang pagkamatay ng anak ko kung hindi namin ito ipaglalaban," they said.