The History of Medical Marijuana

Marijuana has its histories deep in traditional medicine, with the first use dating back more than 10,000 years. Its use in Western medicine became widespread only in the 20th century.

Medical patents for Marijuana in the U.S. are traced back to the beginning of the 20th century, declining slightly with the introduction of IV treatments for pain. They have been revived in the late 20th century by decimalization and as a preference over more harmful pharmaceuticals.

While medical marijuana to some may be interpreted as an excuse for recreational use, the many patients it has potential to help outweigh the few drawbacks, and history proves this.

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Hemp as an Agricultural Plant

In Neolithic times, around 10,0000 BC, the hemp plant was harvested for its agricultural value. It grew as they say, like a weed, hence the colloquial name, “weed.” Along with hardy growing properties, hemp had great strength for rope and clothing and was a good source of oil and protein.

Hemp is a variety of the marijuana plant that doesn’t have mind-altering effects found in other strains. It was a natural progression for people to discover there were other forms of the plant that had the potential for medicinal use.

A Neolithic grave in the Netherlands is one of the earliest examples of cannabis use for medicinal purposes, where a large amount of hemp and meadowsweet was found buried with an individual, believed to be very sick.

In the 5th century BC, Greek writer Herodotus mentioned the use of cannabis in steam baths in the Middle East for its health benefits.

Beginning in Asia

The earliest documented medicinal use of cannabis dates to around 2500 BC. Emperor Shen Neng is recorded to have treated a variety of illnesses such as gout, malaria, and rheumatism with a cannabis tea.

In 100 AD, Shennong Bencaojing (Shennong’s Materia Medica Classic) the oldest Chinese pharmacopeia, describes dama (cannabis) as a herb with many medicinal purposes from anesthetic to malaria.

The use of cannabis in Chinese medicine continued to evolve, and today it is one of the 50 fundamental herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Use in India

Around 1500-2000 BC the Hindu Vedas (scriptures) refer to medical marijuana as a source of healing. The Atharvaveda, the fourth book of the Vedas, refer to marijuana as “bhang,” a herb that releases one from anxiety. The herb is still used widely in India and considered medicinal and holy in many Indian cultures.

Ancient Egyptian and Middle East Use

At the same time (approximately 1500 BC) the Ebers Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian medical text touts marijuana as an effective anti-inflammatory herb.

Marijuana was extensively used in the middle ages in the Arabic continent for its anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and analgesic properties.

Introduction to the Americas

In the 1700s, the Spanish introduced marijuana to the Americas. While marijuana was introduced to South America, hemp was introduced to North America. It’s believed the transition of marijuana from South America to North America came with the Mexican border crossers, most likely bringing with it the name marijuana.

Late 18th Century

Early editions of medical journals in the West included the use of Marijuana for medical complaints such as rheumatism and muscle spasms. It was a very popular pain relief before anesthetic and morphine-based drugs and even used during childbirth.

In 1850 marijuana was introduced into the U.S. pharmacopeia for treatment of many diseases.
In the mid-1800s William Brooke O’Shaughnessy, a respected medical doctor stationed in Calcutta popularized the medical use of marijuana in England by publishing a paper on the medicinal properties for treatment of pain and muscle spasms.

Early 1900 Medical use in the U.S.

In the early 1900s many patents were developed in the U.S. for pharmaceuticals, which included marijuana as a component. At this time there were around 2,000 medicines produced in the U.S. with cannabis as a component.

In 1906 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was established as a response to widespread heroin and morphine addiction, marijuana was included as one of the substances regulated by the administration. Bolstered by prohibitionist sentiment, beginning in 1911 with Massachusetts, state laws began being passed banning the use of marijuana.

Medical use of marijuana declined slightly at this time because of the unpopular view of the drug, and with the introduction of IV drugs and aspirin.

A combination of the view of marijuana as a recreational and illegal drug and the decline of medicinal use meant the medicinal uses would be overlooked for some time.

Cannabis prohibition has always been a global discussion. In 1925 marijuana was restricted to medicinal use only by the League of Nations. Despite opposition from the American Medical Association, use of marijuana was strictly outlawed in 23 states by 1937, and at this time the federal government made non-medicinal use illegal, combined with a federal tax for use that made it commercially impractical.

In 1970 Marijuana use was completely outlawed in the U.S., even for medicinal use. This ban would last until 1996, however medical marijuana was still permitted in many other countries.

Canasol: Lockhart and West receive the Jamaican Order of Merit

In the 1960s, research into detecting intoxication led to a discovery that the drug reduced intraocular pressure and sparked increased interest. High intraocular pressure was the primary cause of blindness in Glaucoma patients.

This led to a medical breakthrough primarily by researchers Albert Lockhart and Manley West, combined with the research of Tod H. Mikuriya who produced papers on the medical use of marijuana in the 1970s.

Discovery of low glaucoma rates in Jamaica prompted them to conduct a thorough investigation of the link between cannabis use and Glaucoma.

In 1987 the pair gained permission to market Canasol as an ophthalmic solution internationally.

The illegal nature of marijuana in many ways put a brake on the research industry. However, dedicated studies have still managed to make breakthroughs leading to legal reform. Formal decriminalization and legalization of medical marijuana mean that medical studies have been accelerated in the new century.

Early 21st Century Widespread Medical Legalization in the U.S.

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In 1996 California became the first state to formally legalize medical use of marijuana, around 85 years after the first official criminalization of the drug in the U.S.

The Harvard medical school blog reports that treatment has been successful in pain relief without the side effects of more harmful narcotics. Use for nausea associated with chemotherapy has been effective. Remarkable use as an anti-epileptic drug has been demonstrated.

In 2009 a federal ruling was introduced to the extent that medical marijuana use would not face prosecution

By 2015 23 U.S. states had legalized the medicinal use of marijuana.

Distinction of Types of Cannabis

The widespread formal legalization of medical marijuana globally in the last decade predictably brought growth to the research and distribution of the medical marijuana industry.

This led to clear recognition of different strains, and for example, the “high” and “non-high” forms.

CBD oils can provide a “non-high” form of marijuana which can provide a huge range of medical benefits without mind-altering effects. While high THC content strains can be useful in anti-anxiety, anti-depression, and pain relief.

As of this writing, medical marijuana is legal in over 50% of the world’s nations and approved for medical use under the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

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