HISTORY OF MEDICINAL USES OF CANNABIS
The cannabis plant originated in either central Asia, or in China. Early historical records are few and far between, so the actual origin of the plant may never be known.
Nonetheless, there is evidence from around the world that cannabis was used not only for industrial purposes, but also medicine.
There is evidence of using cannabis as an industrial product in the form of hemp rope, as far back as 10,000 years ago in China.
It’s unknown when it was first used medicinally, but surviving records indicate that it was a known medicine in 2000 BC, where it is referenced in the Chinese medical text Pên-ts’ao Ching. (Spicer, 2002).
But archeologists have also found a large stash of cultivated cannabis belonging to a shaman of the Gushi people in the Gobi desert, dating from 2700 BC. (CNN, 2008).
Although the Chinese were well aware of the medical uses of cannabis, India is where the use of cannabis became an integral part of the people’s culture.
It is referenced in the holy books known as the Vedas. The god Shiva is said to have brought the magical plant from the Himalayas to the people of India.
Shiva, one of the most revered and important gods in India, is also known as the ‘Lord of Bhang’. Bhang is a mild liquid refreshment made with cannabis, spices, and milk.
It has important religious and social uses. It was (and is) used as an essential part of weddings, and was also used in war to overcome anxiety and pain.
Even though cannabis is more important as a cultural and religious sacrament in India, it is also known for it’s medicinal qualities.
The Indian Hemp Drugs Commission in the 1890’s states, “It cures dysentery 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.”
In the ancient western world, cannabis can be found in the Roman text ‘materia medica’, compiled by Pedacius Dioscorides.
The book contains 600 entries for different natural remedies. Among them, cannabis is noted for, “the juice of its seeds was also very beneficial in treating earaches and in diminishing sexual desires.”
However, cannabis was not a very popular remedy in the western world until the late 1800’s.
The Irish doctor William Brooke O’Shaughnessy introduced cannabis to modern western medicine.
Traveling in India in 1839, he came across a paper written by the Medical and Physical Society of Calcutta. Using this as his inspiration, he began clinical trials of cannabis preparations with animals and later patients.
He found that it was an excellent anti-convulsant. His research led to other doctors doing trials and producing over a hundred articles in scientific journals on the various medical benefits of cannabis (rheumatism, hydrophobia, cholera, tetanus, and menstrual cramps to name a few). (Aldritch, 2006).
Cannabis was put into many patent medicines in the U.S. around this time.
As recently as the 1930’s, “demand for marijuana-based medications accelerated,[and] pharmaceutical firms attempted to produce consistently potent and reliable drugs from hemp.
By the 1930s at least two American companies – Parke-Davis and Eli Lily – were selling standardized extracts of marijuana for use as an analgesic, an antispasmodic and sedative.
Another manufacturer, Grimault & Company, marketed marijuana cigarettes as a remedy for asthma.” (Joy, Mack, 2001)
In 1937, cannabis was effectively made illegal throughout the country. By the early 1970’s, it was illegal in every country.
This has made well controlled studies involving cannabis very difficult. Fortunately, this is changing. There are now dozens of studies that document medicinal qualities of the plant.
This study found that Hep-C patients who used cannabis in combination with their conventional medical treatment were three times more likely to have an undetectable virus level six months after the end of treatment.
Sylvestre, Diana L. a b; Clements, Barry J. b; Malibu, Yvonne b. “Cannabis use improves retention and virological outcomes in patients treated for hepatitis C.” European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 18(10):1057-1063, October 2006.
This study demonstrates that smoked marijuana is effective in reducing HIV-related chronic ongoing neuropathic and acute pain.
Neuropathy is a nerve disease, which often results in numbness, weakness, and spontaneous muscle twitching. Neuropathy is a serious medical problem with unsatisfactory treatment options.
Abrams DI, Jay CA, Vizoso H, Shade SB, Reda H, Press S, Kelly ME, Rowbotham M, Petersen K.
“Smoked cannabis therapy for HIV-related painful peripheral neuropathy: results of a randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial.” Abstract, IACM 3rd Conference on Cannabinoids in Medicine, September 9-10, 2005, Leiden
Researchers at the Hebrew University in Israel have demonstrated that derivatives of the cannabis plant can be effective in arresting cancerous growths in laboratory and animal tests.
Kogan, N.M., Blaquez, C., Gallily, R., Guzman, M., and Mechoulam, R. “Quinone Type Cannabinoids as AntiCancer Compounds.” Abstract, IACM 3rd Conference on Cannabinoids in Medicine, September 9-10, 2005, Leiden
It’s also worth noting that while the federal government of the U.S. claim no medical uses of cannabis, they also hold a patent for cannabis as of 2001:
US Patent 6630507.
From the text of the patent:
“Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism.
This new found property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.”