Cannabis History: A Timeline on the History of CBD & THC

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Cannabidiol (CBD) is available in abundance in the hemp plant. You can also find it in significant quantities in the marijuana plant. There is a misconception that hemp and marijuana are different species of plants. In reality, they both come from cannabis, a flowering plant in the Cannabaceae family.

It is the law that distinguishes the two plants rather than science. Legally, ‘hemp’ is cannabis that contains a maximum of 0.3% THC by dry weight. ‘Marijuana’ is cannabis with more than 0.3% THC. Marijuana provides an intoxicating high; hemp does not. While you can find CBD in both plants, most sellers of CBD products get their cannabidiol from hemp.

The cannabis plant has a long and storied history, which we cover in this article. In it, we go back millennia to investigate the origins of cannabis use amongst humans. We trace its journey to the United States, followed by scientist’s discoveries of the different cannabinoids in the plant. We conclude with a focus on the future of cannabis.

When Was Marijuana Discovered?

It is impossible to provide a specific outline of when humans first discovered the cannabis plant. In general, the span of recorded history is approximately 5,000 years. As such, we are relying on archaeological discoveries and carbon dating. In 1997, a hemp rope from almost 29,000 years ago was discovered in the Czech Republic.

Recent research by the University of Lausanne in Switzerland suggests that cannabis was domesticated in northwest China approximately 12,000 years ago. The researchers gained this information after analyzing the genomes of 110 plants worldwide. Yet, the study also found that farmers didn’t begin breeding distinct strains for drug or fiber production until 4,000 years ago.

There are claims that a Chinese Emperor called Sheng Nung used cannabis as a medicine in 2737 BC. The problem is that there’s no evidence he ever existed! Therefore, the first confirmed legitimate mention of cannabis as medicine occurred in the Ebers Papyrus in Egypt in approximately 1,500 BC.

A Chinese medical collection from 1 AD mentions cannabis as a cure for over 100 medical issues. Dozens of countries used marijuana during the Dark Ages and Middle Ages.

Cannabis Use Spreads with a Handful of Restrictions

It wasn’t until the 14th century, thousands of years after its discovery, that cannabis became illegal anywhere. At this time, the Emir of the Joneima in Arabia outlawed it. There were no further noteworthy restrictions until 1787, when the newly crowned king of Madagascar, Andrianampoinimerina, banned it. Anyone who used marijuana in the country faced the death penalty.

There were cannabis bans in several locations during the 19th century. Mauritius, a British Colony, banned it in 1840. The Sri Lankan Opium and Bhang Ordinance of 1867 ensured that only licensed dealers could sell the substance.

Natal Colony and Singapore banned marijuana in 1870. In 1890, Greece banned the use, importation, and cultivation of the plant. Yet, a growing number of people consumed cannabis for medical reasons, as well as enjoying its intoxicating properties.

There is a suggestion that cannabis received the royal seal of approval in the United Kingdom. Rumor has it that Queen Victoria used it to ease her menstrual cramps, and the royal physician prescribed it!

Despite some prohibition, most countries accepted the use of cannabis until the beginning of the 20th century. This included the United States.

When Was Marijuana Discovered in America?

It is widely assumed that the British, Spanish, and Portuguese introduced cannabis to the Americas. Certainly, the plant was widely available in Europe during the age of exploration. However, Sir Walter Raleigh reportedly became excited at the prospect of harvesting hemp in America in 1585. He was told by a friend that wild hemp grew in an area that would become known as Virginia.

The first settlers established Jamestown in Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in the Americas, in 1607. They arrived expecting to find gold and silver but were bitterly disappointed. They would have starved to death during the early years only for the generosity of the native American Indians

European settlers introduced hemp to the Americas, with the colonies ordered to grow it.

The first formal order to grow hemp in the colony was given in 1611. Eight years later, the Virginia Company directed every Jamestown colonist to set 100 hemp plants. This was mainly done to prevent colonists from growing tobacco everywhere!

Cannabis cultivation played a major role in the establishment of the United States. Believe it or not, the cannabis plant appeared on the ten-dollar bill as late as 1900! By the 1850s, American pharmacies began selling medical preparations of cannabis. This occurred after William O’ Shaughnessy introduced it to Western medicine in 1839.

