Cannabis has been known to humanity for thousands of years and it has been one of humankinds oldest cultivate crops. It has been a medicine since at least 2800bc and it was listed in America’s pharmacopeia until the late 1940’s.
In ancient Indian tradition, the hemp plant was considered a gift from the gods to give man delight, courage and heightened sexual desires. Remains of charred hemp seeds dating back at least 500 years have been excavated in Romania. It was used as a medicine, food and fabrics in ancient China. In Egypt, remnants of a cannabis plant were found on the mummified Ramses II.
In ancient times cannabis was our planet’s largest agricultural crop, source of fabric for clothing, sails, rope, canvases, medicine, lamp oil and food. In America, cannabis was a potent medicine, used in numerous tinctures and extracts until 1930.
Introduction to Modern Medicine
Dr William Brooke O’Shaughnessy (1809-1889) was an Irish physician who introduced cannabis to modern western medicine in 1841.
Traveling to India in 1833, he came across cannabis preparations used in Indian folk medicine. He researched cannabis and used it on animals initially and later on after deciding their safety, in humans.
He presented his findings to a group of students and scholars at the Medical and Physical Society of Calcutta in 1839. He included case studies of cholera, rheumatism, hydrophobia, tetanus rabies and infantile convulsions. The same year he also published his findings in a paper “On the preparations of the Indian Hemp or Gunjah”
He found that it was an excellent anti-convulsant. His research inspired other doctors to use cannabis and over a hundred articles were produced in scientific journals on the various medical benefits of cannabis, these include rheumatism, hydrophobia, cholera, tetanus, infantile convulsions, and menstrual cramps to name a few.
Cannabis in 19th Century Medicine
Medical cannabis was added to the US Pharmacopoeia in 1851. In the 19th century cannabis was regularly imported from India and manufactured into oral preparations, tinctures, lozenges and extracts. At this time cannabis was administered orally and not smoked as medicine, except later on for asthma.
Today’s major pharmaceutical companies Eli Lilly, Parke-Davis (now owned by Pfizer) and Squibb of Bristol-Myers Squibb were the original medical cannabis sellers. It was prescribed by doctors and sold to patients by pharmacists.
However, by the 1890’s the use of cannabis was declining as medicine picked up newer and stronger drugs such as morphine, aspirin, etc. One of the biggest problems with cannabis was it’s uncertainty of potency because at the time they were unable to identify the active components, as they had not yet been isolated.
There was literature written in the 19th century by J.R. Reynolds, J.B. Mattison, Moreau de Tours, et al. that was forgotten and then compiled by Tod Mikuriya, ed. in 1973 called “Marijuana: Medical Papers”. These articles reported familiar uses such as spasms, seizures, migraines, rheumatism, neuralgia, inflammatory pain, asthma, opiate dependency, insomnia, depression and others.
In 1937, cannabis became illegal.