Medical History of Cannabis

Medical History of Cannabis

Traditional Cannabis has been known in North America as the stoner-hippie drug known for psychedelic properties, however the history and usage of medical Cannabis dates back much further.

Historical use and significance of the Cannabis plant has been noted in a wide variety of written works, with origins tracing back to the ancient world. The first record of Cannabis’ use in medicine comes from the Pen’ts’ao ching, the world’s first pharmacopeia, compiled by oral traditions during the time of China’s Emperor Shen-Nung in 2700 BC. Uses for medical Cannabis in this time included rheumatic pain, gout and malaria.

The use of medical Cannabis then began its’ long history in India, becoming a strong part of both Indian legend and religion. Mentioned in The Vedas, sacred Hindu text, Cannabis was referred to as a source of happiness, joy-giver, liberator that was compassionately given to humans to help us attain delight and lose fear[1]. A large-scale study was commissioned by the British in the late 1890s over concern of the widespread use of Cannabis in Colonial India[2]. They were particularly concerned about the potential psychoses of the drug, and the risk it posed to the health of the natives. In the end, it was decided that its use was ancient, had religious sanction among Hindus, and was ultimately harmless in moderation. Cannabis was generally used in India as an anticonvulsant, analgesic, anesthetic, antibiotic and anti-inflammatory.[3]

Therapeutic uses of Cannabis were first introduced to Western medicine in 1839 by Irish physician William O’Shaughnessy when he published ‘On the preparations of Indian hemp or gunjah’3. O’Shaughnessy tested the toxicity of Cannabis on animals, and once determined the product was safe, provided extracts to patients, discovering it’s analgesic and sedative properties. In the end, he came to realize the efficacy of Cannabis in treating muscle spasms caused by tetanus and rabies.[4] Upon the results of O’Shaughnessy’s trials, as with those of other physicians at the time, the use of Cannabis began to spread rapidly through the world of Western medicine in both Europe and North America.

The rise of vaccines for diseases previously treated by cannabis ultimately resulted in a decline of cannabis use during the 1900’s compounded by the development of many synthetic analgesics that rendered cannabis use at the time obsolete3. The American Medical Assocation advised that Cannabis remained a medical agent, however ultimately in 1941 Cannabis was removed entirely from the American Pharmacopeia.4

After the removal of Cannabis from the American Pharmacopeia, the use of Cannabis for medical purposes was nearly non-existent, until it’s revival for recreational purposes in the 1970’s. Studies began to advance, identifying the cannabinoid receptors in the nervous system, alluding to the possible source of Cannabis’ analgesic, sedative and immunoregulatory properties.[5]

Fast-forwarding to today, research into the potential uses of Cannabis for medical purposes are continuously expanding into areas not explored previously. This includes isolation of specific compounds for treatment diseases such as Epilepsy, Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s, as well as the potential to use it in place of common every day drugs for sleep aid and chronic pain. As we go forward, it is becoming abundantly clear that the possibilities for medical Cannabis are endless.

[1] Abel, E.L. (1980). The First Twelve Thousand Years. New York: McGraw Hill.[2] Iverson, L.L. (2008). The Science of Marijuana. New York: Oxford University Press.[3] Zuardi AW. History of cannabis as a medicine: a review. Rev Bras Psiquiatr 2006;28:153-7. [4] Mikuriya TH. Marijuana in medicine: past, present and future. Calif Med 1969;110:34-40. [5] Lee MA. The discovery of the endocannabinoid system. The Prop 215 Era 2012. URL: http://www.beyondthc .com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/eCBSystemLee.pdf

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