Ready to delve into a brief history of CBD? We’ll chart its path from natural remedy taken by kings and queens to the margins of the medical world – before its re-emergence as a legitimate life-changing medicine. But first, an explanation.
What is CBD?
CBD is a chemical compound that naturally occurs in the cannabis plant. Its calming properties are considered widely beneficial and crucially, it’s not psychoactive – i.e. it doesn’t get you ‘high’. The compound in cannabis responsible for that is tetrahydrocannabinol (aka THC).
When was CBD first used?
The first documented case of cannabis-derived medicine dates back to 2327 BC when it was taken as tea by the Chinese emperor, Sheng Nung, for malaria, rheumatism and gout.
A couple of millennia later, the 19th century Irish physician, Sir William B. O’Shaughnessy, researched the natural health benefits of a number of plants including hemp, a strain of cannabis.
Queen Victoria knighted him for his work – in fact, it was widely believed that she used cannabis-rich CBD to relieve the discomfort caused by menstrual cramps.
Why did people stop taking cannabis?
At the beginning of the 20th century, hemp was being used for all manner of materials including rope, clothing and paper, as well as for medical and recreational purposes. However, the tide began to turn in the 1920s. Laws were passed around the Western world banning opium and cocaine, with cannabis soon going the same way.
In the US, the backlash arguably began when groups of Mexican immigrants began arriving in the country. They would smoke marijuana (a leaf from the cannabis plant) in cigarettes and pipes.
Fuelled by anti-immigrant feeling, sensationalized stories began to spread about marijuana causing crazed acts of violence. And in 1937, the Marijuana Act outlawing cannabis was passed.
Over the next few decades, the war on drugs intensified and the influence of pharmaceutical companies increased, pushing cannabis research further away from the mainstream.
Who discovered CBD?
The growing stigma surrounding cannabis didn’t deter everyone and in 1942 a remarkable discovery was made.
Roger Adams, a chemist at the University of Illinois, successfully identified CBD as one of many chemical compounds in cannabis. Two years later, he identified THC as another. Separating these two compounds paved the way for more research into their individual properties.
Then, in 1980, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam made another major breakthrough. He gave daily doses of CBD to a group of people suffering from epilepsy. After four months, half of them were having far fewer seizures – while the other half stopped completely.
Gradually his work began to gain attention and in 1997, California became the first state to legalize cannabis for medical purposes. Oregon, Washington and Alaska followed a year later.
In 2018, the US Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp and CBD has exploded onto the scene.
It can be found in all kinds of forms. Next time you’re in New York, swing by the Adriaen Block bar in Queens and try one of their CBD-infused cocktails.
But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a fad. Last year, the World Health Organisation stated that CBD could help people suffering from pain, inflammation, anxiety and all kinds of other ailments. But that’s not all.
As laws have loosened, more and more research is opening up all kinds of possibilities for CBD. And its influence is starting to spread across many other parts of our society – from the sports field to the conference room.