The Ancient Origins Of Medicinal Cannabis
Believe it or not but the first human contact with cannabis likely happened about 12,000 years ago in Central Asia. It was the Neolithic Period. A massively important shift in human culture and survival. It was the beginning of farming. Sustainable agriculture, which basically means growing crops, is an invention of modern human civilization, dating back only 10,000 years.
One Of The Most Versatile Plants
Every part of the cannabis plant has been used by humans. Stems and stalks provided fiber for cloth, rope, paper, cords or building material. The roots, leaves, and flowers were used medicinally and spiritually. The seeds, as food, provided essential fatty acids and proteins. The cannabis plant is capable of growing almost anywhere. It is one of the world's oldest cultivated crops.
The Mythic Chinese Figure
Shen Nung was known for documenting his experiments with cannabis and hundreds of other medicinal herbs. Became popular as the father of Chinese Medicine. In fact, we believe that his work survived through the millennia and was included in the Chinese pharmacopeia, an official publication containing a list of medicinal drugs. It is called Pen Ts'ao Ching. These writings advised hemp tincture or oils for a number of ailments.
Interesting Fact 1: In the 2nd century CE, cannabis was being mixed with wine to make a preparation called ma-fei-san and was used as an anesthetic (analgesic drug or pain killer) for surgery.
Cannabis Travels The World
By 2,000 BCE, cannabis had traveled to India. The Buddhist and Hindu religions used it to treat disorders like dysentery (severe diarrhea) and fever. By 1,500 BCE, cannabis had spread to Persia, Greece, Germany, and France. It is believed that cannabis cultivation in Europe started around 800 BCE. Russia was one of the early adopters due to their colder climates.
Cannabis During The Renaissance
As a primary ingredient in paper, cannabis took on a new importance during the Renaissance. The introduction of Gutenberg's printing press started an intellectual revolution. Renaissance means as much as "re-born". Interesting to say that European cannabis was very low in THC, the psychoactive compound, it was still used as medicine. It was praised in many famous botanical and herbal books. The authors described how cannabis seeds, roots, or whole plants were used to treat coughs, flatulence (accumulation of gas in the stomach), jaundice (yellowing of the skin), colic (abdominal pain), gout (a form of arthritis), joint pain, parasites, and general inflammation.
Cannabis In The New World
Venice, Italy was one of the first places of massive hemp trade. It was used to make the finest ropes and sails. Cannabis was introduced to North America via Nova Scotia in 1606 by the French botanist and apothecary Louis Hebert. Who later became Canada's first apothecary. The first British colony was established in Jamestown, Virginia. It was required to grow hemp to help their government back home and reduce their reliance on Russian hemp.
Interesting Fact 2: By 1611, King James had made cultivation mandatory, despite the fact that colonists preferred to grow food and tobacco, which fetched higher prices. In 1619, it was demanded that every colony household grow 100 plants.
The Revolutionary War
In 1775, the American colonies had become proficient in spinning and textile making and no longer relied on their colonial powers to sell these products back to them. They began selling their products to France, a major trade rival and military rival of Britain. The profits were used to buy weapons. Thomas Jefferson grew hemp. George Washington grew hemp on all five of his farms at Mount Vernon and Virginia.
Interesting Fact 3: In 1682, farmers were allowed to pay off debt with hemp, and in 1735, Massachusetts residents were allowed to pay their taxes in hemp.
First Cannabis Tinctures
In 1842, the British pharmacist Peter Squire used high-proof alcohol to make a tincture. He patented his cannabis tincture as an analgesic (pain reliever) called Squire's Extract. It was sold throughout Europe and America. Doctors all over the world were eager to have a painkiller to replace opium. With time, some well-known companies like Eli Lilly, Parke-Davis, and Bayer produced tinctures that contained cannabis. They were considered safe and effective for conditions of nausea, delirium (severe fever), epilepsy, migraines, and painful spasms. Most of the tinctures contained equal parts of THC and CBD.
Extractum Cabbanis In The US Pharmacopeia
From 1851 through 1941, Extractum Cannabis was listed in the US Pharmacopeia. Its purpose was to identify and standardize the drugs that are in medical use. Today Pharmacopeia stands as a written physical reference for standards in medicine, food ingredients, dietary supplement products, and ingredients.
Cannabis Doctor To The Queen
Sir John Russel Reynolds was a famous doctor in Victorian Era England. He served as a doctor to Queen Victoria. In 1890, he published a paper called " On the Therapeutic and Toxic Effects of Cannabis Indica.". He was aware of the unpredictable strength of various tinctures (high in THC) and recommended that people begin with small doses to gauge the strength.
