History and Evolution of Medical Cannabis in the World

History and Evolution of Medical Cannabis in the World

For many years in America and Europe, marijuana has had a reputation as a psychedelic drug used by stoners and hippies. These stereotypes of lazy, carefree smokers have tarnished the reputation and are by no means a picture of cannabis culture as a whole.

Despite the recent negative connotations, and by recent i mean the last century, Cannabis — a category of plants that include three species and seven sub-species — have been used in medicine for thousands of years.

Medieval and Ancient physicians used to mix cannabis into medicines or boil them into teas to alleviate pain in their patients. Back then, it wasn’t highly controlled or outlawed; it was a plant; it’s always been a plant, with many beneficial benefits to human health.

Below is a very brief history of medical cannabis so that you can understand how efficient the plant and its derivatives can be in therapies and treatments.

Ancient Medicinal Cannabis Use

Back in ancient times, hemp was commonly grown as an agricultural crop - harvested for its oil, high protein seeds, and fiber, which was used to make clothes and rope. Hemp is just one variety of the cannabis plant. However, it doesn’t have the psychoactive effects that marijuana can have on people.

In China and elsewhere in the ancient world, hemp was grown as food and had hundreds of other uses. Therefore, people naturally discovered that certain types of cannabis plants had medicinal effects. The use of cannabis as medicine started in China, then made its way through Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Cannabis was used to treat various conditions, including pain and nausea.

Chinese Legend sats that In 2737 B.C, Emperor Shen Neng was one of the first world leaders to prescribe marijuana as a treatment for a variety of illnesses. This included rheumatism, malaria, memory loss, and gout.

In 1550 BC, The Ancient Egyptians Ebers Papyrus noted that cannabis was an effective treatment of inflammation.

In 100 A.D, in ancient China, there was a medical book published known as the Shennong Bencaojing, which referred to cannabis as ‘great’ and noted that its flowers, seeds, and leaves of the plant could be incredibly useful.

200 A.D, a Chinese surgeon known as Hua Tuo, was the first physician on record to use cannabis as an anesthetic during a surgical procedure. First, the plant was ground into a powdered form; then, it was mixed with wine for a patient to consume before surgery. An interesting fact is that the Chinese word for anesthesia translates to “Cannabis intoxication.” The roots, leaves, and oil of cannabis plants were used to treat tapeworms, constipation, hair loss during this period.


Medieval Medical Cannabis Use

During the middle ages, cannabis was prevalent in the Middle East. Alcohol was forbidden in Islam, so many Muslims smoked hashish- which is the Arabic word for marijuana. It was also widely used in traditional Arabic medicine.

100-1000s A.D. During the Middle Ages across Europe, cannabis was not a religious or spiritual hallucinogen as it was in India, but it was integrated into folk medicine. Cannabis was used to treat coughs, tumors, and jaundice. 

Also, medieval herbalists and physicians warned of using cannabis excessively — they believed that too much would lead to sterility and other unhealthy conditions

Modern Use of Medical Cannabis

The 1500s. The Spanish shipped cannabis to South America. However, during the North American colonization, hemp was the material of choice —it was used for practical purposes like bagging, clothes, paper, and to make ropes for the maritime industry.

  1. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is formed to prevent another opium crisis. Many people were becoming addicted to heroin, morphine, and opium, which weren’t under official regulation. The FDA controlled morphine and opium during this time and showed little interest in marijuana, but the creation of the FDA caused a significant shift in American drug policy

  2. Drug use is declared an official crime under the Harrison Act.


  1. At this point, 23 American states have made marijuana use and possession illegal. The government passes the Marijuana Tax Act, making the use of non-medical cannabis illegal. Cannabis was still applied in various medical treatments in controlled forms.

  2. Marijuana became categorized as a Schedule I drug, along with much more dangerous substances. It was listed as having no medical use. This went against medical literature at the time, with many journals listing the medicinal properties that cannabis offered. However, the U.S government restricted any further research until recent times.

As of April 2015, 23 states in the U.S. have legalized medical cannabis. However, people must qualify to be prescribed medical marijuana. The most frequently treated groups of people are children with forms of epilepsy, cancer patients, and some HIV/AIDS patients. It is also prescribed to people living with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and Crohn’s disease.

While research into the medical effects of cannabis is still limited by restrictions that prevent scientists from accessing the drug, recent studies have found that CBD can treat schizophrenia, arthritis, inflammation, and migraines. One 2014 study even suggested that cannabis may be useful in the targeting of brain tumors. However, as always, much more research is needed to back up these claims.

In countries and states where medical marijuana is legalized, there seems to be a consensus that it helps treat a variety of ailments. One 2014 study found that over 90 percent of people in California who were prescribed cannabis reported that it helped them treat a severe medical condition. And based on the history of medical marijuana, which has been used for its therapeutic value for thousands of years all over the world, they’re probably right.

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