History of CBD – Part II (1950-present)


In the US, new federal laws stipulating harsh penalties for drug possession were enacted including The Boggs Act in 1951 and The Narcotics Control Act in 1956. The Controlled Substance Act of 1970 designated cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). This resulted in three conclusions: cannabis has a high potential for abuse, it has no currently accepted medical use, and there’s a lack of accepted safety for its use under medical supervision. With their ruling, the DEA categorized cannabis at the same level of concern as ecstasy, heroin, peyote, methaqualone, and LSD.

The DEA classification also produced legal obstacles that limited the therapeutic use of cannabis-based medicine, as well as research about CBD, THC and other compounds. The federal government’s position presented an inconsistency. If cannabis has no accepted medical use, why did the federal government obtain a patent for the medical use of cannabis? The patent lists many potential health benefits and describes CBD as “a potent antioxidant and neuroprotectant that’s safe for human consumption.” This contradiction underscores how decisions regarding cannabis and its compounds are often rooted in politics along with science.

The “war on drugs” launched by Richard Nixon in 1971 continued to stoke public fear that cannabis was a gateway drug leading to the use of more dangerous substances. This opinion by the federal government presented a contradiction for many Americans who enjoyed smoking cannabis with no interest in taking stronger drugs. For millions of adults, cannabis was more likely to be a “gateway” to potato chips than LSD.
Even with the harsher approach by the federal government, various states began to decriminalize cannabis beginning with Oregon in 1973. They were joined by 10 other states through 1977.

In 1975, the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (Shafer Commission) published a white paper that concluded cannabis was a low-priority drug that was not addictive and did not lead to the consumption of other narcotics. The commission recommended that cannabis be considered a low priority for drug enforcement officials. Nixon ignored the report’s recommendations. Historians note that Nixon’s anti-drug rhetoric and policies were mostly an effort to fight political dissent from the antiwar movement and minorities.
In 1976, a federal judge ruled that a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the government was using marijuana out of “medical necessity” making Robert Randall the first legal medical cannabis patient in the US.

New Mexico passed the landmark Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act in 1978, a bill which legally recognized the medicinal value of cannabis. In the same year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) began supplying cannabis to several patients whose physicians applied for and received compassionate use rights.

By 1986, the Antidrug Abuse Act reinstated minimum drug sentences including the three-strikes policy leading to life imprisonment without parole after three felony drug offenses. The primary outcome of this law was a significant increase in the incarceration of young adults and especially minorities. The number of people behind bars for nonviolent drug law offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 by 1997.
In 1988, Allyn Howlett and William Devane of the St. Louis University School of Medicine first identified that the brain had specialized receptors for cannabinoids. Two years later, Lisa Matsuda and her colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health cloned the receptor (CB1). The other main receptor (CB2) was discovered and cloned in 1993. These and other advancements led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system, which has helped researchers understand the molecular interactions and biological value of CBD and other compounds.

In 1993, the American Medical Student Association unanimously endorsed a statement calling for the down-scheduling of cannabis to Schedule 2.
American families also began to discover the medicinal benefits of cannabinoids mostly out of desperation. One of the breakthroughs in changing public perceptions was the story of Charlotte Figi, a young girl in Colorado, who was born with a rare form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome. Charlotte was experiencing 300 seizures per week. In 2004, after consuming CBD oil extracted from a high-CBD cannabis strain, her seizures ceased. Today, Charlotte experiences 2 or 3 seizures per month.

Charlotte’s story was documented in a television series about cannabis on CNN with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Many similar first-hand reports of adults and children benefiting from medicinal cannabis and hemp have undermined the stigma toward cannabis and its cannabinoids including CBD and THC.
In 1996, California passed Proposition 215 (Compassionate Use Act), making it the first state to legalize medical marijuana. Many other states followed including Oregon, Alaska, and Washington in 1998, Maine in 1999, Hawaii, Nevada, and Colorado in 2000, Montana and Vermont in 2004, Rhode Island in 2006, New Mexico in 2007, Michigan in 2008, Arizona, New Jersey, and District of Columbia in 2009, Delaware in 2011, Connecticut and Massachusetts in 2012, Illinois and New Hampshire in 2013, Maryland, Minnesota and New York in 2014, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, North Dakota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania in 2016, West Virginia in 2017, and Missouri, Utah and Oklahoma in 2018.

The growing popularity of medical marijuana nationwide had a positive impact on researchers studying the medical uses of cannabinoids including the potential of CBD for treating chronic pain, epilepsy, and neurodegenerative diseases.

In 1998, GW Pharmaceuticals, a British pharmaceutical group began official medical trials to better understand the potential of CBD. Their efforts resulted in the development of a drug therapy for two rare conditions characterized by epileptic seizures – Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. The FDA approved the use of this drug Epidiolex in 2018.

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. They’ve been followed since by Oregon, California, Alaska, Michigan, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Nevada, and the District of Columbia. In 2019, Illinois became the newest state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

The 2014 Farm Bill (Agricultural Act of 2014) differentiated industrial hemp from cannabis as long as no part of the plant exceeds a THC concentration of more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis. The bill also laid out a legal exception for growing industrial hemp in the US under the auspices of state-approved pilot research programs.

In December 2015, the FDA eased the regulatory requirements to allow researchers to conduct CBD trials. And finally, the 2018 Farm Bill (Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018) removed hemp from the list of controlled substances and reclassified it as an agricultural commodity.

A Quinnipiac Survey in January 2018 reported that 91 percent of all Americans support legalizing cannabis for medical use. A Pew Research Center poll in the same month and year reported that 61 percent of Americans support the full legalization of cannabis.

In 2019, the FDA began taking steps to regulate CBD, and that includes deciding whether companies can add CBD to food, beverages and dietary supplements. The FDA’s review includes collecting input in public hearings from CBD manufacturers, researchers, farmers, and retailers. The process is expected to result in updates in how the FDA defines CBD and the specific guidelines for its use.




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