A Short History Of Medical Cannabis

For many decades marijuana has been painted as the psychedelic drug of hippies and stoners who lay around smoking dope to the detriment of their cognitive function. This image of marijuana use can certainly be attributed to one aspect of its culture, but Cannabis — a category of plants that include three species and seven sub-species — have been used in medicine for thousands of years.

Ancient and medieval physicians mixed the plant into medicines or teas to treat pain and other ailments; back then, it wasn’t a highly controlled substance the way it is today, where in the U.S. it’s listed as a Schedule I drug along with LSD and heroin. Here’s a brief history of medical cannabis to better understand the level of its efficacy in treatments and therapies.


“Ma” – that is the single syllable term for hemp in Chinese, which probably makes hemp the “mother” of agriculture. Apart from its medicinal and textile use, it has served as China’s 2nd or 3rd most important agricultural food source for millennia – hemp seeds are rich in protein, B vitamins and amino acids. Finds in Egyptian ruins dating back to 1600 BC unveiled evidence that marijuana had been used as a medicine and excavations at Hebrew sites yielded evidence of use of marijuana as a means to aid childbirth 100s of years BC, but “Ma” was the buttress of Chinese culture from the dawn of time to this day. The importance of hemp in early China is pronounced by a find of hemp fabric in an ancient burial site from the Chou Dynasty (1122-1249 BC). The book Rite of Rites (circa 200 BC) mentions that mourners should wear hemp fabric to express their respect for the dead and this tradition survived to present day.

Since ancient humans used hemp seed as food, it was quite natural for them to also discover the medicinal properties of the plant. Healers in ancient China tried to cure all kinds of diseases by beating the headboards of their patients’ beds with hemp stalks emblazoned with snake figures while reciting incantations and spells in order to exorcise demons who were believed to cause physical illness. Japanese Shinto priests used a short wand bound with undyed hemp fibers for a similar ceremony based on the thought that the purity of white hemp would expel evil demons. The early Chinese surgeon Hua Tuo (c. 140-208) is credited with being the first recorded person to use cannabis as an anesthetic. He reduced the plant to powder and mixed it with wine for administration prior to conducting surgery. The Chinese term for “anesthesia” literally means “cannabis intoxication”.


In 2007, a late Neolithic grave attributed to the Beaker culture was found containing an unusually large concentration of pollen. After five years of careful investigation these pollen were concluded to be mostly cannabis along with a smaller amount of meadowsweet. Due to the fever-reducing properties of meadowsweet, the archeologists speculated that the person in the grave had likely been very ill, in which case the cannabis would have served as painkiller.


The ancient Greeks called it kannabis – Greek sailors traded the durable material crafted from tough hemp stalks across the Aegean Sea as early as the sixth century BC and archaeologists found hemp fiber bundles in a Carthaginian trade ship that had sunk near Sicily around 300 BC. Herodotus, the great Greek historian, wrote in 450 BC, that the Thracians produced fine quality hemp clothing. Four hundred years after the fact, Plutarch wrote that the Thracian people would dispose of the top part of the kannabis plant and throw it in the fire, the smoke provided by it would cause the people to become intoxicated by the smoke they would inhale. It was a custom that the wine-loving people of Zeus weren’t familiar with. A small reference is also found from the use of kannabis in Greek literature as far back as 400 BC for back ache pain but this was the only known medical use in ancient Greece. It is known that both the Arabic and Hebrew people used kannabis for medical reasons at the very same time period.

In 70 AD a physician from Greece known as Discordes employed by the Romans for research and collected a wealth of knowledge on medical plants. Discordes created a book with his travels entitled Materia Medica in this book he documented descriptions, local names, habitats and Indications for treatments for certain symptoms. Overall he documented 600 plants and among them he identified Cannabis Sativa L. (from the Greek kannabis). It was useful in creating rope and producing seeds whose juices could be used in lessening earaches and reducing sexual desire. Discordes Meteria medica was hugely successful and was translated to every language possible and remained as a key manual in western medicine for at least 1500 years.


By far the very vast majority of modern day Egyptologists agree that Medical Cannabis (Medical Marihuana) was used by the ancient Egyptians in their medicines. This is in contradiction to what was thought to be the case right up until the early 1930’s. In fact, most pre-second world war books dealing with ancient Egypt medicines in general exclude any conversation on the subject. Cannabis pollen is found on the mummy of Ramesses II, who died in 1213 BC. Prescriptions for cannabis in Ancient Egypt include treatment for the eyes (glaucoma), inflammation, and cooling the uterus, as well as administering enemas.


