History of CBD- Part 1 (early origins to 1900’s)

Educational, Inspiration

The history of CBD is intertwined with the history and legality of cannabis and hemp. Cannabis-derived medicine dates back to 2700 BC when cannabis-infused tea was used for a variety of ailments including memory loss, malaria, rheumatism, and gout. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans used cannabis to relieve discomfort and for other remedies. Queen Victoria is believed to have used CBD to alleviate menstrual cramps during her reign through 1901.

Cannabis has also been part of the medical and cultural history of the US. Hemp cultivation was common in the early colonies in the 1600s. Virginia, Massachusetts and Connecticut had specific laws that guided the cultivation of hemp by farmers. Early arriving colonists were required to bring hemp seeds as an investment in the community. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp on their plantations as did many other landowners.

In 1839, Irish physician and medical researcher William O’Shaughnessy published a study which investigated the cannabis plant’s therapeutic effects. His primary focus was on the potential of the compounds from the plant being useful as an anesthetic.

In 1854, the US Dispensatory recommended cannabis tinctures for many pathologies including depression, pain, muscle spasms, and hemorrhages. The Ohio Medical Society issued a positive report about cannabis in 1900 noting its value for treating epilepsy, infantile convulsions, hysteria, palsy, whooping cough, asthma, nervous rheumatism, chronic bronchitis, and tetanus among other conditions. 

Despite these early findings, the US government opposed cannabis mostly for political and economic reasons. The Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906 mandated stricter labeling requirements for various products. This resulted in people seeing cannabis noted on tincture labels alongside opium and cocaine. With opium addiction already a concern, cannabis began to be associated with harmful narcotics. 

Historians cite racist animus as the primary reason for the criminalization of cannabis. Between 1910 and 1920, nearly a million Mexicans migrated into the US seeking refuge from the Mexican Revolution. Anti-Mexican sentiment at the time played a role in branding “marijuana” as a dangerous substance. The hostility included government warnings and propaganda that marijuana (a.k.a. locoweed) caused homicidal tendencies.

With the intensification of the federal government’s disinformation campaign, 11 states passed anti-marijuana laws by 1927. The warnings against “reefer madness” were in full swing with the passing of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. 

The fervor against cannabis had important detractors including New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. In 1944, Mayor La Guardia commissioned the New York Academy of Medicine to investigate the physical, psychological and sociological effects of cannabis. The study concluded that cannabis had no addictive qualities and that it didn’t lead to other narcotics. It further stated that marijuana was used primarily by Blacks and Latin-Americans, and that it did not induce violence, insanity or sex crimes.

The federal government’s response to the report included threats and political pressure on the American Medical Association (AMA) to discredit the quality of the study.

Despite US hostility towards cannabis, research on cannabinoids continued overseas. In 1940, British chemist Robert Cahn reported the partial structure of Cannabinol (CBN), which is a sister compound of CBD and THC. Two years later, Roger Adams successfully isolated both compounds.

Because researchers had a limited knowledge of the structure of cannabinoids, they were unable to determine which compound (cannabinoid) was causing which effect. Dr. Raphel Mechoulamof Israel made a breakthrough in 1963 when he identified the stereochemistry of CBD. This refers to the branch of chemistry that deals with the position of atoms in a compound with their effects. 

Dr. Mechoulam discovered the stereochemistry of THC the following year, which revealed its direct relationship to the euphoric effects associated with marijuana. He also disassociated CBD as a mind-altering compound. 

Dr. Mechoulam and fellow researchers focused additional research on the potential application of CBD for the treatment of epilepsy. They achieved a positive outcome in using CBD to help subjects stop or decrease the frequency of seizures. These finding were not widely publicized at the time because of the stigma on cannabis.




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