A Brief History of Medical Marijuana

CANNABIS CULTURE – Medical marijuana had its start long before California or Canada became med-pot-friendly. Cultures from around the globe have used medicinal cannabis throughout the ages.

Marijuana made it’s first appearance in our known history about 10,000 years ago in China and Taiwan. Its fibers were used extensively for various applications from cloth to rope. Since eating the seeds in traditional dishes was widespread, it didn’t take long for them to recognize the medicinal properties of the rest of the plant.

In 140-208 AD, the early Chinese surgeon Hua Tuo was the first recorded person to use cannabis as an anesthetic. He mixed a cannabis powder with wine for the patient in imbibe previous to surgery. Because of its widespread usefulness, cannabis became one of the 50 “fundamental” herbs in traditional Chinese medicine. Every part of the cannabis plant had a use in preparation of topical solutions intended to heal the skin or prevent baldness or greying of hair.

The ancient Egyptians also used cannabis as a medicine, using every part of the plant, each for various different ailments. The first recorded mention of the cannabis plant as a medicine was in 1800 BC. They used marijuana potions and lotions for ailments such as hemorrhoids and sore eyes.

Cannabis was used extensively in India. They called it bhang and used it in both religious ritual and everyday use. One Indian medicine man said of bhang: “”A guardian lives in the bhang leaf. …To see in a dream the leaves, plant, or water of bhang is lucky. …A longing for bhang foretells happiness. It cures dysentry and sunstroke, clears phlegm, quickens digestion, sharpens appetite, makes the tongue of the lisper plain, freshens the intellect and gives alertness to the body and gaiety to the mind. Such are the useful and needful ends for which in His goodness the Almighty made bhang.”

Medical cannabis use in the west didn’t take hold until the mid 19th century. Cannabis was the main ingredient in many so-called wonder potions, which were said to help with everything from muscle spasms, stomach cramps to general pain relief. These wonder potions were finally regulated in the 1830s when the government insisted on proper labeling of the various products being produced.

With the advent of injectable medicines and the invention of aspirin, medical cannabis was put on the shelf and didn’t realize a comeback until more modern times, when cannabis was again seen as a medicinal substance.

In the 1970s, a synthetic version of THC was produced called Marinol. It was a capsule, and wasn’t widely accepted because it was hard to know whether an effective dose was being delivered, because it took so long for the effects of the medicinal ingredients to be measureable. Smoking has remained the route of choice for many patients because it provides almost immediate relief from symptoms.

The ancient Hindus of India and Nepal have used marijuana as a part of their religious rites for thousands of years. They identified marijuana as ganjika or soma. The first appearance of these names was in the Vedas, an ancient Hindu text.

Marijuana was first found in Central and South Asia. The earliest mention of it is in what is now present day Romania. Cannabis seeds were found in a ritual brazier in a tomb dated to the third millennium B.C. Cannabis leaf fragments and seeds were also found with a 2,800 year old mummified shaman in the Xinjiang Uygur region of China.

Cannabis was also known to the ancient Assyrians. They called it qunubu, meaning “way to produce smoke”. It is said that the Aryans introduced cannabis to the Assyrians and the Scythians, Thracians and Dacians, who burned it in their rituals to induce a trance-like state.

Herodotus mentioned cannabis as a pharmacological substance in the 5th to 2nd century BC – the Scythians ate the seeds to treat various illnesses and burned them as part of their religious rituals. Many Muslim tribes used cannabis in this way as well in about the same time period.

Even Shakespeare wasn’t a stranger to marijuana. Several pipes that had been used to smoke marijuana were found in his garden. Researchers reasoned that the “noted weed” mentioned in Sonnet 76 and the “journey in my head” from Sonnet 27 could be seen as references to marijuana use. Other examples of literature that mention marijuana include Les Paradis Artificiels by Charles Baudelaire in 1860 and The Hasheesh Eater by Fitz Hugh Ludlow in 1857.

Marijuana was criminalized in the United States in 1906 and in 1923 in Canada. Since then, most countries have criminalized marijuana in some way or another, for various reasons. While popular opinion of marijuana has been growing toward the positive, there is still a negative stigma surrounding it.

There has been a growing list of countries or districts that allow the use of marijuana as a medicine. Canada, Belgium, Australia, the Netherlands, Spain, and several U.S. states have made revisions to their laws that allow marijuana to be used as a medicine for various neurologic and neuromuscular illnesses such as Alzheimer’s. Some American states have taken it a step further and legalized marijuana for all.

In modern times, marijuana as a scientifically-backed medicine is growing in popularity. There are whispers that medical marijuana is going to be moved from a Schedule 1 drug to a Schedule 2 drug, which will allow a wider range of scientific examination. Perhaps this is another step in the right direction that will allow marijuana to be used by all, legally.

Cannabis’s medicinal effects are not in question – after rigorous scientific examination, these effects will be written in stone and the skeptics will be quieted.