Traditional Indian medicine has been used for a a long time and in a variety of different ways, it was used in the treatment of illnesses such as fever, sunstroke ,dysentery, and leprosy. Cannabis is said to make digestion quicker, sharpens a persons intellect, help clear phlegm, increase alertness and act as an elixir vitae. Hindu medicine unlike western science addresses spiritual awareness, it is said that Ganja pleases Shiva, the king of the gods who is always pleased with the offering. The connection between Shiva and Ganja is considered to be very important in maintaining physical and psychological balance. According to the Rajvallabha, a 17th century Hindu text this desire-fulfilling drug was thought to have been obtained by men for the welfare of all people. It is said that the people that use it regularly it creates joy and lessens the feeling of sorrow. Cannabis was a major component in religious practices in ancient India as well as in medicinal practices. For many centuries, most parts of life in ancient India incorporated cannabis of some form. Surviving texts from ancient India confirm that cannabis’ psychoactive properties were recognized, and doctors used it for treating a variety of illnesses and ailments. These included insomnia, headaches, a whole host of gastrointestinal disorders, and pain: cannabis was frequently used to relieve the pain of childbirth. One Indian philosopher expressed his views on the nature and uses of bhang (a form of cannabis), which combined religious thought with medical practices.

“A guardian lives in the bhang leaf.”

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In Indian culture they revere the marijuana plant as both a sacrament and blessing, through this a person can partake in cosmic forces and unite themselves with the gods. Even though western societies usually reject subjective spiritual experiences, these important beliefs cannot be ignored. In 1893 after a long study of cannabis use in a South Asian colony, the English government released the biggest study of cannabis that had been done to that point in the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission report. After many years of research it came to the conclusion that hemp drugs weren’t harmful to the Indian people and it would be a mistake to attempt to separate that culture from their spiritual drug. However in 1986 the Single Convention of Drugs and Narcotic Substances banned cannabis throughout the world. The ban included Asian, African, Middle Eastern and South American countries who’s countries history of cannabis usage preceded the time when hemp heavy ships from distant lands sailed to these countries.


Cannabis was used medicinally across the Arabic world in Roman times, applied to a wide variety of ailments (from migraines to syphilis) and as an analgesic and anaesthetic. The great ninth-century Islamic physician Rhazès… prescribed it widely; a contemporary, the Arab physician Ibn Wahshiyah, warned of the potential effects of hashish which he wrote was a lethal poison.”

Medical use of cannabis in the Renaissance

As Western civilization changed from the dark ages to the Renaissance period they uncovered many new key facts, including the numerous benefits from using medical marijuana. In 1621 in the Anatomy of Melancholy , Robert Burton made a suggestion that Cannabis could be used in treating depression. In 1982, the New London Dispensary for a short period of time covered the use of the cannabis seeds to treat both coughs and jaundice. In 1794 they documented an increase of the understanding of the many medicinal uses for the cannabis plant. They suggested that it could be used to treat coughs, venereal disease and urinary incontinence. It was also noted that while the seeds were the most commonly used other parts of the plant should also be researched. In 1814 Nicholas Culpepper published a book which listed all of the known medicinal uses for cannabis. In this book he included all the uses previously known and a number of new ones such as the easing of colic, allaying humors of the bowels, troublesome bleeding, reducing swelling to the head and reducing joint pain. Culpepper also made a suggestion that cannabis could be used as an additives to salves in order to treat burns. No historical evidence that physicians in Europe were aware of any psychoactive effects that come from cannabis until the exploration of India occurred and that broadened European understanding of it.


Regulation of hemp

During the early years of the American Colonies, industrial hemp products became key in world trade. Hemp was regulated by the government , but still the various medical uses of the marijuana plant was relatively unknown in both the new and old world alike. However once Westerners discovered the many uses of cannabis therapies found in Indian medicine the effects of Cannabis Indica on European and American medical practices was swift and strong. In the 19th century after a long study of Indian medical literature and having conversation with a multitude of Indian scholars about cannabis, the British East India Company surgeon William B, Shoughnessy began to test Cannabis Indica on both patients and animals and even himself. Shoughnessy came up with new medicinal uses of cannabis to Europe and America, In 1839 he wrote a paper titled The Preparation of the Indian Hemp and Ganja. Shoughnessy found that cannabis helped with rheumatism, convulsions, muscle spasms from tetanus and rabies. That research remains a historical piece of literature for further research in our current era.

