Sixteen-year-old Musa Pedersen was diagnosed with cerebral palsy — a lifelong condition that affects movement and coordination — 40 days after his birth. He began using medical cannabis, but has been denied access to the plant because it is illegal in Indonesia.
He currently lives with his mother Dwi Pertiwi in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
Musa Pedersen consumed medical cannabis for the first time in 2015, when he was 11 years old. “It got better when I gave [him] cannabis extract,” Pertiwi said of Pedersen’s symptoms.
Pertiwi explained that she first heard of the potential benefits of medical cannabis from the CNN documentary, Weed, with Sunjay Gupta. It’s not the same old children’s bedtime story, but rather it is a story of a young girl, Charlotte Figi, who used cannabis to treat seizures caused by Dravet Syndrome, a form of epilepsy.
“Charlotte’s seizure frequency [dropped] from nearly 50 convulsive seizures per day to now two to three nocturnal convulsions per month,” described Edward Maa, Chief of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Program at Denver Health and Hospitals.
The CBD oil treatment became so successful that Figi was eventually stirred off of her other anti-seizure medications, Cerebral Palsy Guidance reported.
The Risk of Seeking Medical Cannabis
Since medical cannabis is illegal in Indonesia, it became too risky for Pertiwi to find the medicine for her son. She has since stopped looking.
Pertiwi explained that it became riskier following the case of Fidelis Arie Sudewarto in 2017; the Indonesian man who was fined 1 billion Rupiah ($75,000) and sentenced to jail for eight months for his attempts to save his wife’s life by growing medical cannabis, Tempo reported.
His wife died 32 days after Sudewarto was taken under police custody, Tempo further reported.
Pertiwi was so fearful that when Sudewarto’s case arose, Pertiwi and her son flew to Australia for two months in hopes of easier access to medical cannabis.
“The complication is that cannabis is just illegal. That’s it. From the root to the leaves, it’s all illegal [in Indonesia],” Petrtiwi explained.
The Improvements Pertiwi saw From her son
“The way I see it, after my son used the extract, it really improved his quality of life,” she said. Pertiwi noticed that her son’s seizures significantly reduced to the point where he no longer needed anti-seizure medication.
A literature review conducted by the peer review journal, Cureus, indicated that when cannabis is used as a treatment for seizures, it’s proven to have “more efficacious with less side effect profile.”
Cureus reviewed and compared numerous studies where CBD was used to treat seizures. Researchers found that in nearly all cases, CBD was the most effective treatment in reducing seizures.
Moreover, Pertiwi also noticed that apart from controlling her son’s seizures, the extract also made Pedersen’s lungs better, as it reduced the slime in his lungs which made coughing easier.
When Pedersen consumed medical cannabis, Pertiwi said her son experienced no side effects, only that “he gets fat,” Pertiwi jokes. “The side effect is, the mother finds it difficult to carry him.”
“There is no Support”
Pertiwi supports legalization movements like the Indonesian Cannabis Circle whose members are advocating for its use at the Supreme Court. She wants to know why the Indonesian government does not legalize medical cannabis.
Just last year, Indonesia’s neighbor, Thailand, announced its legalization of medical cannabis in 2019, Cannabis Catalyst reports. Thailand became the first country in Southeast Asia to legalize medical use of the plant.
Malaysia — also Indonesia’s neighbor — followed, legalizing medical cannabis research in the same year, Malay Mail reported.
“Why aren’t we doing the same thing? What’s behind it?” Pertiwi asked.
“The government in this country just doesn’t care,” she added. “The case of Fidelis [Sudewarto], which clearly shows that his wife had shown tremendous improvement with medical cannabis — he was still put in prison.”
“Life is nothing for the government,” she said. “That is how ignorant our government is. Why is our right to live and survive thrown away? My child has the right to survive, why is it eliminated?”
Pertiwi said that families with special needs children are by themselves in Indonesia. “We fight alone,” she explained. “Most of the children end up dead. There are no means to help the children [from the government].”
“I see right before my eyes the government killing my son slowly. There is no support,” she gasped.
When consuming medical cannabis, Peritiwi explained that her son can start moving his head again.
Since 2017, Musa Pedersen has gone back on prescription anti-seizure medication due to the lack of access to cannabis. Pertiwi described that her son has suffered more severely than he did before using medical cannabis.
“There is actually something out there to help him, but it’s illegal. This is what makes me angry. This is what makes me disappointed,” she said.
Human Rights Activists in Action as they Defend Sixteen-year-old Pedersen
Erasmus Napitupulu, the executive director of The Institute for Criminal Justice Reform in Indonesia (ICJR), shares Pertiwi’s disappointment.
“ICJR started narcotics legal research in 2009, and in 2013, ICJR came to the conclusion that one of the worst and most dangerous criminal policies is in the narcotics sector,” Napitupulu said.
“In Indonesia there are many poor criminal law sectors: terrorism, narcotics, sexual violence, the issue of corruption […],” he explained. But, “narcotics is one of the worst laws […] When you ask me what is the most problematic law in Indonesia, it is narcotics law.”
Napitupulu described that the country’s narcotics laws are human rights issues.
This is because in 2009 the Indonesian Narcotics Agency established the Narcotics Law No. 35/2009, which classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance — meaning that it is highly restricted for all uses, including research. Users, growers and sellers of cannabis — no matter how big or small the quantity is — could face severe punishment. This includes a fine of up to Rp 10 billion (roughly $700,000 USD), life imprisonment or even the death penalty.
“We found a very basic problem; […] that narcotics in Schedule 1 cannot be used for health and medical reasons,” he indicated.
According to Napitupulu, in 2009, the Indonesian government based the narcotics scheduling system on the United Nation’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961. The convention put the list of the most dangerous drugs in Schedule 4. Indonesia however, put and arranged its own list of the most dangerous drugs — including cannabis — in Schedule 1 of the Narcotics Law No. 35/2009.
The twist: the 1961 Convention has no absolute prohibition in narcotics — unlike what Indonesia has with the drugs in Schedule 1. Which means that regardless of which schedule the drugs belong to, the convention does not prohibit any drugs to be used for medical reasons.
And so, the ICJR aims to make all narcotic substances legal for medical use, including cannabis.
“The Indonesian Narcotics Agency stupidly said moments ago, “THC causes dependency, on the other hand, CBD is for medical treatment,”” Napitupulu said, irritated. “They even admitted that there was the substance in cannabis which could be used for medicinal purposes.”
“The logic did not come to them,” he said.
“If we play on academic journals [on medical cannabis], we will definitely win — but the government doesn’t want to accept it,” he explained.
Soon — though no date is confirmed — Pertiwi, her son, the ICJR, accompanied by human rights activists and organizations will go to the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Indonesia for a hearing as they fight to legalize medical cannabis in Indonesia.
“We’ll bring Musa [Pedersen] and let the Constitutional Court judge see — this is the child who was against the Indonesian law. The call is yours,” Napitupulu said.
On 26 December 2020, Emerald was made aware that Musa Pedersen passed away. He was 16.
Written By: J. Laura Arman