history of cbd

CBD is the hot new supplement of 2019, but the last 60 years have been one of the only times in human history it wasn’t being used as a medicine. Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the more than 60 cannabinoids, long prized for its healing properties. Manuscripts from the Mesopotamia region dating back thousands of years detail the treatment of pain with cannabis and doctors in ancient Greece and the Middle Ages of Europe prescribed the herb for headaches

Historically, hemp was the term used for cannabis varieties cultivated for rope, fabrics, and food. The terms cannabis and marijuana were reserved for varieties grown for the flowers, which contain the cannabinoid-rich essential oil in abundance for preparation as medicine. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that scientists discovered the presence of different cannabinoids in the genus cannabis and started drawing a chemical distinction. That chemical distinction currently considers hemp any cannabis with less than 0.3% THC. Historians believe most cannabis of the past was more similar to hemp than today’s high-THC varieties. 

High CBD Cannabis Was a Popular Medicine in the 1800s

Cannabis preparations were already available in most American and European pharmacies when the United States Pharmacopoeia officially listed cannabis in its 1850 edition. The book classified hemp as treatment of nerve pain, tetanus, typhus, cholera, rabies, dysentery, alcoholism, opiate addiction, leprosy, incontinence, gout, convulsions, tonsillitis, insanity, menorrhagia, and uterine hemorrhaging. The United States Pharmacopoeia was considered a high-standard publication of the time and prompted North American researchers to begin a vast amount of experimentation with the herb throughout the rest of the nineteenth century. A few notable studies during this period: 

  • In 1860, the Ohio State Medical Society published findings that cannabis could help stomach cramps, venereal disease, and post-natal depression. 
  • In 1889, The Lancet published an article by Dr. E.A. Birch outlining cannabis treatment guidelines for opium addiction withdrawals. 
  • In 1890, Dr. John Russell Williams, Queen Victoria’s doctor declared, “cannabis is of the most valuable medicines we possess”–ideal for treating nerve pain, migraines, and spasms.

During the early twentieth century, immensely influential author of A Manual of Pharmacology, Walter Ernest Dixon, wrote in the British Medical Journal, “hemp taken as an inhalation may be placed in the same category as coffee, tea, and kola. It is not dangerous, [its] effects are never alarming, and I have come to regard it in this form as a useful and refreshing stimulant and food accessory, and one whose use does not lead to a habit.” 

He was quite correct and ahead of his time. The hemp today used to produce popular CBD supplements is not intoxicating and appears, at least in laboratories, to be capable of resetting natural rhythms of the body. Dixon’s view was generally accepted throughout the westernized world. At that time, cannabis was cheaper than whiskey, gin, brandy, and tobacco and could be purchased from any grocery or pharmacist.

Near the tail-end of the 19th-century anti-cannabis pieces began to appear in magazines published either anonymously or under fake names–many claiming violent criminal actions by African Americans and Mexicans on white women. Physicians, defending their practice of prescribing opiates freely, penned most of these articles. They hoped to shift the blame away from themselves as narcotic addiction had developed into a serious issue.

The Criminalization of Cannabis Had Racist Motivations

When Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, officially making it illegal, the Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger had successfully manipulated the pre-existing national racism by citing instances of Mexicans using cannabis before committing crimes. A racist at heart, his propaganda machine had published false stories across the nation. He generated enough uproar from Americans unfamiliar with the actual effects of marijuana to ban the herb that had brought healing for centuries.

A staunch opponent of Anslinger and his Tax Act, New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia commissioned a report on the effects of smoking cannabis by the New York Academy of Medicine. Dr. Roger Adams discovered CBD in 1940 during the examination. The subsequent La Guardia Committee study, published in 1944, determined that marijuana was not a societal problem or a dangerous drug, but was ignored with more propaganda from Ansligner.

The Marihuana Tax Act was officially ruled unconstitutional by the 1969 U.S. Supreme Court case Leary v. the United States, which should have signaled the end of prohibition, but it was replaced with the Controlled Substances Act in 1970. The act established schedules for ranking substances according to their dangerousness and potential for addiction. Cannabis was placed in the most restrictive category, Schedule I, supposedly as a place holder while then-President Nixon commissioned a report to give a final recommendation.

Richard Nixon’s Shafer Commission Determined Cannabis Was Safe And Should Not Be Considered an Illegal Substance–Nixon Ignored Their Recommendation

In 1972 Nixon’s Shafer Commission, as it was called, determined that marijuana should not be in Schedule I and even denied its designation as an illicit substance. However, Nixon disregarded the recommendations of the commission for fear changing stance could threaten his lead in an election, and marijuana remained a Schedule I substance instead of receiving an official classification.

