History of Cannabis

The history of medicinal cannabis is thousands of years old. Evidence suggests human usage began in China as early as the year 3000 BC during the reign of Emperor Shen-nung Bencaojing. That was far from an isolated case. Other records show usage of cannabis for medicinal purposes in India between 1400 and 2000 BC, in Persia around 600 BC, and by ancient Greek physicians like Dioscorides and Galen. Sir William Osler, a founder of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and the father of modern medicine, stated that cannabis was probably the most satisfactory remedy for individuals suffering from migraines. Queen Victoria used it, as many women do today, to relieve painful menstrual cramps. Such historical examples abound.

In the United States, Cannabis was introduced by the Jamestown settlers, who brought it to America in 1611. It was widely utilized as medicine during the 19th and early 20th centuries and was described in the United States Pharmacopoeia for the first time in 1850. The common usage of medicinal cannabis continued until Congress passed the Tax Act of 1937, which was intended to kill the industry. Notably, the American Medical Association (AMA) testified against the Tax Act. Dr. William C. Woodward, legislative counsel of the AMA, made a statement to the House of Representatives where he attempted to dispel rumors and misinformation concerning cannabis. Even after the passing of the Tax Act, Cannabis stayed in American pharmacopeias until 1941. Morris Fishbein, the long-time editor of the Journal of the AMA, and the face of the organization at the time, continued to argue for Cannabis as the best treatment for migraine headaches until 1942.

In modern history, medicinal cannabis has fought an uphill battle to defend itself as a safe and reliable treatment option. Decades of negative stigma made populations wary of claims that medicinal cannabis had proven results. Even when subject matter experts spoke out on the topic, they were dismissed or ignored. In 1988, for example, the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s Chief Administrative Law Judge, Francis Young, issued a ruling where he stated “(Cannabis) is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man… It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance in light of the evidence in this record.” Despite Young’s ruling, the DEA refused to alter its position on cannabis as a Schedule 1 narcotic.

Fortunately, in the last two decades or so, scientific and medical research has begun shattering negative stigmas. Studies have started in earnest and scientists continue to find additional diseases and conditions which respond to cannabinoids. Governments across the world are looking past false stereotypes and are realizing the medical benefits for their citizens. As a result, cannabis has begun being used more widely for medicinal purposes. Internationally, medicinal cannabis has become accepted by countries such as Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Argentina, Finland, and Israel –considered by many to be the home and leader of medicinal cannabis research in the world. In the United States, California became the first state to permit legal usage of medicinal cannabis under physician supervision in 1996. Since then, 29 states as well as Washington DC, Guam, and Puerto Rico have passed bills legalizing medicinal cannabis.

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