Medical Marijuana

medical marijuana

History of Medical Cannabis

Medicinal use of marijuana can be traced as far back as 2737 B.C., and has been a commonly used treatment for many ailments for thousands of years.  However, to really track the history of cannabis, you have to go back over 10,000 years ago to early Taiwan where its fibers – hemp — were first appreciated and utilized for their strength, softness and durability in making fabrics and rope.  It is relevant to note, however, that even today, in Chinese medicine, cannabis is considered one of the 50 fundamental herbs, and is still prescribed to treat a variety of illnesses and ailments.
According to botanist Li Hui-Lin, in China, “The use of cannabis as medicine was probably a very early development.  Since ancient men used hemp seed as food, it was quite natural for them to also discover the medicinal properties of the plant.”

Other cultures at other points of history also used cannabis to treat their patients.  Here are some examples of those practices from around the world.

  • Another Eastern Medicine practitioner, Hua Tuo, purportedly used the plant as an anesthetic in the 3rd century, giving his patients ground, powdered cannabis mixed with wine to ease their discomfort during surgery.
  • The Ebers Papyrus, dating back to early 1550 BC, found in Ancient Egypt, described the extensive use of medicinal marijuana.  Although other documents have since been discovered dating from even earlier times — one back to 1300 BC for example — the Ebers remains the most relevant and the best known.  One of the examples noted in its text is that hemp fibers/ seeds were used as suppositories to relieve pain from hemorrhoids.
  • The medieval Islamic world used cannabis sativa frequently as a medicine between the 8th and 18th centuries to treat many symptoms, including inflammation, swelling, fever, pain, epileptic seizures, and diarrhea.
  • In ancient India, cannabis was prescribed for many different conditions such as headaches, gastrointestinal disorders, pain and insomnia as well as a way to relieve the pain of childbirth.
  • The Ancient Greeks used cannabis for human and veterinary medicine.  Dried cannabis leaves were used for nose bleeds, and ingesting the seeds got rid of tapeworms.  Green seeds were steeped in wine or water, and the warm extract was used to treat pain and inflammation in the ear.  During the 5th century, cannabis was added to steam baths.
  • Cannabis received its initial introduction to Western Medicine through the research of Irish physician, William Brook O’Shaughnessy, Professor of Chemistry and Assistant Surgeon at the Medical College of Calcutta.  O’Shaughnessy conducted extensive research with both animals and patients in the 1830’s, to evaluate the overall medicinal effects of cannabis in the treatment of general pain, stomach cramps and muscle spasms.

Initially brought into the United States around 1900 by Mexican migrant workers, marijuana for recreational use remained relatively uncommon until alcohol prohibition came along.  That’s when recreational marijuana use simply exploded. Marijuana nightclubs and bars sprang up across the country, offering entertainment and dancing – but with marijuana in place of alcohol.  A few states made efforts to ban marijuana use, but none met with any success.

Meanwhile, the hemp industry was enormous in this country.  Hemp could be cultivated several times a year on the same piece of land.  Its fibers were used to produce paper, cloth, rope, and a myriad of other products.  Hemp seed oil was used to manufacture paints and varnishes.  (It is most important to note that marihuana and hemp are products of the same plant – cannabis indica.)

The short version of the story of the abolition of cannabis in any form in the United States goes like this.  In 1936, a new appointee to the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry J. Anslinger, along with the corporate president of the DuPont Corporation, and the leading media magnate in the country, William Randolf Hearst,  banded together to outlaw marihuana and therefore hemp production in the United States.  Together they created a national scare campaign, whipping public opinion into a frenzied state about “the Killer Drug” (as portrayed in the cult exploitation film Reefer Madness, in 1936).  As a result the cultivation, use, trade, or any other form of dealing with cannabis or hemp products was outlawed by the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act.  This not only ended any possibility of using marihuana for recreational use, but far more importantly, for medicinal use or research in the United States.  It also tolled the death knell for the very successful self-sustaining hemp industry in our country, paving the way for the DuPont’s development of newer synthetic fibers, plastics, along with more extensive use of wood fibers, petroleum products, and natural resources.

Oddly enough, later in the 1900s, while researchers were looking for way to detect cannabis intoxication, they discovered that smoking marijuana minimized intraocular pressure.  This was an accidental discovery, but one of the first on the road to medicinal marijuana use in our country.

Due to the harsh restrictions on obtaining permission to conduct research projects about the medicinal effects of marijuana, let alone legally obtaining the substances required for the research, it was a long time before research in our country got started up again, much less made any progress.

Finally, in the early 1970’s, encouraged by returning Viet Nam war veterans who reported using cannabis while overseas to prevent muscle spasms from spinal injuries sustained in battle, researchers started to explore other areas where medicinal cannabis might be utilized.

Physician Tod H. Mikuria published “Marijuana Medical Papers” in 1973, which reintroduced the idea of using cannabis for medicinal purposes.  He hypothesized that using medicinal marijuana might be utilized to prevent blindness.

Cannabis research continued throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s, and support for legalizing marijuana for medicinal use started to gain momentum between 1996 and 1999, with nine states voicing their approval for cannabis by prescription.  These states included Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

In 2003, a patent was awarded to the United States Department of Health and Human Services based on research conducted by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).  The patent is entitled, “Cannabinoids as Antioxidants and Neuroprotectants.”  According to this patent, cannabinoids are, “useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of a wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in limiting neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.”

Several medical organizations have endorsed the reclassification of marijuana, paving the way for further study about its medicinal purposes.  These organizations include the American College of Physicians, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and American Medical Association.  The American Academy of Family Physicians is opposed to using marijuana other than under medical supervision.

More on Medical Marijuana

The Basics About Medicinal Marijuana
Synthetic Cannabis Drugs Are Available
Where Is Medical Cannabis Use Legal? – Medical Marijuana States
How Is Medical Marijuana Distributed
How Is It Used or Administered
Quotations Throughout History About Cannabis
Final Words