Brief History of Cannabis

medical pot

Cannabis has been used for medicinal purposes since at least the time of ancient China. Cannabis and its therapeutic benefits, specifically gout, rheumatism, constipation, and senility, were first described in ancient Chinese texts. Chinese Emperor Shennong, who was also a pharmacologist, wrote about using cannabis for treatment purposes in a book published in 2737 BC.

With regard to the United States’ pharmacological system, medical cannabis was long included as a viable treatment option. It wasn’t until 1937 when, in defiance of the American Medical Association (AMA), the U.S. passed a federal law banning cannabis. According to Americans for Safe Access, from that point on cannabis was only legally available to a small number of patients through a federally organized program called the Investigational New Drug (IND) compassionate access research program. In effect, the IND program allowed patients to receive up to nine pounds of cannabis from the government each year, in 1976.

Despite the IND program, the vast majority of Americans found themselves shut out of access to medical marijuana. Then, in the late 90’s, voters began to demand legalized medical marijuana. California was the first state to establish such a program with a voter initiative that passed in 1996. In the 20 years that have followed the historic passing of California’s proposition 215, other states followed California’s lead, establishing medical marijuana laws that allow patients access to legal cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation.

Today, 25 states and the District of Columbia allow patients to legally obtain and use medical marijuana, bringing potential access to over half of all American citizens. Despite the fact that cannabis continues to remain federally illegal, in October of 2009 the U.S. Department of Justice announced that they would not pursue medical marijuana participants or distributors who comply with state laws.

Up until the late 1930’s, cannabis based oils, tinctures and medicine were routinely used by American doctors and physicians all around the world. That all changed when, in 1937, the Marijuana Tax Act was passed, which ended the use of marijuana of medicine. With the passage of the United Nations Single Convention of Treaties of 1961 and 1971, cannabis (which included hemp) was prohibited in many parts of the world.

Although marijuana had formerly been part of the US Pharmacopeia, it was withdrawn as an accepted medicine.

In 1937, under the direction of Harry Anslinger, Prohibition Commissioner of the newly formed Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN), cannabis became a banned substance in the US. In 1938, Anslinger convened a meeting of 23 individuals, each of which had some expertise in ‘marihuana.’ This was a planning meeting to implement prohibition, and an information session to learn more about the plant. There were experts on psychological effects, on hemp crops, and on ‘marihuana’ chemistry.

From this group came a Dr. Roger Adams, a Harvard educated, renowned organic chemist with several published papers. Dr. Adams, from University of Illinois and group from 1940 – 1949 carried out 27 studies on cannabis, published in the American Journal of Chemistry. Dr. Adams isolated:

• Cannabinol (CBN)

• Cannabidiol (CBD)

• and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

• Dr. Adams synthesized these cannabinoids.

• Original wholesale formula for CBD 1940

In 1964, with the assistance of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam also isolated THC then further determined its chemical composition / chemistry. Thus Dr. Mechoulam is credited with the discovery and “isolation” of THC – nonetheless Dr. Roger Adams “inferred THC’s structure” and basically got it right. Further Dr. Adams applied for a patent on CBD isolation going back to 1940 and it was awarded in 1942. Although he was awarded and highly recognized for his work, he was placed on an FBI watch list which impacted his ability to gain security clearances during WWII. He was eventually able to complete areas of research involving how medical marijuana effects several areas of the body.

Because of Adams significant contributions, in 1959, the Roger Adams Award was established as an ACS National Award to recognize outstanding contributions to the field of organic chemistry. The award is given every other year where the award address is provided at the National Organic Chemistry Symposium, which is organized by the ACS Division of Organic Chemistry.

Roger Adams was inducted as a Laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois and awarded the Order of Lincoln (the State’s highest honor) by the Governor of Illinois in 1967 in the area of Science.

Dr. Adams US Patent on the Isolation of Cannabidiol – # 2,304,669– Dr. Adams great works included a US Patent on the Isolation of Cannabidiol, US Patent # 2,304,669. Applied for August 16 1940 and awarded Dec 8 1942.

Dr. Adams found several things about CBD oil, which were described in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS) in detail. For example, “The isolation of cannabidiol from red oil obtained from hemp is described in detail in J. A. C. S. (Journal of the American Chemical Society) 62, 196 (1940). This process which includes the treatment of purified red oil with 3,5-dinitrobenzoyl chloride and the formation of cannabidiol bis-3,5-dinitrobenzoate has been found of particular value for the isolation of the desired product. Ammonolysis of the benzoate, i.e. diester, yields cannabidiol in pure form.”

“It has been found that from the extracts of hemp (Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica) that a red viscous oil can be obtained, commonly known as red oil, from which a pure crystalline compound, cannabidiol, can be isolated (Adams, Hunt & Clarke J.A.C.S. 62, 196 1940). Through a chemical study (J.A.C.S. 62, 196, etc.) it has been shown to have the chemical formula: With the exception of the position of the double bond in the left hand cycle of the above formula, the structure of cannabidiol is well established. Investigations show this left hand cycle to be a tetrahyrdo benzene ring.”

To read more about the history of medical marijuana click here.

Historical information re Dr. Adams from:

Who Discovered THC?  Setting the Record Straight

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