THE HISTORY OF CBD
Although the call for CBD across health, wellbeing, food and beauty industries has grown exponentially over recent years, its global use is actually nothing new – just something which has, thankfully, begun an intense revival. And as a result, the door has been swung open for burgeoning scientific study enabling us to finally learn more than ever before about the potential this incredible plant holds.
But despite the fact that research into cannabis sativa today (and the cannabinoids, terpenes and other components within) is still a very young science, there is evidence that this plant has been sowed by humans as an agricultural crop as far back as the end of the first ice age. Some of the earliest evidence of medicinal use dates back to 2700BC when emperor Shen Nung (historically dubbed ‘the Father of Chinese medicine’and ‘the divine farmer’for his introduction of agriculture to China and his investigations into a noted 365 herbs) readily prescribed marijuana tea for the treatment of gout, rheumatism, malaria, poor memory and more.
If we’ve known through practical use the benefits that the cannabis plant has to offer for so long, why is it that we’re only just seeing a resurgence of the widespread use of cannabis and cannabis derived CBD now?
The reason is simple: after thousands of years of encouraged cultivation and use (Henry VIII actually fined farmers is they didn’t grow hemp and by the early 18th century most physicians prescribed cannabis and included it in most medical formulations) both marijuana (cannabis indica) and hemp (cannabis sativa) were made completely illegal. This all started when around 5% of the US population had become, unwittingly, addicted to morphine – another ingredient commonly added to medications pre-19th century and one which, unsurprisingly, was extremely problematic. In an attempt to create some sort of boundaries for drug use, which until this point had been entirely free from restrictions, the Pure Food and Drug Act was put into place in 1906, creating the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). By 1914 drug use was defined as a crime for the first time, but even then, marijuana (the form of cannabis which contains psychoactive THC) was still legal for medicinal and industrial use, just now with ‘marijuana tax’ added. The UK followed suit, prohibiting the recreational use of marijuana in 1928.
By this point the medicinal waters were becoming a little muddied, so when President Richard Nixon waged his infamous ‘war on drugs’ in the 1960s as an alleged response to the rise in recreational drug use, lumping even THC free industrial hemp in with Heroin, cannabis was suddenly (officially) considered to have no medicinal use. Since then, theories have arisen to suggest there were sinister ulterior motives, such as an opportunity to criminalise ‘hippies’ and those of African American descent, as well as the chance to make a lot of money from re-introducing synthesised cannabis as a pharmaceutical drug at a later date. Again, the UK followed suit, listing cannabis and hemp as a Class B drug with the passage of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act.
So, what about CBD?
As all of this caused an uproar in mainstream media, research into the cannabis plant was continuing quietly in the background.
In the early 1930s, British chemist Robert S. Cahn discovered the first partial structure of cannabinoid CBN which then went on to be fully identified in 1940. Just two years later American chemist, Roger Adams, successfully identified and isolated the CBD we know and love today. He also went on to discover the THC molecule. But still, understanding of how this plant produced the effects it was famous for remained a mystery, that is until Dr. Raphael Mechoulam unveiled the the first hint of the impact CBD has on the body, followed again by THC. Research continued through into the 1980s when Dr. Mechoulam conducted a breakthrough study into the application of CBD for epilepsy, where 8 subjects received a dose of 300mg CBD a day for four months. As a result, half the participants stopped having seizures altogether, while others experienced a dramatic decrease.
While evidence to suggest that the medicinal use of cannabinoids steadily grew, the reason for these effects remained a mystery until the early 90s, when further cannabinoids were discovered, along with the endocannabinoid system – a complex network of receptors within the human body (and many other species besides) which interacts with cannabinoids and is now considered to be one of the most important physiological systems for maintaining overall health.
Dr. Mechoulam wasn’t the only medical expert working away on uncovering the wonders of CBD – many other scientists were getting wise to its potential applications too. But due to the restrictions of use, performing studies was (and still is) tricky. But as more and more evidence supported the amazing attributes of this plant, a push for legalisation around the world bloomed. In 1996, California became the first state to legalise medical marijuana again. Over the years more US states followed. In the UK, cannabis containing THC remains illegal, but cannabis with little to no THC (or with THC removed) is allowed for the extraction and selling of CBD products and industrial hemp (for rope, clothes, hempcrete and more). In 2018 medical cannabis for exceptional cases was legalised under the radar in the UK and some cannabis derived medications, such as Sativex, are in circulation.
There’s still a stigma around cannabis use, but thanks to the lifting of restrictions in many areas of the world, a huge amount of research from over the past 30 years is now coming to light. What’s being found is astonishing and now, with billions of people discovering the wellbeing benefits of CBD, terpenes and over 100 other cannabinoids, we’re moving closer to an era where cannabis is celebrated for the wonder it truly is.