What scientific research has since revealed, and what is yet to be discovered about the potential benefits of cannabis as a medicine is a hot topic, and does not appear that it will be put to rest anytime in the near future. In fact, the debates are just heating up. A significant aspect of the debate centers on whether or not the potential benefits of legalizing cannabis for medicinal purposes outweighs the risk of substance abuse. The science indicates that cannabis can be sourced in a way so as to eliminate the compound that could lead to drug abuse. Still, cannabis medicine is not a new phenomenon, despite the strong interest directed towards the issue today, since history points to its early discovery and medicinal use.
Cannabis Medicine in Ancient Times
It is perhaps in ancient China (2700 BC) that the first evidence of the medicinal use of cannabis was recorded, with a published herbal during the rule of Chinese Emperor Shen Nung who is considered the father of Chinese medicine. Other records point to the Egyptians as early pioneers of medicinal cannabis. According to ancient Egyptian medical texts, egyptologists believe that medical cannabis was used by ancient Egyptians around 2000 BC to treat sore eyes and cataracts, sadness and bad tempers in women, glaucoma, and inflammation. In 700 BC, the Zoroastrian Zendavesta, an ancient Persian religious text, refers to bhang (a natural intoxicant made from marijuana leaves and flowers) as the “good narcotic”, and lists cannabis as the most important of 10,000 medicinal plants. In 600 BC, the Ayurvedic (a system of Indian medicine) treatise of Sushruta Samhita highlighted cannabis as an anti-phlegmatic and a cure for leprosy. In the AD time period, a Chinese text emerged recommending cannabis medicine for the treatment of such ailments as malaria, constipation, rheumatic pains, “absentmindedness” and “female disorders,” and by 70 AD, Pedacius Dioscorides, a Roman physician in his notable book Materia Medica, recommended cannabis for the treatment of earache and diminished sexual desire.
Cannabis Medicine in 1500s and 1600s
By the 1570s, a Chinese medical text by Li Shizhen, titled Bencao Gangmu Materia Medica, was in circulation, which described the use of marijuana to treat vomiting, parasitic infections, and hemorrhage. The first work that recommended cannabis for treating depression was The Anatomy of Melancholy, by English clergyman Robert Burton, published in 1621.
Cannabis Medicine in 1800s and Onward
It was the mid- 19th Century before the West caught on to medicinal cannabis. Professor O’Shaughnessy at the Medical College of Calcutta was the first westerner to conduct investigations into the potential of medical marijuana in treating rabies, rheumatism, epilepsy, and tetanus. In 1887, H. A. Hare suggested that hemp could subdue restlessness and anxiety and distract a patient’s mind in terminal illness. In 1890, British physician J.R. Reynolds recommended Cannabis indica for patients with “senile insomnia”and migraine, and a year later, Dr. JB Mattison urged doctors to use hemp, which he believed was useful for treating dysmenorrhea, chronic rheumatism, asthma, and gastric ulcer, and migraines.
Towards the end of the 19th century, cannabis use as a medicine declined, and was exacerbated with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, and by 1941, cannabis was removed from the United States Pharmacopeia and National Formulary. Furthermore, in 1970 Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, which placed cannabis in Schedule 1 category- high potential for abuse or harm. Eight years later, New Mexico enacted the first law designed to make marijuana available for medical use, other states but the laws were hard to implement. However, the government reluctantly awarded a limited amount of Compassionate IND for the use of marijuana for the next 11 years before discontinuing the program in 1992. Still, some states were determined to have legal access to medical cannabis. Today, more than two dozen states across the U.S have established medical cannabis laws (many cannabidiol (CBD)-only), primarily for the treatment of epilepsy.
Looking forward, if medical marijuana continues on its current path, it appears it will only continue to expand in the U.S. Sitting at roughly $7 billions, capital is flowing into the medical marijuana market, a signal that investors see an emerging market on the horizon. Furthermore, with more countries outside of the U.S conducting research and developing CBD medications such as Sativex, the future of cannabis medicine is seemingly promising. Growing interest in medical cannabis and the dissemination of valuable scientific findings will only serve to bolster the production of CBD medicine. History shows that the potential medicinal benefits of marijuana is not a new discovery, and so, it makes sense to examine the extent to which medical cannabis can improve health.