History of Cannabis

Why Cannabis? A Brief History..

Cannabis has been used for centuries all over the world for medical and therapeutic purposes. In fact, The Divine Farmer’s Herb Root Classic (2727 BC) is widely considered the world’s oldest pharmacopeia, and it lists cannabis among the “supreme elixirs of immortality,” and recommends it as a superior treatment for “constipation, ‘female weakness,’ gout, malaria, and rheumatism.” (Source: Most Impactful Marijuana Research Studies of All Time(1)). Cannabis has been used in the US as patent medicine and recreationally across America throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The first federal restriction on Cannabis came with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which imposed a tax on the sale of Cannabis. A number of other drug control policies followed, including the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 which states, “…beyond criminalization, these legislative actions contributed to creating limitations on research by restricting procurement of cannabis for academic purposes” (Medical Cannabis: History). Cannabis has saved the lives of so many across the world, which begs the question, why is the government impeding research?  Why is Cannabis still so heavily regulated?

Conveniently for anti-drug legislators, one study done by Dr. Robert Galbraith Heath, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Tulane University in 1974 discovered that “THC”, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, causes brain damage. This is the only “conclusive” evidence found that supports the notion that cannabis (plants and products) are harmful to our health.  In 1996, author Martin Lee asserted in Smoke Signals; A Social History of Marijuana-Medical, Recreational and Scientific, that Heath’s study is, “a textbook case of scientific fraud” due to his inhumane and unusual treatment of monkeys during his study. Today, Dr. Heath’s legacy is less than legitimate as he is heavily scrutinized for his experimental “electro-shock” therapy used on homosexual individuals. He is also discredited due to his involvement in an illegal human experiment led by the CIA using a “brainwashing” drug called Bulbocapnin. Heath’s study on the effects of THC has since been disproved by a number of counter-studies, one was conducted by the National Center for Toxicology Research in 1991. But in 1974, the then anti-marijuana California governor, Ronald Reagan saw Dr. Heath’s study as a mountain of opportunity to plant Nixon’s “War on Drugs” campaign flag on as he ran for President. With unabashed propaganda like “Reefer Madness”, the War on Drugs unfairly targeted minorities and inaccurately depicted Cannabis users as the root of all evil and crime in America. Cannabis was then classified by the DEA as a Schedule 1 drug on the same class as cocaine and heroin, and “not approved... as a safe and effective drug for any indication” by the FDA. The United States has lived in Cannabis Prohibition ever since.

This inaccurate and unfair classification of Cannabis forced the industry and its products underground, where it thrived across the United States until the early 2000s. This has made it nearly impossible for Americans to have access to the right information and products that could potentially save their lives, forcing them to spend thousands of dollars on harmful medications, uproot their lives to move to a more cannabis-friendly community, or risk being convicted of federal crime by using “illicit” marijuana in the states.

Since the late 19th century, there have been numerous groundbreaking studies regarding the safety and effectiveness of cannabis and CBD to your health, especially in comparison to opiates and other prescription medications. Many have  also served to shatter some of the more well-known stigmas and misconceptions regarding cannabis. Some of the most impactful studies that established benchmarks in Cannabis history include:

  • Indian Hemp Drugs Commission (1894); concluded “To forbid or even seriously to restrict the use of so gracious an herb as hemp would cause widespread suffering and annoyance,”
  • La Guardia Report (1944); concluded Marijuana, like alcohol, does not alter the basic personality,” and “Marijuana does not of itself give rise to antisocial behavior. There is no evidence to suggest that the continued use of marihuana is a stepping stone to the use of opiates. Prolonged use of the drug does not lead to physical, mental, or moral degeneration, nor have we observed any permanent deleterious effects from its continued use. Quite the contrary, marihuana and its derivatives and allied synthetics have potentially valuable therapeutic applications which merit future investigation.”

  • Dr. Raphael Mechoulam’s research & discovery of THC and your body’s Endocannabinoid system (1964-1980) - discovers your body’s internal receptor system for Cannabis and your body’s self-made cannabinoids.
  • The Shafer Commissions Report (1972) - recommended removing criminal penalties for “casual distributions of small amounts,” [of cannabis] since “neither the marijuana user nor the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger to public safety.”
  • Cannabis Shrink Tumors (1974) - Funded by the NIDA and American Cancer Society, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that cannabis shrinks tumor size and associated pain.
  • Cannabis Treats Nausea Caused by Chemotherapy (1975) - Harvard Medical School Associate Professor Dr. Lester Grinspoon found that cannabis helps with the nausea and pain associated with chemotherapy.
  • Cannabis helps AIDs without Serious Side-Effects (1997) - Dr. Donald Abrams, now the head of oncology at San Francisco General Hospital, found over time and numerous studies that Cannabis when treating patients with AIDs “did not hurt the immune system, did not increase viral load, did not negatively interact with the protease inhibitors, and actually did facilitate increased caloric intake as well as weight gain.”
  • Cannabis Does Not Cause Lung Cancer (2006) - Dr. Donald Tashkin, a prominent pulmonologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, has spent over forty years studying the effects of cannabis on the lungs. Conducted the largest case-control study ever done on the subject, and found that Cannabis has no correlation to lung cancer, even with frequent / extended use, and actually has some beneficial effects.
  • Cannabis Reduces Opioid Overdoses (2011-2014) - A study by Dr. Donald Abraham found that cannabis improved the effectiveness of opiates, reducing the amount needed to relieve pain with less side-effects. Another study published by Marcus Bachhuber in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal, assistant professor of medicine at the Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, showed between 1999 and 2010, states with legal medical cannabis averaged almost 25% fewer opioid overdose deaths.
  • Cannabis & PTSD (Ongoing) - Dr. Sue Sisley is currently conducting the world’s first clinical trial of Cannabis on PTSD patients, sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and funded by a $2.1 million grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The study is currently in its 3rd year and progressing well, while PTSD still remains a hot-button issue affecting millions of Americans each year.
  • CBD Stops Seizures (Ongoing) - In 2014 the US government conducted a study on the effectiveness of CBD on epilepsy and seizures. Not surprisingly, big pharma company GW Pharmaceuticals funded the study and is currently seeking approval for the first prescription CBD medication called Epidolex. “In May 2018, the New England Journal of Medicine published an update on this ongoing research showing that patients taking just 20mg of CBD per kilogram of body weight had 42% fewer seizures, on average.”