The Prohibition of Marijuana

Even by the beginning of the 1900s, cannabis remained a popular medical product in the United States. Then everything changed. In 1906, the Pure Food and Drugs Act required the labeling of medicine. In the same year, cannabis sales were restricted to licensed pharmacists.

It was the beginning of restrictions, with prohibitionist sentiment rising. Massachusetts became the first state to outlaw marijuana in the early 1910s, and several states quickly followed suit.

Then there was a massive increase of Mexican immigrants to America in the wake of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. This event gave closed-minded individuals a golden opportunity to spread their message of intolerance across the country.

When Harry J. Anslinger was appointed head of the newly-formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics in 1930, it was the beginning of the end for cannabis legalization. The 1937 Marihuana Tax Act effectively prohibited cannabis use throughout the United States. Hemp was included in the ban, so CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids were now illegal.

Within a couple of decades, the United States used its international influence to ensure that cannabis was banned almost worldwide. The 1970 Controlled Substances Act in the United States classified cannabis, including hemp, marijuana, and all associated cannabinoids, as a Schedule I drug. This meant it was considered highly addictive with no medical value.

Yet despite prohibition, researchers continued to try and learn more about the cannabis plant. Who knows how quickly they would have made their discoveries if the plant wasn’t illegal! As it was, forward steps were slow and took many decades to arrive.

When Was THC Discovered?

Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, along with his colleagues at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, was the first to identify the structure of THC in 1964. He is considered the godfather of modern cannabis. Without his discoveries, we would have no idea that THC is the intoxicating compound in marijuana or that CBD is a non-intoxicating compound with hundreds of potential medicinal benefits.

It was research a century in the making. The use of hashish in Pakistan and cannabis resin in India in the 1800s made scientists curious about what was in the plant. Discoveries evaded them until 1940, although it wasn’t until Mechoulam arrived on the scene that scientists knew what they had found. Apart from his research into THC, Mechoulam was also among the first to learn about cannabidiol.

Unlocking the Mysteries – CBD Background

Researchers knew practically nothing about the chemical structure of CBD, or any other cannabinoid, until the middle of the 20th century. Humans had used the cannabis plant for thousands of years without knowing why it provided its unique effects. Cannabis and CBD history changed in 1940, and there was no going back. Let’s take a look at some of the most important cannabis-related findings of the last 80 years.

The History of CBD: A Brief Chronological Cannabis Timeline

1940 | Roger Adams isolates CBD from marijuana but didn’t exactly know what he had found

Most people give Raphael Mechoulam credit for the discovery of CBD (see below). Still, few people know it was first isolated from the Cannabis sativa L. plant by Roger Adams back in 1940. Adams was a Harvard alumnus and a prominent organic chemist at the University of Illinois. He spent several years of his career researching the chemistry of marijuana.

However, when he separated CBD as an isolated chemical compound from the rest of the plant, he didn’t exactly describe its chemical structure. Therefore, it wasn’t until years later that other researchers went back and found that Adams was the first to extract CBD in the marijuana plant.

1946 | Dr. Walter S. Loewe conducts the first CBD tests on lab animals

Shortly after Dr. Adams isolated the first cannabinoids from marijuana, scientists began testing them on lab animals. This was despite the fact they had yet to determine the exact type of chemical structures they were working with.

The most well-documented of these initial experiments were conducted in 1946 by Walter S. Loewe. He ran trials on rabbits and mice with the cannabinoids THC, CBD, and CBN. His results showed that while THC caused catalepsy (a type of induced trance) in mice, CBD appeared to produce no observable effects on behavior.  The observations also showed that THC caused a “central excitant action” in rabbits, while CBD did not.

Of course, these were the first laboratory indications that CBD lacks any psychotropic activity. Remember, though, that since the cannabinoids’ structures had not yet been identified, the scientists did not know which compound was responsible for producing which reaction.

1964 | Raphael Mechoulam isolates and describes the chemical structure of CBD

Indeed, Dr. Adams was technically the first to isolate CBD as a chemical compound. However, it’s tough to give him full credit for its discovery because he didn’t describe the compound’s chemical structure. That distinction belongs to Israeli scientist Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, who identified CBD’s stereochemistry in his laboratory at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem back in 1963.

