Medical Cannabis – A Historical Look Back

By Serina Marshall

These days, when people hear the word “cannabis”, they automatically think of an illegal activity. However, cannabis is not a new trend on the scene. And it also isn’t used solely for the above-mentioned example.

Throughout history, the cannabis plant has been used for medicinal purposes to improve various ailments and pains. To understand the historical significance of this particular controversial herb, we must go back many centuries to understand where it all began and how we ended up here.

Man has used cannabis as a medicine for over 4000 years. It has been utilized for many different reasons in many different civilizations across the world. In China c. 2900 BC, cannabis mixed with wine was used as an anesthetic to relieve symptoms of gout, rheumatism, and malaria. Egypt used the plant for childbirth pain, glaucoma, and hemorrhoids c. 1000 BC. Childbirth pain, insomnia, headaches, dysentery, and gut ailments were treated with cannabis in India c. 600 BC. And in Medieval Islamic civilization c. 900 AD, diuretic, antiemetic, antiepileptic, anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antipyretic were treated with, you guessed it, cannabis. The reality is, history proves the establishment and success of cannabis, well before our own civilization was a thought.

In the 19th century, many medical physicians in the West recognized cannabis as a medicine. Circa 1830, Dr. William O’Shaughnessy conducted clinical trials using cannabis for dysentery, rheumatism, seizures in infants, and spasticity in tetanus and rabies. In 1799 Napoleon brought cannabis to France from Egypt. Dr. Jacques-Joseph Moreau c. 1840, wrote of cannabis use to suppress headaches, improve appetites and improve sleep. Another doctor, Dr. E.A. Birch (c. 1889), reported his success in treating opioid addiction with cannabis. Cannabis and its healing properties were used as various treatments for varying diseases well before modern medicine took the reins. These discoveries were made long before modern doctors or activists came across their healing properties.

The pharmacopeia of the United States saw the arrival of cannabis in 1850. The extract of cannabis was a common type of medicine, before it was actually outlawed in 1937 by the American Medical Association. In the early 20th century, prohibition became a progressive soap box for those who wanted to control the flow of alcohol, as well as drugs. Cannabis at this point was beginning to be seen as such. The Federal Income Tax in 1903 had to be passed by the progressives of that era in order to pass the 18th amendment in 1919 to reach the goal of prohibiting alcohol. Ultimately, the prohibition of alcohol failed in just thirteen years, but the idea that the government should control drugs, succeeded.

Harry Anslinger became the leader of the Bureau of Alcohol, followed by the Bureau of Narcotics. Anslinger was a notorious racist who criminalized cannabis, and blamed the satanic rise of the herb on Negroes, Mexicans, Filipinos and entertainers. Not only did he support the victimization of African Americans and spread discrimination, he also spread anti-drug campaigns. He also sponsored prohibition laws in the United States and United Nations General Conventions. After Anslinger, Richard Nixon picked up where he left off by speaking out strongly against marijuana. Nixon also used strong discriminatory stances just as Anslinger did with his campaigns, this time, saying those that are legalizing marijuana are Jewish. Richard Nixon forced cannabis to a Schedule I status, even though his own independent commission advised him not to.

“Cannabinoids as Antioxidants and Neuroprotectants” was a patent presented on October 7th, 2003, owned by Health and Human Services to prove that cannabis was indeed a medicine. The inventors of this patent were Aidan J. Hampson of Irvine, CA., Julius Axelrod of Rockville, MD., and Maurizio Grimaldi of Bethesda, MD. This patent helped to introduce the research needed to present cannabis as a medicinal purpose. A poll by MTSU in 2018, confirmed the support for medicinal use. It showed 81% of Tennesseans support medical cannabis by a 4 to 1 margin. 44% supported medical use, 37% supported unlimited use, while only 16% opposed all usage.

According to the epidemiology of conditions in Tennesseans, North Carolinians, and Virginians, a large number may benefit from cannabinoid medicines.

The American Cancer Society, 2020., states that there are 39,360 new cases of those that suffer from cancer. The CDC 2018., says that 1,990,380 Tennesseans have arthritis, 193,584 of those with severe arthritis. 120,000 Tennesseans suffer from Alzheimer’s according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and the CDC estimates 63,900 adults and 10,000 children have epilepsy.

In North Carolina, the estimated new cases of cancer according to The American Cancer Society in 2020 is 59,620. According to America’s Health Rankings, North Carolina is the least healthy when it comes to arthritis, at 47.3%. The Alzheimer’s Association, 2020., says that nearly 180,000 North Carolinians will suffer from Alzheimer’s in 2020 and nearly 210,000 by 2025. And the CDC estimates that 94,900 adults and 15,200 children suffer from epilepsy.
Virginia’s statistics follow those of Tennessee and North Carolina. The estimated number for cancer patients in Virginia according to The American Cancer Society is 47,550 new cases in 2020. The CDC says that over 1,513,000 Virginians suffer from arthritis. An estimated 150,000 Virginians suffer from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, and that number is expected to rise to 190,000 by 2025, and the CDC reports that an estimated 11,000 children and 73,800 adults live with epilepsy.

Due to the statistics listed above, it would seem that a large number of patients would benefit from the use of cannabis treatment.

Despite the obvious advantages to using cannabis within the medical realm, there are still many oppositions to the use of the plant at all. One objection claims that marijuana is dangerous. The truth is, all medicines can be dangerous. Cannabis is far safer than most OTC medicines approved by the FDA.

Another objection says we need more research. However, research has been outlawed by progressive policies. “Medical use leads to recreational use” is another concern. All medicines can be abused. Yet, it is always immoral to prohibit a medicine. Another objection is the fact that we already have medical marijuana. Marinol and Epidiolex are not competitive products and are rejected by patients who have options in free markets. The worry that children will gain access always has been a concern. An illegal market is the real risk with no restrictions on inappropriate access. And finally, the Gateway Theory, stating that if you smoke marijuana you will end up partaking in harder drugs, has already been proven many times over to be false.

A patient with epilepsy suffers every day with the unknowing onset of seizures at any minute. Currently, there is a Tennessee law that allows patients with epilepsy to possess CBD oil. The problem is, it provides no legal means for acquisition, making these vulnerable patients look like criminals. A patient with epilepsy may possess CBD oil with less than .9% THC if they have a diagnosis from a Tennessee doctor. These doctors can recommend, but cannot actually “prescribe” the medicine to the patient. Also, there is currently no provision to legally acquire or produce the CBD oil and it is a violation of Federal law to cross state lines.

Another addition to diseases that could be assisted by cannabis treatment, is schizophrenia patients. The National Institute of Mental Health states that across certain studies that use household-based survey samples, clinical diagnostic interviews, and medical records, the prevalence estimation of schizophrenia and related psychotic disorders in the U.S. range between 0.25% and 0.64%.

The usage of cannabis has been present in the medical industry for thousands of years. This plant is not just used for illegal and recreational activities. It is a very important part of historical and modern-day medicine to help a series of ailments and diseases. The fight to make this herb legal across the board has yet to be achieved. However, we are on a closer path that we have been in previous years and that gap seems to be closing further with every year and successful patient story.