Most of you had probably never heard of CBD before about five or so years ago, but the history of CBD stretches back a lot farther than five years, or ten years ago, or even twenty years ago. A LOT longer. So why had none of us really known about it until relatively recently? To get to the bottom of that question, we need to look at the history of CBD both globally and within the United States. The best way to know where you are and where you’re going is to understand where you came from. In this article we’ll look at CBD through the lens of history, from its earliest ancient uses to the history of its discovery and identification, through to how its modern usage has developed despite social and legal pushback.
Early History of CBD
When I said the history of CBD dated back a lot longer than a couple decades, I meant it. Try over 4700 years back. Because CBD is one of the two major cannabinoids in cannabis plants along with THC, the history of CBD, particularly the ancient history of CBD, runs parallel to the history of cannabis. The earliest recorded use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes was recorded by Emperor Shen Nung in 2737 BC. According to the National Library of Medicine, Shen Nung is considered the father of Chinese agriculture and medicine and is said to have tested the medicinal value of hundreds of plants and herbs. Shen Nung would brew cannabis tea to treat gout, malaria, and rheumatism. Shen Nung even recorded that some patients who regularly consumed the tea would have improved memory and brain function over time.
While there are many tales of the usage and benefits of cannabinoids throughout history, cannabis was not given much rigorous scientific research until the work of an Irish doctor named William Brooke O’Shaughnessy. O’Shaughnessy was working in Calcutta, India in 1837 when he noticed that locals used cannabis to relieve a variety of ailments. Through research and testing, O’Shaughnessy validated these folk uses and discovered additional therapeutic applications for cannabis. In particular, he touted the use of cannabis to relieve the symptoms of rheumatism and convulsions. He eventually popularized the use of cannabis medicinally throughout England and was elected to be a fellow of the Royal Society for his work on medicinal cannabis.
Prohibition of Cannabis in The United States
For many decades in the 19th and 20th centuries, cannabis was prescribed as a medicine by doctors in the United States but in 1937, a bill known as the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed that effectively prohibited the use of cannabis. The bill was opposed by the American Medical Association (AMA), but the bill was pushed through quickly before the AMA could properly prepare and present an opposing opinion to congress. It is widely believed that the bill was pushed through by William Randolph Hearst, Andrew Mellon, and the DuPont family to prevent the hemp from challenging the timber industry and threatening DuPont’s newest invention, nylon. The bill was drafted by DuPont’s lawyers, Mellon was the Secretary of the Treasury, and Hearst supported the bill in his newspapers.
The bill did not technically prohibit the cultivation and sale of cannabis. It instead required that anyone cultivating, selling, or possessing marijuana purchase a “marihuana tax stamp”. However, the government only issued such stamps to a handful of entities approved by the government, like farms who produced hemp to support the war effort during WWII. In fact, in 1969 the Supreme Court ruled that the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was unconstitutional because anyone seeking a tax stamp would have to incriminate themselves, violating their fifth amendment rights. In response, the next year Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 which officially made cannabis illegal in the United States.
Identification of CBD
Despite the government’s opposition of cannabis, in 1939 a Harvard-trained chemist named Roger Adams was able to acquire one of the elusive tax stamps from the Department of the Treasury and begin his chemical research on cannabis. He became the first person to identify and extract Cannabidiol (CBD) as well as cannabinol (CBN). Shortly after Adams identified CBD, an Israeli doctor named Dr. Raphael Mechoulam was able to isolate CBD and identify its chemical structure. Through analyzing the stereochemistry of the major cannabinoids in cannabis, Mechoulam was able to identify that THC was the psychoactive component and that CBD was safe for therapeutic use.
He hypothesized that there was a specific system within the body that the cannabinoids interacted with to bring about its effects. And he was right. In 1985 the CB1 receptor was discovered and in 1993 the CB2 receptor was discovered. The system that Mechoulam hypothesized came to be known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a network of intrinsic cannabinoids (called endocannabinoids), receptors, and enzymes responsible for maintaining balance in a wide range of the body’s functions.
Despite cannabis being federally illegal, several states took it upon themselves to legalize cannabis for research and medical purposes. In 1978, New Mexico passed the Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act which enabled scientists and doctors to research potential medical benefits of cannabis. California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, and many other states soon followed suit.
Charlotte Figi, CBD Inspiration
Charlotte Figi became famous after she was featured in a CNN documentary hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta entitled Weed. Charlotte was born with a rare form of epilepsy known as Dravet Syndrome. Dravet syndrome is resistant to medications and by the age of 5, Charlotte was confined to a wheelchair while suffering up to 300 seizures per week. A pair of marijuana growers in Colorado, the Stanley brothers, cultivated a strain of marijuana with very high levels of CBD and very low levels of THC, and used it to make a CBD oil. When Charlotte began using the oil the Stanley brothers had created, her seizures decreased dramatically. Her story became an inspiration and created a boom in the interest surrounding CBD and its therapeutic benefits.