Interesting Fact 4: It Is rumored he prescribed Queen Victoria cannabis tincture as a painkiller for menstrual cramps.
Cannabis In The Post-Prohibition Era
The early 20th century was not cannabis or hemp friendly. It provided the perfect storm for cannabis prohibition. When the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed in 1906, sticker labeling requirements meant people began seeing cannabis listed alongside opium and cocaine. Cannabis began to be associated with narcotics.
The Mexican Revolution
When the Mexican Revolution began in 1910, Mexicans fleeing the war brought with them rolled cannabis leaves and flowers. They called it marijuana. Soon businesses in Texas and New Mexico were importing cannabis, and it was available in grocery stores. The use of it? Mostly used among workers to unwind and relax, allowing them to wake up in the morning without a hangover.
The End Of Alcohol Prohibition
In the 1930s when the prohibition of alcohol ended The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) was founded. Harry J. Anslinger was appointed as the director. He had an impressive track record of stopping alcohol and drug smugglers overseas. Due to the fact that alcohol was again legalized, Anslinger needed a target to keep the FBN staff working. His mission became to rid the US of all drugs, including cannabis.
Anslinger took advantage of the racist rumblings around cannabis that had been surfacing in the media during the 1930s. He circulated pamphlets and articles about the danger of smoking cannabis. He published the famous article titled "Marihuana: Assassin of Youth". Even movies on that subject were filmed. In 1937, Congress enacted the Marihuana Tax Act, which effectively made it impossible to possess cannabis for recreational use. Violation of the act resulted in a fine of up to $2,000 and/or imprisonment for up to five years.
The Jazz Era And Cannabis
Jazz music grew in popularity. Milton "Mezz" Mezzrow first came across cannabis in a club in Indiana in 1924. He brought it with him when he moved to Harlem in the 1930s. There, he became famous for selling cannabis to many of the most famous jazz musicians. Louis Armstrong is reported to be one of his biggest customers.
Interesting Fact 5: Armstrong even wrote a song about cannabis called "Muggles", a slang term for cannabis at the time.
Cannabis And The Hippies
In the 1950s, artists, and writers like Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, or William S. Burroughs, became infamous for their cannabis use. At the same time, public opinion on cannabis had softened.
"Peace and Love, Man"
Protesting the Vietnam War helped to spread the "peace and love" feeling as the returning soldiers sought out cannabis, which was widely available overseas.
Music and art continued to openly talk about cannabis. Artists like John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, and David Bowie were involved. Iconic events like Woodstock came along.
The Grandfather of Cannabis Science
In 1964, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, along with his colleague Yehiel Gaoni, first identified and then synthesized tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). A major step forward in cannabis medicine. During this time, we developed a fairly good understanding of what THC was. Its pharmacology, biochemistry, and clinical effects. However, we still didn't understand how it worked in the brain at the molecular level to stimulate appetite, relieve pain, or alter consciousness.
In a government-funded study done through the St. Louis University School of Medicine in 1988, scientists Allyn Howlett and William Devane first identified that the brain had specialized receptors for cannabinoids. It turned out that the brain contained more of these receptors than any other. Researchers were able to map where these receptors were. They discovered that they are mostly concentrated in the areas responsible for mental and physical processes:
- The Hippocampus (Memory)
- Cerebral Cortex (Higher Cognition)
- Cerebellum (Motor Coordination)
- Basal Ganglia (Movement)
- Hypothalamus (Appetite)
- Amygdala (Emotions)
The Lock And Key Concept
In 1990, Lisa Matsuda and her colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIHM) announced they had cloned the THC receptor called "CB1 receptor". It was crucial because it meant that researchers could begin sculpting "keys" to turn the receptors "locks". In 1993, a second cannabinoid receptor, called the CB2 receptor, was discovered and cloned. This receptor is primarily found in the immune system and peripheral nervous system. CB2 receptors are also present in the:
- Blood Vessels
- Lymph Cells
- Endocrine Glands
- Reproductive Organs
The Discovery Of The Endocannabinoid System
The next major discovery in cannabis would come from Dr. Mechoulam, in collaboration with the NIMH, who discovered that our bodies produce their own cannabis-like compound that binds to the same CB1 receptors as THC:
Our bodies produce compounds similar to THC or CBD. The network of the receptors was named the Endocannabinoid System after the plant that led to its discovery. This system is likely to have started developing in life on Earth 600 million years ago. It is present in:
It serves a very crucial and basic function in animal physiology - maintaining homeostasis.
Many states in the US begin to legalize even the psychoactive cannabinoid - THC. Cannabidiol which proves to have almost identical properties - without the "high" - is now legal in every state. Research and studies show that cannabis can help with:
- Sleep Disorders
- Hormonal Imbalance
- and much more...