Source: The Most Impactful Marijuana Research Studies of All Time (3).

Progress in the United States

In 2003, the US Department of Health and Services filed a patent on cannabis, citing “cannabinoids as neuroprotectants” and provided research and support for cannabinoids and nutrients found in the cannabis plant “limiting neurological damage following stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Dementia, Parkinson’s disease and HIV.”(3) Despite several decades of medical evidence supporting the potential health benefits of cannabis and its properties, this was the first step the United States government has taken towards acknowledging  cannabis safety and health benefit for human consumption. While we still have a long way to go until federal legalization, this is a giant step in the right direction.

Currently, Cannabis remains on the DEA’s list of Schedule 1 drugs, but 33 states have legalized cannabis in some form, and with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, Hemp (non-intoxicating form of Cannabis) and its derivatives are legal to produce and use all over the US, regardless of that state’s legal status on Cannabis.

New research on the benefits and safety of Cannabis appears to be surfacing every day, and cannabinoids like CBD have gotten a lot of hype for harnessing the therapeutic elements of Cannabis, without the intoxicating or “high” effects. Much of this research indicates that Cannabis and it’s products (if made correctly and with integrity) are the safest and often the most effective methods of pain management and help promote mental clarity and proper system function in the body.


We still have a long way to go until federal legalization of Cannabis and the widespread acceptance of Cannabis for health. History will show that Cannabis has not only been used around the globe for medical and therapeutic purposes, but it will also show the tremendous research that has emerged supporting the safety and effectiveness of cannabis as a medicine. It is important to explore this with an open mind, without biases or stigmas that have framed how we think about Cannabis for the last several decades.

They say learning from the past can help predict the future, but first you must become enlightened of the facts so that you may make an accurate judgement of present and an informed decision on the future. In this article we tried to impress upon you some of the most well-kept secrets of the Cannabis industry that has remained “underground” much like the rest of the industry until recent years. These points are not meant to persuade you, but to inform you about the novel research Cannabis has been exposed to over the years, and to shed light on the injustices it has endured over that time.

If we are going to make better decisions about our health, what we put in our bodies & how we respond to pain & stress in our lives, we must equip ourselves with the right education and information to do so.


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Research & Resources

  1. Most Impactful Marijuana Research Studies of All Time - Leafy - Dave Bienenstock https://www.leafly.com/news/science-tech/most-impactful-marijuana-research-studies-of-all-time
  2. Medical Cannabis: History, Pharmacology, And Implications for the Acute Care Setting - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5312634/
  3. Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana - Medical, Recreational, Scientific. 1996. Author: Martin Lee - https://www.amazon.com/Smoke-Signals-Marijuana-Recreational-Scientific/dp/1536620084
  4. THC Causes Brain Damage - A Counter-Study - The National Center for Toxicology Research - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1666927
  5. War on Drugs - The Drug Policy Alliance -  http://www.drugpolicy.org/issues/brief-history-drug-war
  6. Reefer Madness - Anti-Cannabis Propaganda - YouTube - https://youtu.be/aYHDzrdXHEA
  7. Indian Hemp Drug Commission (1894) - https://digital.nls.uk/indiapapers/browse/archive/74552222?&mode=zoom%29&_sm_au_=iVVnrnkRJ6HStjGn
  8. La Guardia Report (1944) - http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/library/studies/lag/lagmenu.htm
  9. Dr. Raphael Mechoulam - https://cannabinoids.huji.ac.il/people/raphael-mechoulam
  10. The Shafer Commissions Report (1972) - https://norml.org/component/zoo/category/celebrating-35-years-of-failed-pot-policies
  11. Cannabis Shrinks Tumors (1974) - https://academic.oup.com/jnci/article-abstract/55/3/597/912322
  12. Cannabis Treats Nausea Cause by Chemotherapy - https://www.ukcia.org/research/antiemetic.php
  13. Cannabis Does NOT Cause Lung Cancer (2006) - http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/25/AR2006052501729.html
  14. Cannabis reduces Opiate Overdoses (2011-2014) - https://www.leafly.com/news/health/how-opioids-marijuana-work-together-for-pain-relief , https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1898878?__hstc=9292970.8a6d480b0896ec071bae4c3d40c40ec7.1407456000124.1407456000125.1407456000126.1&__hssc=9292970.1.1407456000127&__hsfp=1314462730
  15. Cannabis & PTSD (Ongoing) - https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/as-vets-demand-cannabis-for-ptsd-science-races-to-unlock-its-secrets/
  16. CBD Stops Seizures - https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1714631
  17. United States Patent on Cannabis - https://patents.google.com/patent/US6630507B1/en
  18. States with Legal Cannabis Legislation - Medical Marijuana ProCon - https://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000881
  19. 2018 Farm Bill - Washington Post - Here’s what’s in it - https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2018/12/11/congresss-billion-farm-bill-is-out-heres-whats-it/
  20. New Research - The Most important Cannabis Studies of 2018 - Leafy - https://www.leafly.com/news/science-tech/the-most-important-cannabis-studies-of-2018

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