Over the last ten years, it seems that cannabidiol (CBD) has become one of the most trending molecules in the health and wellness industry. To some, it may seem like this CBD hype came out of nowhere, when in actuality, CBD has been popping up in science, medicine, and culture for centuries. So, where did this all begin, and what’s next for this multifaceted molecule?
Let’s start at the beginning to get a true sense of the history of hemp and CBD.
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CBD Ancient History
Before the 1900’s, hemp (also known as cannabis) was a commonly traded plant in the global market, similar to Tobacco. The earliest recorded cannabis use was found in the 5th century writings of the Greek historian, Herodotus. His records reference the use of cannabis in central Eurasian bathhouses, through vaporization on the hot rocks in steam rooms.
By the 16th century, cannabis had begun to spread through the Columbian exchange to West Africa from its south Asia evolutionary homeland, and was eventually brought to Brazil where it would later spread to the Americas.
Cannabis was considered a highly versatile crop that was commonly traded and cultivated around the world, later being seen as an economically advantageous resource to European colonists.
Early reports on the uses and trades of cannabis were predominantly from European observers, which limits historical knowledge as Europeans strongly favored tobacco and were mostly ignorant or disdainful of African cannabis uses. Regardless, both tobacco and cannabis became cash crops under colonial regimes. Despite the cultural misunderstandings of cannabis use, it was unanimously understood that the fibers, oils, and seeds of cannabis were monumental for progress everywhere.
In 1611, King James I of England issued a royal decree that all colonists of the 13 colonies grow hemp in North America. Given the many useful byproducts that came from hemp, it was often considered more valuable than money, and at one time was even used as legal tender for paying taxes. Up until this time, the ceremonial and medicinal uses of cannabis were stigmatized by Europeans. Their limiting beliefs lead to a misunderstanding of the benefits of consuming cannabis, stunting research on cannabis in western medicine. It wasn’t until 1839 that Dr. William O’Shaughnessy brought medicinal cannabis from India to the mainstream via his publications that caught the attention of Western medical practitioners. This ultimately led to over 100 studies conducted on cannabis in the last half of the 19th century.
Discovery of CBD in 1940
CBD was first discovered in 1940 by Roger Adams, an American organic chemist. Adams isolated both CBD and CBN (another cannabinoid known as cannabinol) from hemp. At this time Adams also hypothesized about the existence of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), or the psychoactive component of cannabis.
It took another four years before THC was extracted and isolated by chemist Raphael Mechoulam. It was through his work that the molecular shapes of CBD and THC were identified. This would pave the roadmap to future scientific discoveries on cannabinoids across the world.
CBD Pharmaceutical Use is Revealed
In 1985, Allyn Howlett discovered the CB1 receptor in the human body. This is part of the nervous system that is responsible for interacting with CBD and other cannabinoids. By 1993, the CB2 receptor was discovered, leading to Mechoulam theorizing that cannabinoids may have an impact on human health, which was proven in his studies. This grouping of receptors was then officially named the Endocannabinoid System.
In 1996, California was the first state to legalize cannabis for medical use which later prompted Alaska, Washington, and Oregon to legalize cannabis for therapeutic use within a year.
As conversation began to build on the medical implications of cannabinoids, researchers were eager to find substantial proof. However, with laws in place that limited testing we had to rely on anecdotal evidence for years.
One of the most famous medical patients, Charlotte Figi became a legacy in cannabis for her activism and touching story that led to the creation of the strain Charlotte’s Web.
Figi was a young girl, suffering from Dravet Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy. Her mother began administering cannabis oil as a treatment, as they struggled before to find any medicines that would minimize the intense symptoms of the syndrome. Due to cannabis, the frequency of seizures was so greatly improved that they were able to share this success story with the world, Figi became a public figure in the cannabis movement. Before CBD, Figi was experiencing 300 seizures a week, which then dropped to about 3 a month. Her story prompted a movement to make safe access to medical CBD possible for both children and adults.
Sadly, in April of 2020, Charlotte Figi passed away due to complications with pneumonia. Though, her impact lives on and continues to change many people’s lives to this day.
Farm Bill Opens the Door for CBD
New avenues for research and development within the hemp industry came about when the 2014 Farm Bill was voted in. This allowed institutions of higher education and state agriculture departments to grow hemp under a pilot program in states that permitted such. The Farm Bill created a new opportunity for research, helping to redefine the benefits and risks of the industrial hemp industry.
At the time, it was still somewhat legally ambiguous to work with compounds from the cannabis plant, even those derived from hemp. CBD, the most popular cannabinoid known for its medicinal potential, was still considered a Schedule I substance at the time, despite its non-psychoactive effect on the body. This classification was officially changed in the 2018 Farm Bill amendment, removing hemp and CBD from scheduling.
Now any hemp that tests below 0.3% THC can be grown as any other USDA regulated crop, and is available for export. Some states opted to stay within the guidelines of the 2014 program (cultivation for research purposes only), however commercial hemp cultivation is fully legal under federal law in the United States. The same can be said for Canada.
Global Legalization of CBD
Internationally, cannabis has been making waves to end prohibition around the world. In reviewing a series of WHO recommendations on cannabis and its derivatives, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) voted to remove cannabis from scheduling, recognizing the medical and therapeutic potential. This decision could drive additional scientific research with more than 50 countries adopting medical and/or adult use cannabis programs.
Uncommon Products & The Future of CBD
Alongside the boom in CBD legislation we have also seen a significant influence from the tech industry innovations on the types of CBD products on the market. Some products are less compelling based on efficacy, like CBD infused pillows and pants, while others could be life changing – like fast acting CBD inhalers.
Over the next decade of advancements in CBD products, we must acknowledge the science and importance of proper analytical testing techniques to maintain a strong foundation for public health and safety. Thankfully, CBD is such a safe ingredient to work with that the focus is less on the dangers of CBD and more on the effectiveness of dosing and methods of use.
Any statements made in this post are not intended to replace advice from a medical professional. Please consult your healthcare professional about potential interactions or other possible complications before using any CBD product.