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Late-1960s | Mechoulam and his ab begin testing their isolated cannabinoids on primates

Some of the first laboratory subjects that Mechoulam tested his newly-found cannabis compounds on were primates. It didn’t take long to realize that THC, not CBD, was the one that was responsible for causing the sedated, intoxicating cerebral effects of the substance.

Mid-1970s | A cannabis tincture is released for medicinal use by the British Pharmacopoeia

As soon as Dr. Mechoulam identified the specific structures of the active cannabinoids in marijuana, interest in – and use of – the plant as a potential medicine began to skyrocket. In the early to mid-1970s, the British Pharmacopoeia (which is a publication of quality standards for medicinal substances in the UK) released a licensed cannabis tincture that (likely) contained CBD in a full-spectrum oil for therapeutic use.

1978 | New Mexico becomes the first U.S. state to acknowledge cannabis as a medicine legally

New Mexico state law (referred to as the Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act) did not specifically mention CBD as an isolated therapy. However, the legislation was a landmark approval in the United States because it represented the first instance of cannabis compounds legally recognized for their medicinal potential.

February 1980 | Mechoulam teams up with South American researchers to publish a study on cannabis and epilepsy

Dr. Mechoulam and a team of research scientists from Brazil’s Sao Paulo Medicine Faculty of Santa Casa conducted a study on 16 individuals (many of them children) that had severe epilepsy. It is believed to be one of the first double-blind trials of CBD on clinical subjects.

The trials showed that each subject who received CBD experienced an improved condition, with little to no side effects. This would prove one of the most significant breakthroughs in the history of clinical marijuana research.

1980’s | Mechoulam’s publication on CBD for epilepsy goes largely unnoticed in the medical and pharmaceutical industries

Dr. Mechoulam and his colleagues’ research should have sparked worldwide advocacy and support for the medicinal use of CBD. Instead, their efforts went virtually unnoticed. This was likely due to the stigma surrounding cannabis growing immensely since the “psychedelic,” marijuana-based counter-culture movements of the 1960s and 70’s.

When speaking about the lack of interest in his team’s breakthrough discovery, Mechoulam is quoted as saying, “Who cared about our findings? No one! […] And that’s despite many of the epilepsy patients being kids who have 20, 30, 40 seizures a day. And what did they do? Nothing!”

1988 | Howlett & Devine discover the first cannabinoid receptor

Allyn Howlett and William Devane were the first to discover a cannabinoid receptor. They found it in a mouse. This made them realize that if the body had cannabinoid receptors, it must also produce them naturally.

1992 | Mechoulam & associates discover 2-AG and anandamide

Along with Devane, Lumir Hanus, and others, Mechoulam discovered 2-AG and anandamide, two of the major cannabinoids produced by the body.

1996 | California becomes the first U.S. state to legalize medical marijuana

The first medical legalization of marijuana did not provide any specific hallmarks for CBD specifically. Nonetheless, California’s decision to legalize MMJ in 1996 was revolutionary in that it paved the way for the barrage of public support and research that was to come.

Fairfax’s Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana became the first medical marijuana dispensary to open on U.S. soil. It quickly paved the way for other states to follow, including Oregon, Alaska, and Washington in 1998, Maine in 1999, and Hawaii, Nevada, and Colorado in 2000.

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October 7, 2003, | The United States government patents CBD as a neuroprotectant under U.S. Patent #6,630,507

It was likely one of the most confounding gestures in the history of federal legislation on cannabis. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services received a patent on CBD and other active cannabinoids for their use as neuroprotectant therapies.

It was excellent news in terms of the government’s acknowledgment of CBD as an effective medicine. However, it was hypocritical because it did not remove cannabis – or CBD – from its list of Scheduled narcotics.

2013 | The story of Charlotte Figi surfaces

Charlotte Figi was born with an extremely severe and rare form of chronic epilepsy called myoclonic epilepsy of infancy, or Dravet’s Syndrome. The disorder is unique among child epileptic conditions in that it is intractable – meaning it doesn’t respond to medication.

