THE HISTORY OF MARIJUANA
IN USE FOR HEALTH FOR MORE THAN 3000 YEARS
A brief history of marijuana
The history of medical cannabis goes back to ancient times. Ancient physicians in many parts of the world mixed cannabis into medicines to treat pain and other ailments. In the 19th century, cannabis was introduced for therapeutic use in Western Medicine. Since then, there have been several advancements in how the drug is administered. Initially, cannabis was reduced to a powder and mixed with wine for administration. In the 1970's, synthetic THC was created to be administered as the drug Marinol in a capsule. However, the main mode of administration for cannabis is smoking because its effects are almost immediate when the smoke is inhaled. Between 1996 and 1999, eight U.S. states supported cannabis prescriptions opposing policies of the federal government. Most people who are prescribed marijuana for medical purposes use it to alleviate severe pain.
Cannabis, called má 麻 (meaning "hemp; cannabis; numbness") or dàmá 大麻 (with "big; great") in Chinese, was used in Taiwan for fiber starting about 10,000 years ago. The botanist Hui-lin Li wrote that in China, "The use of Cannabis in medicine was probably a very early development. Since ancient humans used hemp seed as food, it was quite natural for them to also discover the medicinal properties of the plant." The oldest Chinese pharmacopeia, the (c. 100 AD) Shennong Bencaojing 神農本草經 ("Shennong's Materia Medica Classic"), describes dama "cannabis".
The flowers when they burst (when the pollen is scattered) are called 麻蕡 [mafen] or 麻勃 [mabo]. The best time for gathering is the seventh day of the seventh month. The seeds are gathered in the ninth month. The seeds which have entered the soil are injurious to man. It grows in [Taishan] (in [Shandong] ...). The flowers, the fruit (seed) and the leaves are officinal. The leaves and the fruit are said to be poisonous, but not the flowers and the kernels of the seeds.
The early Chinese surgeon Hua Tuo (c. 140-208) is credited with being the first recorded person to use cannabis as an anesthetic. He reduced the plant to powder and mixed it with wine for administration prior to conducting surgery. The Chinese term for "anesthesia" (mázui 麻醉) literally means "cannabis intoxication". Elizabeth Wayland Barber says the Chinese evidence "proves a knowledge of the narcotic properties of Cannabis at least from the 1st millennium B.C." when ma was already used in a secondary meaning of "numbness; senseless." "Such a strong drug, however, suggests that the Chinese pharmacists had now obtained from far to the southwest not THC-bearing Cannabis sativa but Cannabis indica, so strong it knocks you out cold.
The Dutch sinologist Frank Dikötter's history of drugs in China says,the medical uses were highlighted in a pharmacopeia of the Tang, which prescribed the root of the plant to remove a blood clot, while the juice from the leaves could be ingested to combat tapeworm. The seeds of cannabis, reduced to powder and mixed with rice wine, were recommended in various other materia medica against several ailments, ranging from constipation to hair loss. The Ming dynasty Mingyi bielu provided detailed instructions about the harvesting of the heads of the cannabis sativa plant (mafen, mabo), while the few authors who acknowledged hemp in various pharmacopoeias seemed to agree that the resinous female flowering heads were the source of dreams and revelations. After copious consumption, according to the ancient Shennong bencaojing, one could see demons and walk like a madman, even becoming 'in touch with the spirits' over time. Other medical writers warned that ghosts could be seen after ingesting a potion based on raw seeds blended with calamus and podophyllum (guijiu).
Cannabis is one of the 50 "fundamental" herbs in traditional Chinese medicine, and is prescribed to treat diverse indications. FP Smith writes in Chinese Materia Medica: Vegetable Kingdom: Every part of the hemp plant is used in medicine ... The flowers are recommended in the 120 different forms of (風 feng) disease, in menstrual disorders, and in wounds. The achenia, which are considered to be poisonous, stimulate the nervous system, and if used in excess, will produce hallucinations and staggering gait. They are prescribed in nervous disorders, especially those marked by local anaesthesia. The seeds ... are considered to be tonic, demulcent, alternative [restorative], laxative, emmenagogue, diuretic, anthelmintic, and corrective. ... They are prescribed internally in fluxes, post-partum difficulties, aconite poisoning, vermillion poisoning, constipation, and obstinate vomiting. Externally they are used for eruptions, ulcers, favus, wounds, and falling of the hair. The oil is used for falling hair, sulfur poisoning, and dryness of the throat. The leaves are considered to be poisonous, and the freshly expressed juice is used as an anthelmintic, in scorpion stings, to stop the hair from falling out and to prevent it from turning gray. ... The stalk, or its bark, is considered to be diuretic ... The juice of the root is ... thought to have a beneficial action in retained placenta and post-partum hemorrhage. An infusion of hemp ... is used as a demulcent drink for quenching thirst and relieving fluxes.
