If you think that medical marijuana is something new just because it’s everywhere, you might want to think again. Cannabis is suspected to be first cultivated as long as 10,000 years ago, and this plant that is so well-revered today has actually been so for centuries.
Native to Central Asia, marijuana’s been used by the Chinese for centuries. They’ve been growing it since 4000 BC and its benefits have been recorded in ancient herbal texts. It was around 2700 BC that Chinese emperor Shen Nung (the “father” of Chinese Medicine) was said to discover its healing powers, a discovery that has undoubtedly changed the world of medicine forever.
For thousands of years cannabis has been used by different cultures to treat a number of different conditions. In ancient India marijuana was used to lower fevers, induce sleep, improve the appetite and increase mental clarity. African tribes used it for malaria and other fevers common to their regions. The Chinese acclaimed cannabis was beneficial in treating female disorders, fever, and mental distraction.
Before the straight-up prohibition of marijuana that began in the 1920s and spread pretty much worldwide by the 1930s, it was used as medicine by cultures all over the globe. Cannabis pollen was found on an Egyptian mummy from 1213 BC, with the use of cannabis documented by ancient Egyptians for glaucoma and inflammation.
As time progressed through the ages, so did the use of medicinal marijuana. Almost 400 years ago in 1621, The Anatomy of Melancholy was published by English clergyman Robert Burton, where it was recommended that cannabis be used in the treatment of depression. The use of marijuana was spread throughout Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries for a variety of different treatments.
In 1794, the Edinburgh New Dispensary told of the effectiveness of hemp oil in healing coughs, urinary incontinence, and venereal diseases. In Eastern Europe a popular remedy for inflammation was to apply hemp roots to the affected area, a cure that was published in the New English Dispensatory in 1764.
If this sounds familiar it should. Marijuana is prescribed for the same conditions today as it was hundreds and thousands of years ago. It was right around the turn of the 19th century that cannabis began to become more widely accepted. It was Napoleon’s forces that brought the plant to France from Egypt, where it was researched for its benefits for pain relief. As it turned out, marijuana worked and it became widely used in the Victorian era. Again, it was used for all those conditions we’re still accustomed to today. Menstrual cramps, muscle pain, epilepsy, and more were all alleviated with the help of a good old-fashioned cannabis tincture.
By the mid-1800s, the use of marijuana for medicine had spread throughout the west and in 1850 was added to US Pharmacopeia. It was promoted as a treatment for conditions such as alcoholism, opiate addiction, incontinence, tetanus, rabies, cholera, and more. It was most commonly offered in a tincture form. Interestingly enough, it was also added as a treatment for insanity. So revered was this sacred plant for the medical benefits it contained that by 1918 some 60,000 pounds were grown annually in the US by pharmaceutical companies.
The 20th Century
It’s a wonder why cannabis was ever condemned to the “reefer madness” status it gained in the 1930s and 1940s. It was in 1933 that the plant became the focus of US government control. William Randolph Hearst, who at the time was an up and coming newspaper tycoon, began a propaganda campaign against cannabis. With newspaper the only real source of news at that time, the public began to buy into these claims against cannabis and it turned into a full-blown war against it. What was once widely used and accepted as medicine was suddenly demonized and classified as one of the most dangerous substances known to man.
Other countries quickly followed suit, with neighboring Canada outlawing the substance in 1938. By the 1950s, prosecution penalties for marijuana possession were steep. In this time, marijuana was included in the Narcotics Control Act of 1956 which made first time possession offenses accountable for a minimum of 2-10 years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines.
By 1970 it was documented that marijuana had “no accepted medical use.” This was at the same time US Congress passed the “Controlled Substances Act” which placed marijuana as a Schedule Class I narcotic, deeming it as dangerous as cocaine and other hard drugs.
Thankfully however, there were still people who believed in the benefits of marijuana. In 1970, the same year marijuana was deemed so dangerous; NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) was founded. Their mission? To end marijuana prohibition. It was in 1972 that NORML filed an administrative petition with the DEA so they may reclassify the substance so physicians could legally prescribe it for medical use.
It wasn’t until 14 years later in 1986 that the DEA held a public hearing about this petition. Two years later Judge Francis Young ruled that there was indeed a small minority of medical professionals that recognized the medical benefits of cannabis. It was also noted that the substance met the standards of other legal prescription medications. In 1994, some 22 years after it was first introduced a final ruling was made.
The 1970s were definitely progressive in the fight for the use of marijuana as medicine. In 1976, Robert Randall became the first American to ever receive FDA-approved accessibility to marijuana which he used for the treatment of glaucoma. In 1978, New Mexico was the first US state that publicly recognized the medicinal benefits of cannabis, with more than 30 states passing similar statute over the next few years.
The next decade was all about Marinol, a synthetic version of marijuana that was first tested on cancer patients in San Francisco. In 1980 while researchers tested this synthetic compound of THC, six other states performed studies that compared smoking marijuana to taking a synthetic form. Not only was it found to be more effective, but smoking actual marijuana plants showed to be safer than these man-made Marinol pills as well. The government actually ignored the other state studies, instead choosing to give Marinol the okay.
In 1985, Marinol was approved by the FDA while a year later penalties for the possession of marijuana increased. Under the Comprehensive Crime Control Act, federal penalties for marijuana became out of control. 100 plants of marijuana could get you the same punishment of 100 grams of heroin, and at this time many people were given sentences that surely didn’t fit the crime.
The 1990s were game changing for medical marijuana. In 1990, scientists discovered cannabinoid receptors in the brain, which was something that would eventually go onto to prove just how cannabis worked to help with a vast array of medical conditions. In 1992, the first endocannabinoid was discovered in the brain, which is the brain’s natural version of THC. It was appropriately named “anandamide” from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means “eternal bliss” or “pure joy.”
In 1996, California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medicine, and the rest as they say is history. Other states eventually followed suit with Alaska, Oregon, and Washington consecutively joining the movement. It was in 1999 that Health Canada announced they would begin researching marijuana as medicine, and in 2003 the first Canadian patient received government-grown herb.
The road to legalization of marijuana for medicine has been a long one, and it’s far from over. It isn’t as long however as the history marijuana holds for being an effective medicinal option to countless of individuals. As time marches on so do those that believe vehemently in the power marijuana holds as medicine. There is no doubt that we’ll continue to see the evolution of medical marijuana, and that one day in the not-so-distant future that this plant will be given the respect it so deeply deserves.