As always much can be learned from human society’s collective history. There is more than 6,000 years of documented experience people have had with the cannabis plant. The first record of it’s use in medicine comes from China’s Pen- ts’ao ching, the world’s oldest pharmacopoeia. Although compiled between 0-100 AD, the Pen-ts’ao has been attributed to the Emperor Shen-nung who ruled during 2700 BC. It recognises Cannabis as being useful for more than 100 ailments, including rheumatic pain, gout and malaria.
Between 117 and 207 AD, Hua T’o, physician of the time and the founder of Chinese surgery, described cannabis as an analgesic.
As Cannabis use increased in China, it spread westward reaching India by 1000 BC. Cannabis spread quickly throughout the Indian sub-continent, being used extensively, both recreationally and medically.
It was adopted and integrated into religious practices, earning mention in the Atharva Veda, one of the Vedic scriptures of Hinduism as being among the five sacred plants of the religion. Medically it was used to treat a plethora of diseases and ailments including as a analgesic, anticonvulsant, aesthetic, antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory.
By 450 BC, Cannabis had reached the Mediterranean, as evidenced by first hand accounts of Herodotus. In the 1300s, Arab traders brought cannabis from India to Africa. The 1500s saw cannabis reach South America via the slave trade, which transported Africans along with the seeds, from Angola to Brazil.
Cannabis therapeutic uses were first introduced to western medicine in 1839, when the Irish physician William O’Shaughnessy published ‘on preparations of Indian hemp, or gunjah’. O’Shaughnessy’s initial results demonstrated the medicinal properties and the work of other physicians led cannabis to spread rapidly through western medicine in both Europe and into North America. It’s use continued to grow, peaking in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century when it was widely administered in ‘over-the-counter’ pharmaceuticals.
In the U.S. by the 1930s, there was an increase in recreational use, leading narcotics officers to push for restrictive legislation on both the recreational and medical use of cannabis. Despite pleas from the American Medical Association - cannabis was outlawed as a schedule 1 drug. Similar moves were made in Canada and Europe.
Over the next couple of decades, cannabis use in medicine was essentially non- existent, and it was not until the 1970s that medical interests were revived. In 1988, the receptor CB1 was identified. It was found to be the biding site of THC and to be the most abundant neurotransmitter receptor in the central nervous system. This discovery was followed by the discovery of a second cannabinoid receptor, CB2, localised primarily in the peripheral nervous system and immune cells.
The presence of cannabinoid receptors, concentrated in neural and immune cells, alluded to a possible mode of action that could be the source of cannabis’ analgesic sedative and immunoregulatory properties. Since then the medical Marijuana and CBD industries have continued to blossom with further research coming to support many of these initial theories.