Before beginning her CBD oil treatment, Charlotte was not expected to live past 8 years old but defied the odds and lived a healthy, happy life before tragically succumbing to pneumonia in 2020 at 13. Her story, and the courage with which she faced it inspired many and had a big impact on the trajectory of CBD as a therapeutic treatment.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the two major cannabinoids found in cannabis along with THC. It is not psychoactive and interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system to impart therapeutic benefits.
Yes. Under the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp and hemp byproducts are legal so long as they contain less than 0.3% THC. Because CBD is extracted from hemp, it is perfectly legal.
Although cannabis has been used medicinally for thousands of years, CBD was first discovered by Roger Adams in 1939 and its chemical structure was identified by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam in 1940.
Reputable sellers of CBD products will provide a certificate of analysis (COA) that shows that the product has been laboratory tested, preferably by a third party, to ensure that the CBD product you are purchasing is high quality.
Thankfully, CBD is now perfectly legal in the United States. While cannabis with more than 0.3% THC is still illegal under the Controlled Substances Act, hemp was made legal by the 2018 Farm Bill. Hemp is a strain of cannabis sativa that has less than 0.3% THC, but still contains CBD and other cannabinoids. This legalization has not only led to a booming CBD industry, it has also dramatically increased the interest in and convenience of research into the ways in which CBD can be used as a therapeutic agent.
Since 2018, there have been many studies that have shown promising results for CBD in helping with the treatment of such things as anxiety, epilepsy, arthritis, and PTSD. But the truth is, there is still research that needs to be done. We have only begun to scratch the surface of fully understanding CBD, as well as the hundreds of other cannabinoids, and the body’s endocannabinoid system.
Still, there’s no doubt that we’re in a golden age of CBD. The 2021 CBD market was between $4.9 and $5.5 billion dollars and is projected to be as large as $47 billion by 2028. While CBD came onto the scene largely in the form of oil tinctures, reputable retailers like The Green Dragon offer customers a variety of CBD options, including oils, gummies, capsules, patches, topicals, edibles, vapes, smokable flower, and even products specifically designed for pets. Because the sale of CBD online is now legal, consumers can conveniently browse this plethora of options and easily access third party lab results, known as a certificate of analysis (COA), to make sure that the products they purchase live up to the claims they make. If you’re worried that you won’t know what you’re looking at when reading a COA, don’t be, you can read our guide on how to read a COA here. The Green Dragon CBD only sources products from producers that use the highest quality ingredients and top of the line practices, and each product comes with a COA to verify its quality.
Another page in the modern history of CBD is that since its legalization, it has led to a wealth of other cannabinoid products that are either also extracted from hemp or made by using cannabinoid conversion of CBD itself. Products like Delta 8 THC, Delta 10 THC, THC-O, THC-V, and many others have all been born out of the CBD/Hemp movement, and more products are hitting the market as more research is done.
Obstacles For CBD’s Future
Although the future has never been brighter for CBD, there are still some roadblocks that stand in the way of making CBD a ubiquitous therapeutic option in the United States. Although CBD is not psychoactive, there is still an unfortunate stigma that surrounds cannabis products in the minds of many Americans. This mindset carries over from the propaganda campaigns that have been waged against cannabis for decades. Advocacy for, and education about CBD as well as other cannabis products is needed to wipe away this stain
The second major hurdle for CBD to overcome is the lack of clinical research into its effects and the endocannabinoid system. Because it was illegal, there was little interest in the past for completing this kind of research. It’s true that the booming CBD industry has led to a corresponding boom in research, but there’s still so much work left to be done.
Wrapping It Up
So, there you have it, the complicated, rocky history of CBD. It started out as a long used and widely touted medical option that spanned from ancient China to 19th century England, before going through something of a political dark age in the United States. Through perseverance and open-mindedness, CBD found a second life and now it is our responsibility as a culture to overcome the stigmas of the past so that we can better understand all the ways CBD and cannabinoids can be used to benefit society. Now that you’ve got an understanding of CBD’s history, maybe you’d like to make it a part of your present day! We encourage you to browse our unrivaled selection of CBD products and give it a try so you can discover just how beneficial it can be to you. If you have any comments, drop us a line in the comments or reach out to a representative privately through our contact link.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, SCOTT JONES
Scott Jones is a freelance writer, author, and digital marketer from Akron, Ohio. He loves to research and write about any and all topics that fascinate him, including CBD. He could afford to watch a few fewer movies and eat a few more vegetables. Connect with him on LinkedIn, Instagram, or read other posts by Scott.