The Rise of CBD: How Cannabidiol Became the Biggest Game Changer for Legal Cannabis
(Photo credit: Brian Shamblen/Flickr)
When it comes to marijuana, much of the buzz tends to circle around tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the main psychoactive compound found in marijuana. But there’s another compound gaining plenty of attention in the cannabis community these days: cannabidiol (CBD).
CBD is one of many compounds found in the cannabis plant. This non-psychoactive cannabinoid doesn’t produce mind-altering effects like its more famous cousin, THC, but it has demonstrated impressive potential for treating a broad range of conditions, including epilepsy, anxiety disorders, insomnia, acne, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Unfortunately, decades of federal cannabis prohibition and widespread misconceptions about the medical properties of this plant have prevented many researchers and patients from taking advantage of all that CBD has to offer.
Federal policy and propaganda surrounding the War on Drugs have hampered CBD research efforts and clouded public understanding of this compound. Most people don’t know about the fascinating role cannabis and CBD have played in the evolution of human medicine.
To cut through the fog and illuminate the medical legacy of this ancient plant, we’ve compiled a brief account of the most notable moments in the history of cannabis medicine and the discovery of CBD.
Ancient Medical Marijuana Use
Archeologists have unearthed numerous texts referencing medical cannabis use in ancient times. While these ancient people may not have understood the specific role CBD was playing in their lives, they definitely realized the medical value of cannabis.
Here are a few of the most striking examples of medical cannabis use in ancient texts:
- 1200 BCE: Ancient Egyptians write the Chester Beatty Medical Papyrus which notes that cannabis can be used to treat headaches and pain stemming from colorectal cancer. This is one of the earliest written examples of using cannabis as a medicine.
- 1200-1000 BCE: Hindus from the Indian subcontinent write a collection of educational texts called the Vedas, which lists cannabis as one of the five sacred plants and explores its possible medical uses.
- 800-500 BCE: Ancient Greeks use cannabis to dress and treat horse wounds.
- 104-208 CE: Early Chinese physician Hua Tuo becomes the first person to use an anesthetic during surgery by mixing cannabis and wine.
CBD in the Modern World
Medical cannabis use continued for hundreds of years throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East before making a big break in the Western world in the mid-1800s. As medical cannabis use increased in the West, so to did scientific inquiry and research into the therapeutic properties of the plant and its various compounds.
Here’s a selection of key moments in modern cannabis science:
- 1840: Sigmund Schlesinger becomes the first person to derive an active extract from hemp flowers.
- 1843: Irishman William Brooke O’Shaughnessy popularizes medicinal cannabis use in Western culture by publishing “On the Preparations of the Indian Hemp, or Gunjah”.
- 1850: Medical cannabis is added to the U.S. Pharmacopeia and is regularly prescribed by doctors until prohibition laws begin popping up across the country in the early 1900s.
- 1895: Three researchers, Wood, Sivey, and Easterfield, discover CBN, the first cannabinoid ever identified.
- 1930s: Canna-scientist R.S. Cahn studies the structure of CBN and identifies it as having anticonvulsant and anti-inflammatory potential.
- 1940: Along with others, R. Adams becomes one of the first researches to discover the second cannabinoid ever found – CBD.
- 1911: Massachusetts becomes the first state to ban cannabis use, beginning its decline in medical popularity.
- 1942: Cannabis is removed from the U.S. Pharmacopeia.
- 1963: Raphael Mechoulam isolates the chemical structures of CBD and THC.
- 1970: Cannabis is labeled as Schedule I drug by the Controlled Substances Act, which put it on the same level as heroin and outlawed all medical and recreational use of the drug.
- 1996: Medical cannabis and CBD make a comeback when California passes Proposition 215 (Compassionate Use Act) and opens its first medical cannabis dispensary.
- 1998: GW Pharmaceuticals begins cultivating cannabis for medical trials.
- 1998: A study by the National Institutes of Health prompts a government patent on CBD and THC’s abilities to slow “neurological damage following ischemic insults, such as stroke and trauma.”
- 2009: The U.S. Department of Justice declares it will not spend time or money prosecuting people who follow state medical cannabis laws.
- 2013: The story of Charlotte Figi, a 6 year-old girl suffering from Dravet Syndrome, makes national headlines when her seizures are stopped by CBD oil. This sparks increased production of the popular high-CBD cannabis strain Charlotte’s Web, and prompted CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta – a former medical cannabis opponent – to change his mind about the drug. Gupta told CNN at the time, “We have been terribly and systematically misled (about cannabis) for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.”
- 2014: The Rohrabacher–Farr amendment passes and prohibits the Justice Department from preventing states from developing their own medical marijuana programs.
- 2015: U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy states that “marijuana can be helpful” for “certain medical conditions and symptoms.”
- 2017: The New England Journal of Medicine publishes a study citing CBD’s effectiveness in “a greater reduction in convulsive-seizure frequency than placebo.”
A Bright Future for CBD
The rise of CBD science is changing the conversation around cannabis and helping many people reassess their misconceptions about this drug. And despite its political baggage, things are looking up for CBD as medical access to the compound rises across the country.
To date, 24 states have legalized comprehensive medical cannabis programs and another 18 states have specifically legalized the medical use of CBD. Hemp Business Journal predicts consumer sales of the compound will hit $2.1 billion by 2020, Forbes reports.