The group met at a Waldo's convenience store in Mexico City early one Sunday morning, following the instructions given over encrypted messages weeks before. When they were picked up by a vehicle, as arranged, they had no idea where they were going next.
Eventually they arrived at house in the southern barrio of Xochimilco furnished with little more than white plastic chairs and a projector. In the kitchen they found a blender, a whisk, pots, gloves, towels, paper napkins, peroxide, and oils.
This was what they had come for — to learn how to make marijuana-based treatments for cancer and epilepsy.
'Marijuana is not the devil, but it doesn't do miracles either," said their teacher, a tall young man with a foreign accent who asked to be called Matías, which is not his real name. "That's why we must understand it also has risks. You have to get to know it."
Matías then handed out different varieties of marijuana among the group of ten young people who had found their way to the clandestine workshop in the hope of finding ways of helping relatives deal with illness and pain.
The production and possession of of more than five grams of marijuana is illegal in Mexico, though the winds of change are blowing, particularly when it comes to medical uses of the drug.
President Enrique Peña Nieto announced before the UN special session of the General Assembly on drug policy this week that his government will now support legalizing marijuana for medical and scientific purposes, though he has yet to provide details of what kind of market he is thinking about.
Last year the supreme court handed down a decision that allowed the family of a girl called Grace to import a medication made from CBD — one of the main cannabinoids found within marijuana alongside THC — in an effort to calm her severe and constant epileptic seizures.
The people at the Xochimilco workshop, however, were not prepared to wait for Mexico's torturous legislative process to actually approve the necessary laws and the regulations necessary to turn theoretical political support into everyday practice.
"Chemotherapy is very aggressive, and marijuana is helping my mother cope with the effects," one young woman said. "She has recovered the will to eat, it helps her to sleep, and to handle the nausea."
During the eight-hour session in Xochimilco, which took place at the end of last year, the group talked about the hope they drew from Grace's case. After six months of treatment with CBD her family now says the number of daily seizures she suffers has gone from 400 to 20. They also talked about the case of Rick Simpson, a Canadian activist who claims he got rid of his cancer thanks to a hash oil he created.
When Matías and his fellow workshop leader Marina (who also wanted to use a false name) insisted that drug prohibition had stunted the development of medical knowledge on the benefits of cannabis, their audience nodded.
At other times it was all about the kitchen — half cooking class, and half chemistry lesson. "The capsules can be made with organic coconut oil or olive oil a bain-marie at 100ºF," Matías said as he placed a container inside a pot on the stove top filled with water.
Matías and Marina said they learned their skills from spending time at a marijuana farm in California, where the medical use of the drug has been legal since 1996. There they learned how to extract the kief, the resin glands containing THC. They also learned how to obtain hash, and how to make marijuana-based solutions, and edible treatments.
They too had personal stories to tell.
"My father couldn't even get out of bed. With this treatment he is able to leave the house," Marina said of her father who has a brain tumor. "Now he's in a good mood. He's trippy all day, but that doesn't stop him from having a normal life."
Marina says she gives him a capsule every day that could pass as regular medication, but that contains THC. She is also certain that the cannabinoids are slowly curbing the tumor's growth. She even expects to prove it soon with a tomography.
As the session neared its end the focus turned to a sample of butane hash oil, the controversial waxy concentrate made by using butane to extract THC from the plant. There were also cannabis drops, ointments, and lubricants. Some people tried the samples. Others bought them.
Once the workshop was over, the attendees exchanged phone numbers and headed home where, they said, they would be preparing the medication for their relatives.
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