From 3 months until she was five years old, young Charlotte would routinely suffer from over 300 grand mal seizures a week. No medication could prevent the episodes or reduce their intensity.

However, a national news story on CNN surfaced in 2013. It revealed that Charlotte’s seizures were all but eliminated when she started using a high-CBD strain of medical cannabis as a last resort. The story gained widespread national attention and almost certainly galvanized legislation supporting CBD as a recognized medical therapy.

2014 | Several states pass legislation for the legalization of CBD

The 2014 legalization of medical CBD in Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin represented a landmark moment in the history of the cannabinoid. These events ensured that CBD was legally recognized in states where medical marijuana was not legal for the first time.

June 2018 | The FDA approves Epidiolex for the treatment of seizures associated with Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome

The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Epidiolex to help patients with seizures associated with Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. Developed by GW Pharmaceuticals, Epidiolex contains CBD and is used in patients aged two years and over.

In many ways, this was a landmark decision. It marked the first time that any medication containing CBD was government-approved. However, there is no indication that the FDA intends to approve CBD itself.

December 2018 | The 2018 Farm Bill is Signed into Law

December 20, 2018, was a historic day in the history of CBD. It marked the day that the 2018 Farm Bill was signed into law. It legalized the production of industrial hemp. For the first time in over 80 years (barring the Hemp for Victory program in WWII), it became legal to cultivate hemp in the United States.

Each state was allowed to submit a pilot program to the USDA or agree to the terms of the Farm Bill. It permitted licensed farmers to grow hemp with a maximum THC of 0.3% by dry weight. However, it is essential to note that the Farm Bill did not legalize CBD. Instead, it helped promote the growth of the CBD industry since the majority of hemp grown in America is used to create cannabidiol products.

Now that our cannabis history timeline is complete let’s find out what the future holds for the CBD market in particular.

CBD Oil History – Cannabidiol Hits the Mainstream

After Mechoulam and his colleagues found anandamide and 2-AG, it opened the door to further CBD discoveries. Scientists found CB1 and CB2 receptors in humans. This confirmed that our bodies responded to cannabinoids such as THC and CBD because they were designed for this purpose. Scientists elected to name all of our cannabinoid receptors the ‘endocannabinoid system’ (ECS).

The realization that the ECS played a crucial role in regulating and reinforcing the body’s systems and functions helped bring CBD into the mainstream. However, the stigma surrounding the cannabis plant prevented real progress for over a decade. The story of Charlotte Figi perhaps opened the door to greater acceptance of CBD.

Major scientific discoveries along the way have unlocked new support for cannabidiol. This includes the discovery of the ECS and the idea that CBD could help those with epilepsy.

Even before the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp cultivation, there were thousands of CBD brands in existence. Many of them took advantage of the hype and the lack of regulation to produce low-quality products and make a quick buck. By 2020, the global value of the CBD industry was estimated at $2.8 billion, and it is only getting started.

CBD & Cannabis – What Does the Future Hold?

For millennia, people could use the cannabis plant and its associated cannabinoids without legal issues. However, by the early 1900s, prohibition in several American states began. Within half a century, the cannabis plant was effectively illegal worldwide.

After a fight lasting several decades, cannabis advocates finally made a breakthrough in 1996 with the legalization of the plant for medical use in California. Today, a significant majority of states have MMJ programs. We’re fast approaching a situation where recreational cannabis is available to more Americans than it isn’t. Meanwhile, Canada has fully legalized marijuana, and Mexico is likely to follow suit soon.

The path to legality for CBD is perhaps a little more straightforward since it doesn’t cause intoxication. Almost every American state permits its use even if CBD isn’t federally legal. There are also dozens of countries globally that allow the manufacture, sale, and use of the cannabinoid.

Estimates vary, but the CBD market’s value could exceed $13 billion worldwide by 2028. Already, it seems like an unstoppable juggernaut, and its legalization in the United States will surely happen at some point. There is also a growing appetite amongst lawmakers to legalize cannabis in the U.S. An overwhelming majority of citizens want legal marijuana in some form. Perhaps politicians will listen to the public for a change.

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