During the late 1800’s after Shoughnessy’s work we saw a increase of cannabis therapies being introduced in Western medical practice. In 1840 a French physician named Louis Aubert-Roche created a book on the use of hashish to treat symptoms of the typhoid and plague fever. In 1854 the United States Dispensatory listed many uses for cannabis extracts including using it for cases of gout, neuralgia, tetanus, hydrophobia, cholera, convulsions, spastics, hysteria, depression insanity and uterine hemorrhage and also for use for contractions during delivery.

In 1890, Sir John Russell Reynolds the personal physician for Queen Victoria concluded that cannabis was useful in the treatment of dysmenorrhea, migraines, neuralgia, convulsions and insomnia. Reynolds mentioned cannabis was by far the most effective drugs in treating painful maladies. It isn’t known weather Reynolds or other Western physicians knew of the similar recommendations written by China’s Shen Nung more then a thousand years ago.


Between the years of 1840-90 over 100 medical papers were published on cannabis for the use of it for loss of appetite, insomnia, migraine headache, pain involuntary twitching, excessive coughing and withdrawal in alcohol or opiates addictions. Sir William Osler also known as the father of modern medicine said cannabis is the most effect treatment for migraine headaches in his medical textbook written in 1915. During that time period, there were at least 30 different cannabis preparations made by leading pharmaceutical companies available in all of North America, even though the hypodermic injection of morphine, with Asprin along with other medicines were already replacing traditional herbal medicines.

Outlaw use of hemp by Marijuana Tax Act

Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and many founding fathers had extolled the many uses for hemp, but their opinions were discounted by the industrial revolution and radically reinvented values of Americans. Domestic policies driven by by capitalistic ideas and a prejudice against people of color, the main users of cannabis as a recreational drug brought into pass the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, this bill outlawed all uses for hemp by the imposition of a cost prohibitive tax. In the closed congressional hearings in 1937, the American Medical Association strongly fought against the prohibition of of medical marijuana. The testimony of Dr. Williams C. Woodward criticized the proceedings and their intent. He responded to the legislators.

Shut down of hemp industry due to lies

Despite the interests of the American Medical Association and a number of pharmaceutical companies such as Ely Lilly and Parke-Davis and without any consideration of the numerous hemp fiber industries such as Ford Corporation and the many thousands of American farmers the government of the United States banned cannabis and all its uses. This was was based solely on the lies of certain federal law enforcers who were supported by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Hearst caused hysteria in the country about an evil drug called weed which roots came straight from hell. With most people having almost no knowledge or experience with marijuana plant most Americans were easily convinced of what they had been told. Few people were aware of the loss this caused in medical science. Looking back now, it is clear that the stories of murder and mayhem which were widely publicized throughout the United States were intended to shut down the hemp industry because it caused issues to tree-paper industrialist Hearst and a synthetic fibre industrialist named Dupont among others. Just as the fortunes of European courts were built on the backs of the farmers of hemp, modern industrial fortunes were built on destruction. Politicians and law enforcement had secured a whole new frontier by banning the precious herb cannabis.

Until 1942 cannabis was legally describable but the medical use had lessened because of the tax put on it. During those years the reefer madness propaganda helped wipe out Americas memory of hemp, the material written on to form both the Declaration of independence and the U.S Constitution. During World War Two the industrial uses for hemp were largely promoted by the US Government to outfit American armies overseas, but when the war was close to completion the patriotic hemp for victory term became yet another bit of trivia quietly forgotten in history. Although Henry Ford had constructed a car made of hemp that was stronger then steel , his great ingenuity was forgotten quite quickly as was our reliance on one of natures most useful medicines.

Study of cannabis and its numerous medical applications was minimal for several decades. While there was more then 2500 papers on opiate drugs written between 1938 and 1965, there was only 175 studies of cannabis during that time frame. Enforced ignorance had prevailed until the 1960`s when the cultural revolution shone a new light on the subject.


With the popularity of marijuana increasing in American young people during the 1960’s it started a resurgence for scientific research, the problem being federal mandates soon made any unbiased study next to impossible. While current president Kennedy used cannabis in the white house to relieve severe back pain, subsequent Presidents radically escalated US drug war policies that were put into place. President Richard Nixon made a promise to be tough on drugs during his presidential campaign and after being brought into office he made good on that promise. Almost Immediately he brought in the Shafter commission to study the marijuana problem, the president’s commission concluded that most of the major issues were largely as a result of its prohibition. After obtaining this info Nixon backed decriminalization, Nixon then rejected the recommendation before they were published. When framed by law enforcement, high profile Harvard professor Timothy Leary challenged and was successful in fighting the faulty logic on the 1937 Marijuana Act. Following this Nixon quickly re-wrote the national drug laws sending Leary to prison. The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 stated that marijuana as a Schedule I drug with zero medical value and high potential for abuse, and created major obstacles to objective research.

