Cannabidiol as a substance isn’t exactly taught about in science class. True, you probably know a bit about cannabinoids and their function in the human body, but it’s unlikely you have much of an idea about the history of cannabidiol or marijuana in general.
Don’t worry, it’s not your fault; you’ve been let down! Most people around today grew up in an environment of intense fear of marijuana, with teachers desperate to avoid any kind of contact or risk of association with marijuana.
Well, no longer! Now, we can all learn together about CBD, as well as marijuana.
What better place to start than learning about where it all began, and how CBD came to where it is today?
Let’s take a look at the history of cannabidiol, as well as some particularly interesting CBD-related events.
The First Hemp Records
Despite the immediate assumption, marijuana and hemp products have actually been in use for millennia.
The very first records of Hemp use is in China during the Qin and Han dynasties, as evidenced by the study conducted by Lu and Clarke. It was listed as a primary crop in these empires, with a large amount of documentation detailing the practices and methods of both growing and using hemp.
This is primarily rooted in the industrial uses for hemp. Despite its cannabinoid content, hemp has been primarily used as a textile for making cloth, rope and other important textiles for most of human agricultural history.
The psychoactive properties of cannabis have likely always been known, but not fully exploited.
There are plenty of records detailing psychotropic experiences in human histories, though the exact chemicals or plants used is sometimes difficult to pin down.
What we do know is that, for a huge chunk of our history, we used hemp and cannabis in general for the good of everyone.
Until, that is, certain industries got in the way.
The Apparent Death of Hemp
There’s a very important reason why a knowledge and appreciation for cannabis products is only just now resurging throughout the world – hemp and cannabis products were banned in the USA.
Thanks to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 (yes, it was spelt like that back then), the Hemp industry was essentially destroyed.
The reasons for the creation of this bill are debatable, but the principal reason seems to be linked to Randolph Hearst and his own business interests.
Hearst, who you might know as the inspiration for the critically acclaimed movie Citizen Kane, was a prestigious business man, leading the nation in newspaper circulation and paper production.
Hearst was frightened of the hemp industry because, thanks to recent inventions such as the decorticator (a contraption that made it easier to separate out plant shells), hemp was threatening to put his paper business… out of business.
So, businessmen like Hearst got together and passed the Tax Act, which levied huge taxes on anyone growing or trading in hemp.
Thanks to this, the hemp industry essentially died. Additionally, the rising fear of psychotropic drugs, primarily caused by an influx of immigrants from south of the border who used marijuana as a recreational drug, prompted the American people to backlash against cannabis in general.
It’s entirely likely that cannabis and hemp might have completely faded out of use except as a niche textile. If it weren’t for a few key moments and people, it might all have disappeared.
People like Roger Adams.
Roger Adams & The Discovery of CBD
In 1940, a scientist and Harvard graduate named Roger Adams successfully isolated CBD from the rest of the plant.
This means that he was able to separate CBD from the other plant matter and other cannabinoids, allowing him to note it as a separate entity.
However, he didn’t do a lot with it. Roger Adams is sadly a bit of a footnote, as when later scientists successfully used CBD in medical treatments, they were able to go back and realize that Roger Adams had beaten them to the punch.
Dr. Walter S. Loewe & The First CBD Tests
In 1946, although only 6 short years after Adams had isolated cannabidiol, Dr. Loewe finally began testing cannabinoids as a medicine on lab animals.
These experiments were significant because they were heavily documented, allowing future researchers to use their methodology, providing evidence to support their own theories and, eventually, try other studies out themselves.
By testing rabbits and mice after having been administered THC and CBD, Dr Loewe was able to determine the first documented effects of cannabinoids on mammals.
With regard to the specific results from CBD, Dr. Loewe found that CBD produced no discernible effects on the animals tested. Additionally, this was noted in contrast to the “central excitant” effect they observed when administered with THC.
Raphael Mechoulam’s Description of CBD
This event, despite the existence of the two that came before it, is usually ascribed the title of “The most important moment” in CBD history.
Mechoulam described the chemical structure of CBD in 1963, going further than Dr. Adams as he not only isolated the compound, but actually defined what the structure of the individual cannabinoid molecules are. He also described the structure of THC, which is incredibly important for the cannabis industry today.
Dr. Mechoulam completed this work at his lab in the University of Jerusalem, making Israel essentially the founding home of marijuana and the CBD industry.
Later on in the decade, Mechoulam began testing CBD and other isolated cannabinoids on primates, being able to determine the exact effects of different cannabinoids on our closest living animal relatives.
Mechoulam discovered that it was THC, not CBD, that caused the psychoactive high, allowing CBD to be considered a medicine that doesn’t get you high for the very first time.
First Medical Cannabis Tincture
Though it’s important to know when CBD was first isolated, it’s even more important to know when CBD was first marketed.
British Pharmacopoeia released a cannabis tincture that was likely filled with CBD full spectrum extracts, suspended within alcohol to make a CBD tincture.
This was the first example of an official, government backed medication that contained cannabis allowed to be sold to the public.
The First Legalization in the US
Once Britain released their medicine, the rest of the world began to take notice. In 1978, the state of New Mexico officially recognized cannabis as a medicine available to the public.
This was widely protested by the general public, who did not understand the full facts of what cannabis and CBD were, but it passed regardless. The bill made a lot of provisions regarding its use as a medicine, but it doesn’t actually mention CBD by name – it merely refers to using cannabis products for the purpose of treating certain conditions.
All this didn’t mean that it was easy to get marijuana or CBD though – it was still mandated very heavily by the government. However, 18 years later in 1996, California was the first state to completely legalize medical Marijuana. This was the first step in creating a solid Cannabis and CBD industry, as it provided a market for businesses to cater towards, as well as providing them with a safe space with which to grow their product.
Production of cannabis and CBD was difficult at the start, but it gradually became easier once other states began legalizing it.
However, perhaps the most important event for the history of CBD with regards to its legislation and eventual everyday use is…
Mechoulam’s Epilepsy Research
In 1980, Dr. Mechoulam teamed up with international researchers to explore the use of CBD as a specific treatment for epileptic patients.
The study was a success, demonstrating that patients treated with CBD experienced a reduction in seizures and an improved condition. However, the study was barely seen by anybody.
Thanks to the social stigma of cannabis at the time, it wasn’t covered by the media and no more effort was put into exploring CBD as a useful medicine to help treat epilepsy.
That is, until Charlotte Figi.
Charlotte Figi & Dravet Syndrome
Charlotte Figi is far from a CBD crusader – she is just a little girl who suffered from something terrible.
Charlotte suffered from Dravet syndrome, a serious epileptic disorder that gave her 300 grand mal seizures (this means the really bad ones!) every month.
At their wit’s end, her parents finally reached out to some medical cannabis growers and worked together to come up with a high CBD strain of cannabis – named Charlotte’s Web – for Charlotte to use.
After using CBD, Charlotte’s seizure frequency dropped completely, becoming only 2 or 3 a month rather than her previous frequency of 300. Her case received massive media attention, propelling CBD into the public consciousness and making people aware of the medicinal benefits.
This is such an important event because it finally, at last, showed the world that CBD could help save lives and improve the conditions of countless people.
The History of Cannabidiol: Final Thoughts
CBD has a long and storied history throughout humanity, from industrial and medicinal use, through to banning and social avoidance, then back to public awareness and usefulness.
Despite decades of scientific research and work by ardent scientists across the globe, it took 70 years from when CBD was first isolated for it to be finally appreciated.
In the end, it wasn’t the work of scientists or researchers, but the suffering of one little girl and parents who just wouldn’t give up.