Cannabis has an incredibly long, remarkable history of use dating back tens of thousands of years. While we could write an entire book covering it’s uses and history, we’ll just touch on the main (and most interesting) parts here today.
Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants in the small Cannabaceae family. It includes roughly 170 species of plants – the most famous of this family being Cannabis (hemp and marijuana) and Humulus (hops). Cannabis is believed to have evolved on the steppes of Central Asia, specifically in the regions of Mongolia and southern Siberia and is known as one of the oldest edible genera to be cultivated. While Hemp and marijuana are often used interchangeably to describe the genus “cannabis”, they are quite different in terms of historical use, both ancient and modern. To clarify the use and history of these two we’ll explore each individually.
Hemp: A Plant of Abundance
Hemp is the term used to categorize varieties of the cannabis family that contain little to no psychoactive properties (less than 0.3% THC). The oldest recorded use of hemp comes from the Czech Republic-Slovakia region of Europe where hemp fiber was found in 1997 and dated back to 26,900BC. Historically, hemp has been one of the most important and useful plants for human beings ever known. The seeds of the plant are edible and rich in protein, fat, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. Additionally, they can be pressed to extract their prized oil.
The most valuable aspect of hemp, however, is it’s strong, resilient fibers that can be woven into rope and clothing. Archaeological evidence shows that people used hemp clothing in China around 5,000 BC where the root was also used as medicine and the stem to make paper, eventually replacing papyrus. Throughout the colonial period in America, hemp was an important export after Jamestown settlers brought it in 1611. It was so important to the colonies that in 1772 Virginia awarded bounties for its manufacture and imposed penalties on those who did not cultivate it.
While hemp cannot produce a “high” there was no differentiation between hemp and marijuana when the entire cannabis genus was made illegal in 1937 at the federal level under the Marihuana Tax Act, and again in 1970 under the Controlled Substances Act. Hemp remained illegal until last year when President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill, allowing farmers to grow the plant after more than eight decades of prohibition. Despite the progress recently made and the obvious usefulness of hemp, nine states still prohibit the planting and usage of hemp.
Marijuana: Ancient Panacea, Modern Marvel
The term “marijuana” was non-existent until the early 1900s when nearly one million Mexicans flooded into the United States seeking asylum from the Mexican Revolution. Anti-Mexican sentiment had begun to rise during this time, giving way to a negative attachment to the Mexican-termed “marijuana” and it’s use by the immigrants. Up until this time, the psychoactive variety of this plant was simply known as “cannabis”.
As animosity increased and rumors churned about the violent tendencies of people who used “marijuana” the negative perception of cannabis intensified, ultimately resulting in aggressive government regulation. By 1927, eleven states had already passed anti-cannabis laws beginning with Utah in 1915. By 1936 the propaganda of “Reefer Madness” had fully permeated society.
Prior to the prohibition of cannabis in the 20th century, it’s use as a medicinal plant had been known and recorded as early as 2900BC when Chinese Emperor Fu His wrote about “Ma” – the Chinese word for cannabis – being used as medicine. In 700BC Zoroaster (a.k.a. Zarathustra), the father of Zoroastrianism listed cannabis (“Bhang”) as the most important of 10,000 medicinal plants. Ancient societies used various parts of the plant to treat countless health issues including glaucoma, inflammation, generalized pain, insomnia, gout, rheumatism, edema, and malaria.
According to diaries and ledgers, both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew cannabis. Washington had a particular interest in the medicinal uses of THC-containing cannabis while Jefferson grew hemp as a traditional fiber at Monticello. In 1850, cannabis was officially entered into the United States Pharmacopeia which listed its usefulness for numerous ailments including neuralgia, tetanus, typhus, cholera, rabies, dysentery, alcoholism, opiate addiction, anthrax, leprosy, incontinence, gout, convulsive disorders, tonsillitis, and excessive menstrual bleeding. All parts of the plant have been traditionally used with the main pharmaceutical application using the prepared plant in tincture form.
Decades of legislation, criminalization, and red tape in the U.S. stunted the exploration and scientific understanding of the plant and its effects on the human body. The main psychoactive component of cannabis, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), was not identified until 1964 when Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, Professor of Medicinal Chemistry first discovered and synthesized the chemical at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. While prohibition continued state-side, U.S. researchers discovered cannabinoid receptor sites in the brain in 1990. This monumental discovery has helped scientists understand the effects of cannabis on the brain. One year after this discovery, San Francisco lead the way in passing the first medical marijuana initiative in the United States. The following year, in 1992, with the assistance of Dr. William Devane and Dr. Lumir Hanus, Dr. Mechoulam identified the first endogenous cannabinoid (endocannabinoid) twenty-eight years after discovering THC.
On November 5, 1996, California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana. Since then more than 30 states have decriminalized cannabis. Although the medicinal use of cannabis is not yet FDA-approved, modern uses of the plant include relief from pain, inflammation, insomnia, convulsive disorders, muscle spasms, nausea, anxiety, depression, and glaucoma.
With the new wave of legalization spreading across the United States, there is an ever-increasing need to educate citizens and allay the fears and misconceptions that have held fast for more than 100 years. At GreenLeaf Solutions, our first priority is to educate. Whether you are new to cannabis or a seasoned user, we are here to help you understand this miraculous plant, and together, determine if its use is something that’s right for you.
GreenLeaf Solutions is a Physician-owned and operated cannabis dispensary located in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. We take pride in our meticulously cultivated cannabis and providing the highest quality CBD and THC products. We are happy to answer any questions you may have about cannabis. Our doors are open Monday through Saturday from 10:00am to 7:00pm.