From imperial China to medieval Persia, including its introduction into modern Western medicine, here is a short summary of the long history between cannabis and humanity.
Humans have used cannabis for at least six millennia. It was in China that archaeologists found the first traces of its culture. In 4000 BC, in the village of Pan-p'o, cannabis was used to produce textiles, ropes, paper and oil. In -2727, it appeared for the first time in a Chinese pharmacopoeia text, initiated by the emperor Shen Nong. The latter is recognized as one of the fathers of Chinese medicine, he wrote "the treatise on medicinal herbs" (Pen Tsao King) where he lists more than 365 natural remedies.
Cannabis is conquering the world
We have numerous written sources attesting to the medicinal, religious and/or recreational use of cannabis throughout history. From Antiquity to the Middle Ages, the plant was used among the Assyrians, in the Roman Empire, in Egypt, among the Persians, in the Arabian Peninsula, etc. In 1500, thanks to the Spanish conquest and the slave trade, cannabis was introduced to South America.
Cannabis in Western Medicine
Following their travels and conquests in the Indies, English and Irish doctors brought cannabis back to their countries.
In 1839, an Irish doctor, William Brooke O'Shaughnessy, praised the analgesic and sedative virtues of cannabis in a scientific publication. His work, confirmed by his successors, will introduce the therapeutic use of cannabis into modern Western medicine. Queen Victoria even described cannabis as one of her “most precious medicines” in 1890.
French doctors were going to bring back the cannabis plant from Egypt. The most notable doctor to use it was without context Jacques-Joseph Moreau who used it as a sedative/analgesic for his psychiatric patients, even going so far as to create the hashishin club in 1844.
Medicinal cannabis will then experience a certain golden age. Between 1840 and 1920, it was part of the Western pharmacopoeia and the major laboratories all had cannabis oil in their product portfolio.
Between decline and success
At the beginning of the 20th century, however, the use of medicinal cannabis declined. At issue: the invention of vaccines, synthetic analgesics and hypodermic syringes, used to inject opiates (morphine). And above all, the arrival of the first blockbuster: aspirin.
On the other hand, recreational use is increasing. To the point of worrying the American authorities who are beginning real propaganda against the plant. Cannabis was therefore removed from the American pharmacopoeia in 1941. European countries followed this decision in the early 1950s.
If prohibition is a blow to medical use and research on cannabis, it has little effect on its recreational use! At the end of the 60s, in the midst of hippie fashion, cannabis consumption exploded…
In 1964, Raphael Mechoulam and his team identified the main psychotropic substance in cannabis: delta-9-tetra-hydrocannabinol (THC). But we have to wait around thirty years to better understand how this cannabinoid acts on the body.
3 major discoveries will strongly revive the scientific community's interest in cannabis:
· In 1988, the first cannabinoid receptor was identified.
· In 1993, a second cannabinoid receptor was identified.
· In the process, researchers discovered the first endocannabinoid, anandamide. A cannabinoid produced naturally by our body.
These discoveries establish the existence of what scientists now call the endocannabinoid system.
The return to favor of medical cannabis
Over the past 20 years, several countries have gone backwards at the legislative level. Canada was the first to authorize access to medical cannabis for certain categories of patients. Several national governments and American states have also (re)authorized this therapeutic use.
Various European countries (Netherlands, Germany, Denmark) have followed suit. There is no doubt that these advances will provide relief to certain patients in certain pathologies. And that science will continue its investigative work on this amazing plant!
Hand A. et al., “History of medical cannabis” in J Pain Manage, 2016.