The History of Cannabis

Tell the origin story of cannabis followed by important dates and events in cannabis history.

The history of cannabis is a remarkable and almost odd story of a necessity deemed evil, and then resurrected as a seemingly medical miracle, while still carrying with it a shadow of stigma after having been persecuted as a plant for so long. The stigma and negative stereotypes of cannabis and the people who consume it, are rapidly fading into distant memories. 

The story of cannabis begins in Asia, where it is said to have originated. Before being used as a medicine, it was primarily a source of material fiber and food. The use of cannabis as medicine dates back as far as 5,000 years ago, where it was discovered to have been used as a medicine in China to treat fatigue and malaria. 

Cannabis arrived in North and South America with the arrival and settlement of European colonists. They brought cannabis with them to be cultivated for fiber used in the manufacturing of many goods at the time. 
Then, a doctor who was studying cannabis in India named Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy,  discovered cannabis extracts worked as a medicine to help treat pain and nausea in the 1830’s.  This medical breakthrough was enough to have cannabis extracts being sold as medicines in pharmacies in Europe and the United States during the late 1800’s. The past of cannabis, filled with loops and curves, now looks ahead to a future of medical wonder, and environmental stability.

Here are some of the major events in cannabis history.

1937 – The United States government enacts the The Marijuana Tax Act. The first federal law criminalizing marijuana in the U.S. Industrial uses of hemp were still legal, but carried an excise tax on their possession, sale, or transfer. Industrial hemp used for rope, textiles, and other goods was grown in the U.S. until 1957, when the last fields were planted.

1964 – THC is isolated and determined to be one of the main cannabinoids influencing the effects of cannabis. This was discovered by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and his team at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.

1970 – The Controlled Substances Act is signed by Richard Nixon, as part of the War on Drugs. This new federal law listed marijuana alongside drugs like heroin and ecstasy, claiming it had a high potential for abuse and no use as a medicine. 

1992 – The discovery of the ECS (endocannabinoid system) is made at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, by a Czech chemist named Lumír Hanuš, alongside a pharmacologist from the United States, William Devane. 

1996 – California passed the Compassionate Use Act and becomes the first state in the U.S. to legalize medical marijuana. For the very first time, approved medical patients are allowed to purchase and possess cannabis legally.

2012 – The voters of Colorado and Washington approve the first adult use cannabis programs, becoming the first two states in the U.S. to legalize the purchase of cannabis for anyone over the age of 18.

2018 – The FDA approves an oral CBD medication called Epidiolex, the first FDA approved medication derived from cannabis.

2018 – The Farm Bill passes, federally legalizing the cultivation and sale of hemp. 

2020 – The House of Representatives passes The the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (The MORE. Act), a bill that would decriminalize marijuana. In motion now, it awaits to be approved by the Senate. If approved there, it will then move on to be signed or vetoed by the President. 

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