Over the next three decades, American media and academia largely remained silent about the pain-killing virtues of cannabis. European, South American, and Israeli doctors continued to study marijuana and in 1988 scientists discovered the human endocannabinoid system, the biggest clue to date that cannabis may be a very natural substance for humans to use.

Despite the legality issues, a growing number of Americans began to voice their advocacy for medicinal marijuana. Many were terminally ill patients. Lawmakers had a hard time ignoring, much less punishing their use. Then in 1996, California legalized medical marijuana under Proposition 215. The legislation allowed citizens with medical conditions, including multiple types of pain, to use cannabis. The program was not only successful for patients but also worked both socially and economically.

Over the next decades, many states implemented medical marijuana programs. CBD heavy strains began circulating amongst medical patients but didn’t get much attention from the mainstream because they weren’t intoxicating like the more popular THC. Children saw miraculous results combatting certain types of seizes using these high CBD strains. Among them, California’s Sam Vogelstein, the catalyst for the invention of the prescription drug Epidiolex, and Charlotte Figi who recovered fully from having 350 seizures a week by taking CBD.  

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Patented CBD in 2003

In 1998, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a groundbreaking report on the neuroprotective properties of CBD and THC. The study, authored by A. Hampson, M. Grimaldi, D. Wink and Nobel laureate J. Axelrod of the National Institutes of Mental Health formed the basis of the U.S. government-held Patent US6630507B1 “Cannabinoids as Antioxidants and Neuroprotectants.” Just a few short years before the age of social media, the U.S. government quietly received a patent on the natural cannabinoids in cannabis, including CBD, while they continued to publicly demonize and federally prohibit them.

“Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties,” begins the 2003 patent submitted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The document goes on to state: “Cannabidiol (CBD) is useful in the treatment [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. Non-psychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol, are particularly advantageous to use because they avoid toxicity that is encountered with psychoactive cannabinoids at high doses useful in the method of the present invention.”

The efforts of medical marijuana states reduced narcotic prescription use and popularized cannabis as a safe treatment for many conditions. The doom-laden propaganda pushed by the federal government never came to fruition, leaving many citizens in states lacking medical marijuana to question whether or not the government had real data to support its policies. 

The Effectiveness of CBD Became Undeniable in 2018

In the early 2010s, the DEA was directed to perform research to justify their classification of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug. The DEA never began the investigation, claiming multiple reasons for their delays. To circumvent the DEA, legislators introduced the 2017 Farm Bill.  The bill legalized university research on hemp and CBD to discover what the DEA had failed to uncover. 

The new analysis confirmed what the government’s own 2003 patent had stated. In laboratory conditions, CBD protected the brain. Cannabidiol repeatedly reduced anxiety and pain. Sleep and healing improved with CBD use, and it was indeed a potent antioxidant. With the DEA having no research of their own, the once-powerful agency was now on the defensive. 

In June 2018, the FDA approved G.W. Pharmaceuticals CBD extract Epidiolex as a treatment for two forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, and Dravet syndrome. The move was followed months later by an unprecedented 2018 Farm Bill legalizing hemp cultivation. Before 2018 ended the DEA had quietly descheduled hemp and CBD. 

With hemp legal and the FDA, making it clear that CBD possessed medicinal value by the approval of Epidiolex, the Food and Drug Administration needed to establish guidelines for regulating CBD products. The FDA is currently creating those guidelines for CBD sales of food products and claims made by CBD supplements. 

In August of 2019, the DEA released a memo which cited the medicinal potential of cannabis. They implemented new policies for their research and began requesting help from universities and cultivators. Today, accredited universities are compiling studies on CBD at a rapid pace.

CBD appears to be extremely safe, even at high dosages and may also help to repair liver damage from other more toxic drugs. The medical community has now generally accepted that CBD can improve pain, anxiety, and several types of seizures. It shows promise as a treatment for more than twenty conditions, but it will be years before we know exactly how to best use the cannabinoid. Doctors have already begun to recommend it to patients even though the data is still developing.  

CBD’s short history in modern medicine has made waves like few supplements or drugs before. It’s been a battle to get access to a substance that has saved so many lives. Hopefully, the next century will be marked by vast amounts of scientific data and the development of dynamic CBD-based drugs.




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