By Nelson Bocanegra
BOGOTA (Reuters) - Nelly Rodriguez found the answer to her chronic back pain just when she least expected it, in the middle of a coronavirus quarantine that had made her condition worse.
The 70-year-old pensioner's salvation came in the form of Bogota's first medical cannabis clinic, which opened in March and says it has since treated nearly 1,000 patients.
"The situation was awful. I thought it would never end but at some point I decided I had to do something about it," said Rodriguez, whose 30-milliliter bottle of cannabis oil costs about $48 and lasts one month.
"This is the only thing I've found that can treat the pain," she added.
Clinic Zerenia only sells oils containing cannabidiol (CBD) or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or a mix of the two. It is the only clinic selling marijuana products in the country as complex regulations have put the brakes on the industry in Colombia, one of the world's biggest suppliers of illegal substances.
"We get asked if products should be smoked or smeared a lot," Juan Manuel Orjuela, mental health manager for Khiron, the company behind the clinic, told Reuters.
The clinic had to pass 28 regulatory hurdles before opening, including health authorities permissions and implementing a system tracing the products' origins.
"It's not easy because it's innovative," Orjuela said, adding stigmas had to be overcome. "It needs not just legal approval but also cultural validation."
The clinic treats neurological illnesses including epilepsy in children and adults, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain and conditions like anxiety and depression.
Though cannabis treatment does not cure illnesses, it can relieve symptoms with an effectiveness of 60% to 70%, Orjuela said.
Many symptoms have surged due to months of quarantine measures taken to curb coronavirus, he said.
"Rates of anxiety and depression have increased greatly," he said. "We have chronic confinement...we are starting to feel caged in."
(Reporting by Nelson Bocanegra; Writing by Oliver Griffin; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)