History of Cannabis and CBD
Cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes by humans for thousands of years. Although many of the earliest references to cannabis as medicine have been lost to history, there are early records from about 2700 BCE in China. Emperor Shen-Nung, who has also been known as the Father of Chinese Medicine, recorded his use of cannabis as plant medicine in the Pen Ts’ao, his tome of natural medicines that can help relieve various ailments.
However, for centuries, cannabis was taken as a whole plant- CBD, THC, and all of the other compounds were consumed together and a “high” effect was produced due to the presence of the THC.
It wasn’t until 1940 that a team at Illinois University was able to isolate CBD for the first time; even then, many of its benefits were unknown because it had never been tested outside of the whole plant.
However, much of the research on cannabis and CBD was forced to come to a halt when President Nixon declared the War on Drugs in 1971. The United States government labeled cannabis and marijuana “Schedule 1” drugs, meaning that they carried the highest risk and potential for abuse. This label made it incredibly difficult for anyone, even research institutions, to legally obtain cannabis to study.
By 1998, attitudes around cannabis were changing, and a physician in the United Kingdom named Dr. Geoffrey Guy decided it was time to bring the plant back into laboratories to discover more medicinal uses. He founded a company called GW Pharmaceuticals which began to offer medical trials using CBD and combinations of CBD and THC. They primarily focused on individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS) and epilepsy to determine if these compounds could help improve their quality of life.
In Israel, a chemist named Raphael Mechoulam was the first to isolate tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and helped to spark the modern medical cannabis revolution that the world is currently experiencing.
As more people and laboratories research CBD, a variety of expected and unexpected benefits are emerging, including the potential for pain and anxiety relief.
The United States is even beginning to relax restrictions on CBD with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalizes the production of industrial hemp and products derived from industrial hemp like CBD. (Industrial hemp is defined as hemp with less than 0.3% THC content, so it doesn’t produce the sort of “high” effect that THC is known for.)
The Legal Status of Cannabis and CBD
While CBD is legal in most states (Wisconsin is a potential exception, but their laws are unclear at the moment), the legalities surrounding THC and cannabis are a lot less consistent.
The first important distinction to make is between medicinal cannabis use and recreational cannabis use. Medicinal use is legal in more states than recreational, although there are some states that do allow for recreational cannabis use despite the current federal regulations.
As of October 2021, there are twenty states that allow recreational cannabis use, as well as one US territory (Guam).