CBD may be making headlines amongst scientists and media groups, but this isn't the first time cannabis and its cannabinoids have been used medicinally. The first use of cannabis dates back thousands of years, while CBD was first discovered in the 1940s. To learn everything there is to know about the history of CBD, continue reading.
CBD is just one of a vast collection of chemical compounds that exist within the cannabis plant. Although it wasn’t until 1940 that CBD was isolated as a unique cannabinoid, the medicinal use of cannabis can be traced back thousands of years. To complete the whole picture of CBD and its impact as a natural treatment, we first need to take a closer look at the general attributes of the Cannabis sativa plant.
Cannabis sativa grows natively across the world. Incredibly hardy and resistant, cannabis can be found in tropical climates, mountainous regions, and in areas where high soil toxicity would typically kill other plant life. Without overloading you with too much information, the cannabis plant can be split into three subspecies: sativa, indica, and ruderalis. For our deep exploration of CBD's history, ruderalis is the species we will focus on.
After years of selectively breeding ruderalis, commercial hemp was created. It is now the most common form of cannabis that CBD is derived from. Traditional uses of hemp included harvesting the fibre for rope and clothing. Hemp and the other species of cannabis were also incorporated into many traditional remedies.
Throughout history, numerous cultures discovered that the cannabis plant had medicinal benefit. The reason for its repeated use lies in the previously untapped power of cannabinoids.
A combination of scientific knowledge and modern equipment has enabled botanists to complete a detailed review of the cannabis plant under a microscope. In doing so, we have gained insight into a sprawling chemical structure. The cannabis plant produces over 100 chemical compounds referred to as cannabinoids. Well-known cannabinoids include THC, CBD, CBN, CBDA and CBG.
Cannabinoids are unique because of the reaction they provoke in human physiology. Over millions of years, mammals have evolved and developed a system that can be triggered by the presence of cannabinoids. Only discovered in the 1990s, the endocannabinoid system is an endogenous series of receptors found throughout major organs, the central nervous system, and areas of the brain.
The human body does produce naturally occurring cannabinoids called endocannabinoids; however, the reactions they prompt from our endocannabinoid system can be limited. This is why phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids found in cannabis/hemp plants) have become so important. They can enhance natural biological responses, providing superior medicinal benefit without notable side effects. CBD is the prime candidate for this type of reaction. Accounting for roughly 40% of cannabis plant extract, once ingested, it interacts with a variety of receptors. Research has shown the potential for CBD to be a potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, analgesic, and antipsychotic.
Knowing how powerful cannabinoids can be, it will come as no surprise that cannabis has been used medicinally as far back as 2737 BCE. Ancient Chinese emperor Shen Nung wrote about experiments in which he used hemp plants to treat several ailments. His recommendations included gout, rheumatism, and constipation.
Egyptians, Greeks, and the medieval Islamic world have all used cannabis medicinally at some point in history. The plant was widely revered for its incredible diversity and minimal impact on the environment.
It wasn’t until 1830 that an Irish physician called William Brooke O’Shaughnessy brought the plant back from India. Hindu culture has a rich history of using cannabis in a traditional drink during religious ceremonies. It wasn’t long before cannabis had spread throughout most of Europe and across the Atlantic to America. It seems strange, given today's legal landscape, that the use of cannabis in medical tonics and tinctures was rife.
Medical cannabis products were even available over the counter and included in the United States Pharmacopoeia in 1850. The compendium contained a comprehensive list of drug information. Sadly, changes in society and a move by governments to prohibit the use of cannabis all but removed its widespread medicinal use. That was until we discovered more about CBD.
Starting in 1895, three prominent scientists managed to isolate the first plant-derived cannabinoid: CBN. You would think that their discovery would spark a plethora of studies. However, it wasn't until the 1930s, some 40 years later, that another scientist, Robert Sidney Cahn, would decipher the chemical structure of CBN. Cue another time skip, except this time just ten years later when Roger Adams identified the cannabinoid in question: CBD.
Discovering cannabinoids was one thing, but establishing how they worked and interacted with the human body was another challenge altogether. The 1960s proved to be the catalyst needed for significant breakthroughs in our understanding of cannabinoids. The chemical structure of CBD was identified in 1963, while one year later, THC was also recognised and isolated.
Slow but steady progress would continue to be made throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. We came to develop a better understanding of how the endocannabinoid system worked, and the reactions it invoked. Despite all these breakthroughs, it was not until 2017 that the first CBD products would hit shelves and be available to general consumers. Since then, support for the cannabinoid has snowballed. CBD has been recognised by the WHO, and has been at the centre of dozens of research projects.
We know the history, and we know that CBD is derived from hemp, a species of cannabis explicitly grown for its commercial viability. In today’s legal minefield, where does CBD end up?
Thankfully, much of the modern world has legalised the sale of CBD oil. CBD is regarded as a therapeutic treatment and has become widely available. There are still legal challenges in some parts of the world, and restrictions on the exact composition of the oil; however, reputable companies regularly test and verify the integrity of their products to ensure all regulations are complied with.
It is important to note that indica, sativa, and hemp have become firmly separated at this stage. Only industrial hemp is considered legal (exceptions do apply), while marijuana (the broad term for the other species of cannabis) is still mostly illegal.
As restrictions on CBD have lapsed, research has increased. Studies into the cannabinoid’s potential extend to addiction, cancer, inflammation, digestive disorders, anxiety, chronic pain, and metabolism. CBD oil products have flooded consumer markets. Several varieties are now available—each with different concentrations. CBD is also available in capsule form and incorporated into skincare products.
The billion dollar question, literally. Analysts estimate that hemp cultivation could become a billion dollar industry in the next ten years. This is mostly down to the American market, where a bill proposing the removal of hemp from the list of Schedule I controlled substances is likely to be approved in 2019.
Across the pond in Europe, under national drug laws, hemp containing less than 0.2–0.3% THC is legal. The contribution of both these factors can only be good news for current and potential CBD users. As the demand for CBD increases, so will the cultivation of hemp. With more hemp, more CBD becomes available—a self-fulfilling cycle.
There is some speculation about interference from corporate pharmaceutical companies. CBD is considered cheap to buy, at least in comparison to synthetically produced medication. Their intervention could upset the current balance of products available.
Significant debate still exists among governmental bodies surrounding how the future CBD industry will be regulated. At present, companies are not bound by specific regulations surrounding packaging or product descriptions. Combined with an incredibly diverse legal landscape, the CBD market does continue to grow, albeit cautiously. As further studies take place, and regulations ease, the future of CBD looks incredibly bright.
You only need to look back at the extensive history of cannabis and the recent discoveries surrounding cannabinoids to know that considerable potential could be on the horizon. The hope is that governments move to support the same notion.