Cannabis - the short history

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Medical properties of cannabis has been known for many centuries. Its history reaches as far as 2800BC. The use of them originated from Asia or Eastern China. The first known documented case of use was listed in  Emperor Shen Nung's (regarded as the father of Chinese medicine) pharmacopoeia. This text reported cannabis to treat many different health problems, such as:

  • Arthritis
  • Depression
  • Amenorrhea
  • Inflammation
  • Pain
  • lack of appetite
  • Asthma

Therapeutic properties of cannabis were also reported by ancient Greeks, Romans, Assyrians and Indian Hindus. 

Modern use of cannabis

First person to introduce cannabis to western world was William Brooke O’Shaughnessy around 1841,  after he spent time in India. He wrote of many therapeutic uses of the plant, including one case, where it stopped convulsions in a child. O’Shaughnessy first presented his research to a group of students and scholars at the Medical and Physical Society of Calcutta in 1839. His presentation featured case studies of patients suffering from ailments such as: Cholera, rheumatism, hydrophobia, tetanus, rabies and a 40 day old baby with convulsions. Cannabinol was first isolated by Dunstan and Henry in 1898.

Even if hemp has been cultivated and used in many different forms by humanity for a very, very long time, we didn’t truly understand it’s properties until the last 100 years or so. With the advancement of both biology and organic chemistry, we’re now in a much better position to break down the molecular make-up of the cannabis plant, including CBD.

CBD, an abbreviation of cannabidiol, was first discovered in 1940 by Roger Adams. He isolated both CBD and another cannabinoid called CBN (cannabinol) from the hemp plant, and hypothesised about the existence of the psychoactive chemical THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). It wasn’t until 1964 that THC was isolated by Raphael Mechoulam—one of the leading names in cannabis science!

It was through Mechoulam’s work that the stereochemistry (the 3-D molecular form) and properties of both CBD and THC were identified. What’s fascinating is that given how THC is often associated with the high you get from ingesting cannabis, CBD was identified beforehand! Clearly, CBD has always been a very important molecule.

The future of cannabis

Cannabis were widely used for medical purposes until early XX century, when prohibition started to be enforced. Use of cannabis was prohibited by most of the countries until recently. Modern research shows many potential benefits from consuming cannabinoids, and in recent years, more governments are legalising the use of varieties with low THC content. While more research is needed, we can finally legally appreciate the power of the plant in many forms, like CBD oils and ready to smoke pre-rolls.

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