In 2007, a late Neolithic grave attributed to the Beaker culture (found near Hattemerbroek (nl), Gelderland; dated 2459-2203 BCE) was found containing an unusually large concentration of pollen. After five years of careful investigation these pollen were concluded to be mostly cannabis along with a smaller amount of meadowsweet. Due to the fever-reducing properties of meadowsweet, the archeologists speculated that the person in the grave had likely been very ill, in which case the cannabis would have served as painkiller.[9
The Ebers Papyrus (c. 1550 BC) from Ancient Egypt describes medical cannabis. Other ancient Egyptian papyri that mention medical cannabis are the Ramesseum III Papyrus (1700 BC), the Berlin Papyrus (1300 BC) and the Chester Beatty Medical Papyrus VI (1300 BC). The ancient Egyptians used hemp (cannabis) in suppositories for relieving the pain of hemorrhoids. Around 2,000 BCE, the ancient Egyptians used cannabis to treat sore eyes. The egyptologist Lise Manniche notes the reference to "plant medical cannabis" in several Egyptian texts, one of which dates back to the eighteenth century BCE.
Cannabis was a major component in religious practices in ancient India as well as in medicinal practices. For many centuries, most parts of life in ancient India incorporated cannabis of some form. Surviving texts from ancient India confirm that cannabis' psychoactive properties were recognized, and doctors used it for treating a variety of illnesses and ailments. These included insomnia, headaches, a whole host of gastrointestinal disorders, and pain: cannabis was frequently used to relieve the pain of childbirth. One Indian philosopher expressed his views on the nature and uses of bhang (a form of cannabis), which combined religious thought with medical practices. "A guardian lives in the bhang leaf. …To see in a dream the leaves, plant, or water of bhang is lucky. …A longing for bhang foretells happiness. It cures dysentry and sunstroke, clears phlegm, quickens digestion, sharpens appetite, makes the tongue of the lisper plain, freshens the intellect and gives alertness to the body and gaiety to the mind. Such are the useful and needful ends for which in His goodness the Almighty made bhang."
The Ancient Greeks used cannabis to dress wounds and sores on their horses. In humans, dried leaves of cannabis were used to treat nose bleeds, and cannabis seeds were used to expel tapeworms. The most frequently described use of cannabis in humans was to steep green seeds of cannabis in either water or wine, later taking the seeds out and using the warm extract to treat inflammation and pain resulting from obstruction of the ear.
Medieval Islamic world
In the medieval Islamic world, Arabic physicians made use of the diuretic, antiemetic, antiepileptic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antipyretic properties of Cannabis sativa, and used it extensively as medication from the 8th to 18th centuries.
Cannabis was a part of the American pharmacopoeia until 1942 and is currently available by prescription in the Netherlands, Canada, Spain, and Israel in its whole plant form.
In 1937, the U.S. passed the first federal law against cannabis, despite the objections of the American Medical Association (AMA). Dr. William C. Woodward, testifying on behalf of the AMA, told Congress that, "The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marijuana is a dangerous drug" and warned that a prohibition "loses sight of the fact that future investigation may show that there are substantial medical uses for Cannabis."
Ironically, the U.S. federal government currently grows and provides cannabis for a small number of patients. In 1976 the federal government created the Investigational New Drug (IND) compassionate access research program to allow patients to receive up to nine pounds of cannabis from the government each year. Today, five surviving patients still receive medical cannabis from the federal government, paid for by federal tax dollars.
In 1988, the DEA's Chief Administrative Law Judge, Francis L. Young, ruled after extensive hearings that, "Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known... It would be unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious for the DEA to continue to stand between those sufferers and the benefits of this substance..." Yet the DEA refused to implement this ruling based on a procedural technicality and resists rescheduling to this day.
In 1989, the FDA was flooded with new applications from people with HIV/AIDS. In June 1991, the Public Health Service announced that the program would be suspended because it undermined federal prohibition. Despite this successful medical program and centuries of documented safe use, cannabis is still classified in America as a Schedule I substance “indicating a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical value. Healthcare advocates have tried to resolve this contradiction through legal and administrative channels to no avail.
In 1996, patients and advocates turned to the state level for access, passing voter initiatives in California and Arizona that allowed for legal use of cannabis with a doctor's recommendation. These victories were followed by the passage of similar initiatives in Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Washington D.C. The legislatures of Hawaii, Maryland, New Mexico Rhode Island, and Vermont have also acted on behalf of their citizens, and every legislative session sees more bills introduced at the state level across the country.
In 1997, The Office of National Drug Control Policy commissioned the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to conduct a comprehensive study of the medical efficacy of cannabis therapeutics. The IOM concluded in 1990, that cannabis is a safe and effective medicine, patients should have access, and the government should expand avenues for research and drug development.
Despite the federal barriers to research, hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have been published worldwide since the IOM report.