Drug war

For three decades, numerous politicians relied on drug war rhetoric to back their positions on the subject. President Carter was the only real policy maker to even consider revisiting the law for possible change and even this was short lived. Enforcing cannabis prohibition has cost billions of US dollars and millions of American citizens have suffered physical, mental, economic and social hardship as a result of the ambitions of political & law enforcement officials. In 1997, the editor and chief of the New England Journal of medicine coined the term federal foolishness in criticizing the governments in it’s persecution of sixty five million American people.

Among the millions of confessed criminals, both President Bill Clinton and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich have mentioned using cannabis for recreational purposes. Despite both the republican and Democratic parties suggesting defending the country against its 4th popular drug, putting over a half million people behind bars every year. For American doctors and patients marijuana conversations were limited by legal definition as a substance of abuse. Regardless of the social stigma, serious penalties and ignorance, popular interest in this medicine has increased. At the dawn of the new millennium ancient wisdom has evolved into modern folklore.

More support for cannabis

When the age of cancer chemotherapy and AIDS appeared cannabis has assumed a greater stature in the public’s opinion. In 1998 a remarkable 96% of people surveyed supported the medical use of marijuana when polled by CNN News. Again in 1998 a poll by the Microsoft News Broadcasting Service showed 90% public acceptance of marijuana for use for medical purposes. While CBS reported only 65% were in favor in 1997, 20% of those polled thought it should be legalized even if research failed to confirm to anecdotal reporting. The American Civil Liberties Union poll of 1996 determined that 79% of Americans agreed that it would be a good idea to allow doctors to describe cannabis, and out of that 79%, 25% reported knowing a friend or relative who had used it for medical purposes. All these reports were written before The institute of medicine report (IOM report) , Marijuana and Medicine: assessing the Science base, in 1999. Following that a Gallop poll found that 73% of American people agreed that marijuana should be made available in order to reduce pain and suffering in people.

In the US tens of thousands of sick Americans are now legally certified users of medical marijuana. Many states have legalized the use of it when recommended by a physician, and at least 20 other states have contemplated bringing it to vote. The movement to legalize it is severely crippled by the hypocritical federal foolishness. Although numerous forms of evidence supports the safety and utility of medicinal marijuana , it still is classified as a Schedule I substance joining LSD, PCP, heroin and methamphetamines and other highly dangerous drugs. Regardless of what the majority of the people supports federal law is enforced throughout the country.

Today it is common knowledge that marijuana have numerous medical uses. Even the White House Office Of National Drug Control Policy has admitted that its not able to deny or dispute marijuana can be used as a medicine despite decades of denial. Research still remains unfinished yet much more information can be put together using a number of different sources. Back in 1993, Peter Nelson of Australia Advisory Committee on Illicit drugs conducted his review of scientific literature. He determined that at least 4000 papers, books and monographs had be published on all aspects of cannabis since the 1940’s. Andrew Weil from the American Health Authority had mentioned that all the documentation on cannabis could completely fill several tractor trailers. According to Lester Grinspoon a Harvard psychiatrist we know more about this drug then just about any other description drug we use today.

A program called The Compassionate Investigatory New Drug Program started to distribute government grown marijuana to a select few select medical marijuana patients in 1978, as of today the program still supplies 300 marijuana cigarettes per month to the remaining patients. In 1992 the program has stopped taking new applications just as it was about to get thousands of applications from patients with AIDS.


Medical Marijuana was legalized in California and Arizona four years later because of the medical marijuana initiatives approved in both states, President Clinton allowed one million dollars for existing research to be reviewed. In 1999 as a result of this research the Institute of Medicine published Marijuana and Medicine: assessing the science base, the authors had reported the reported data that was collected Indicated a possible therapeutic value for cannabinoid drugs, Most importantly for relief on pain, appetite stimulation and nausea and vomit control. The Government had finally granted official recognition for this as a natural medicinal resource. Not all of the potential benefits for this had been listed in the Institute of Medicine’s final report as expected.

Isolating some of the many active compounds found in cannabis resin has enabled many different studies to be done without the use of natural material, which still is next to impossible to obtain for studies. Following the report done by the IOM in 1999 the White House had promised to support research for medical marijuana but only one study was allowed. Volunteers who supply their own marijuana have created an additional option for modern day researc , as well as studies done in countries that are not as strict in cannabis use to provide another source of information. While the US prevents the development of cannabis research many scientific report suggests that it has a number of possible medical uses.

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