The History of Medical Cannabis

On July 12, 2023 By Elevated Staff in General

Throughout recorded history, cannabis has played a significant role as a resource for humanity. Evidence of its cultivation and usage dating back thousands of years suggest a long relationship between humans and cannabis. Examples range from hemp textiles created around 7000 years ago to the discovery of charred cannabis seeds from approximately 5000 years ago. In one instance, a burial site was found where an individual was interred with a collection of female cannabis plants.

While these findings offer circumstantial evidence of medicinal uses of cannabis, we also have direct historical records of medicinal THC use dating back to 400 A.D., evident through the presence of cannabis ashes.

The practice of utilizing plants for their medicinal properties has been prevalent throughout human history. Consider the willow tree, whose bark was first recognized for its medicinal benefits over 3500 years ago. Today, we have aspirin as a result of continuous research and progress, which has become one of the most widely used drugs worldwide.

While aspirin was officially released in 1897, ongoing research has led to further advancements, improved understanding of its negative side effects, and the discovery of additional positive effects. For instance, in 1978, nearly 80 years after its introduction, it was confirmed that aspirin could effectively prevent strokes and heart attacks. Nowadays, if you were to experience such a health event, your doctor might prescribe a low dose of aspirin to help prevent a recurrence.

Considering the extensive history and similarities between cannabis and other medicinal plants like the willow tree, one may wonder what sets cannabis apart. The key distinction lies in the psychoactive effects of cannabis and its active compounds, known as cannabinoids. In the early 1900s, a man named Harry J. Anslinger successfully lobbied against cannabis, leading to its prohibition with the enactment of the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937.

It is worth noting that prior to this act, cannabis was recognized as a medicine and included in the United States Pharmacopoeia, highlighting its established medicinal value.

United States – A Long History

The practice of medicine has been an integral part of human history, and the medical use of cannabis has been prevalent throughout this rich timeline. Even in the United States, cannabis was widely employed for medicinal purposes during the 1800s and early 1900s. However, with the legislation implemented in the 1930s, research on cannabis was severely limited.

Fortunately, the advancements in fields like chemistry, microbiology, and our understanding of the human body during the 1960s sparked a medical revolution. This era saw the development of numerous new drugs, improvements in vitamins, and an overall increase in the ability to live longer and healthier lives. In fact, life expectancy for men witnessed a remarkable improvement of almost 10% from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Regrettably, during the 1970s, cannabis was classified as a Schedule I drug, imposing significant restrictions on research opportunities. Despite these limitations, the long-standing history of cannabis and its advocates continued to advocate for a reevaluation.

In 1996, a breakthrough occurred when California became the first state to legalize cannabis use under physician supervision. As of February 2023, a total of 37 states have implemented some form of legal cannabis use. Then, in April 2021, cannabis was finally removed from the Schedule I list, allowing for the initiation of much-needed research into its potential benefits and effects. This change marked a significant milestone in the path towards a better understanding of cannabis’s medical potential.

Cannabis and Us

Within our bodies, a sophisticated cell-signaling system called the Endocannabinoid System (eCS) operates, utilizing two primary signaling pathways through the CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are commonly found in conjunction with the central nervous system, while CB2 receptors reside in immune cells and peripheral tissues.

Extensive research indicates that the eCS plays a crucial role in various systems, including energy balance, appetite stimulation, blood pressure regulation, pain perception, embryonic development, control of nausea and vomiting, memory and learning processes, and immune response.

Cannabis itself contains a diverse array of cannabinoid compounds, with THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol) being the most well-known. When cannabis is smoked or consumed, these compounds interact with our internal system.

For instance, THC has an affinity for CB1 receptors and activates them, resulting in the psychoactive effects commonly associated with cannabis use. On the other hand, CBD does not directly bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors but can modulate their activity through indirect mechanisms, offering a range of potential therapeutic benefits.

In addition to THC and CBD, cannabis contains other cannabinoids such as cannabinol (CBN), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), and more. Each cannabinoid exerts unique effects on the body and interacts with the eCS in distinct ways, opening up possibilities for diverse therapeutic applications.

Currently, there are three medications that interact with the eCS:

Marinol: This drug can be prescribed to individuals with AIDS who experience weight loss due to loss of appetite. It can also be used to manage nausea and vomiting resulting from cancer chemotherapy.

Nabilone: Similar to Marinol, Nabilone is utilized to alleviate nausea and vomiting caused by cancer chemotherapy.
Dronabinol: Dronabinol can be prescribed to individuals with AIDS who suffer from weight loss due to loss of appetite. It is also used to manage nausea and vomiting resulting from cancer chemotherapy.

These FDA-approved drugs demonstrate that targeting the eCS can be an effective approach for improving our health through medication.

Furthermore, some research suggests that disruptions in the eCS could contribute to more significant pathological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

As the legalization of cannabis progresses and advancements in genetics, chemistry techniques, and our understanding of the human body continue to unfold, exploring the eCS and cannabinoids presents a promising avenue for medical research and innovation.

Cancer, eCS, and Cannabis

The field of cancer research is actively exploring the potential of cannabis as a therapeutic option. Researchers are investigating how cannabinoids can interact with the eCS, which some cancer cells utilize to promote their growth.

Cannabinoids have the ability to engage with pathways that are also involved in cancer cell growth and survival. These pathways include cell proliferation, angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels), and apoptosis (programmed cell death).

Preclinical studies have demonstrated that cannabinoids can inhibit the growth and metastasis of various cancer cell types, including breast, lung, prostate, and brain cancer cells, among others. However, it’s important to note that these findings are primarily observed in animal and cell culture studies, not clinical trials. Further research is necessary to validate these results in clinical settings.

In addition to their potential direct effects on cancer treatment, cannabinoids may also help alleviate pain symptoms associated with cancer and mitigate the nausea caused by chemotherapy. Some synthetic cannabinoid medications have already been approved for these purposes over 25 years ago.

It’s important to emphasize that while these findings show promise, they should not be considered as medical advice. If you are considering using cannabis for any medical reason, it is strongly recommended that you consult with your healthcare provider for guidance and personalized recommendations.

What’s Next?

Looking ahead, we find hopeful signs in the recent actions taken by the U.S. Government in 2022. Late in the year, all convictions for simple possession of cannabis were pardoned, signaling a shift in attitudes and policies. Furthermore, a research bill was signed, aiming to facilitate easier study of the plant.

After years of restricted research opportunities, we anticipate that these developments will lead to the identification of new uses and unlock the full potential of this ancient and familiar plant.

It’s worth noting that the movement towards full legalization is not limited to the United States. Many countries around the world have also embarked on the process of legalization in recent years. This global trend is exciting, as it has the potential to amplify the already promising early findings in cannabis research.

As we move forward, we remain optimistic about the prospects of further understanding and harnessing the benefits of cannabis, thanks to the changing legal landscape and the renewed focus on scientific exploration.


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