Columbus Free Press | October 24, 2013 | by Mary Jane Borden
Over the millennia, the often deified and sometimes demonized Cannabis plant has taken a circuitous route from friend to foe and back.
Scholars differ on when mankind first discovered the medicinal mysteries contained within Cannabis. Some trace usage back to 4000 BC in Central Asia. Charred seeds found in an ancient Romanian burial site suggest inhalation of the herb's potent and pungent smoke in third millennia BC. In 1500 BC, it was mentioned the Altharva Veda, one of four ancient holy books. A basket of seeds and leaf fragments dating back 2,800 years was discovered in China where Cannabis graced the pharmacopeia of emperor Chen-Nong. As if following the migrational footsteps of humanity, the plant moved to the Near and Middle East (900 BC), Europe (800 BC), South East Asia (2nd Century AD), Africa (11th Century AD) and finally to the Americas (19th Century).
In 1839, William O'Shaughnessy introduced Cannabis to Western medicine with a 40-page paper entitled, "On the Prescription of Indian Hemp or Ganga." Shortly thereafter, its medicinal properties were documented in the "Report of the Ohio State Medical Committee on Cannabis Indica," which was written by influential physicians and presented in 1860 at the Fifteenth Annual Meeting of the Ohio State Medical Society. This report extoled "beneficial effects" of Cannabis on tetanus, neuralgia, insomnia, labor, convulsions, seizures, rheumatism, pain relief and a host of other ailments. For the next 75 years, the U.S. Pharmacopeia listed Cannabis as an effective treatment for these and many other conditions.
But the pendulum swung the other way. The 75 years that followed produced increasingly draconian restrictions. Cannabis entered its Dark Ages. It became caught in the prohibitionist and racists moods that tainted much of the 20th century, culminating in its removal from the U.S. Pharmacopeia in 1942. Steep penalties and sanctions suppressed its use. New drugs were developed to take its place, and those who dared do as their ancestors had done were slapped with mandatory minimum sentences and bank account-breaking fines.
Then, one visionary man planted the seeds of a momentous counter swing. In 1964, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, identified the chemical components of cannabis - cannabinoids - by first synthesizing THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and then discovering the chemical structure of its cousin, CBD (cannabidiol).
The good doctor was also instrumental in another amazing discovery: cannabinoids exist in each and every one of us. In 1992, he and his team identified the endogenous cannabinoid that he named anandamide, Sanskrit for "eternal bliss," apropos because of its control over emotions, memory and movement. Around the same time, "receptors" in the brain and elsewhere the body were found to bond specifically with this internal cannabinoid, as well as with plant-based and lab synthesized ones. Upon discovery of the endogenous endocannabinoid system, the direct tie to cannabis' medicinal properties had been established.
Research accelerated. A search of PubMed.gov, the library of clinical research, would only have found 200 or so studies pertaining to cannabinoids in the 1970s; a search today located 17,056.
The cannabinoid receiving much of this interest has been CBD. Unlike its cannabinoid cousin, THC, CBD does not create a "high," unless simply feeling better counts. Consider these findings:
Cancer. "In conclusion, a cannabinoid-based therapeutic strategy for neural diseases devoid of undesired psychotropic side effects could find in CBD a valuable compound in cancer therapies." Pharmacological Reviews.
Diabetic Cardiomyopathy. "Collectively, these results coupled with the excellent safety and tolerability profile of CBD in humans, strongly suggest that it may have great therapeutic potential in the treatment of diabetic complications, and perhaps other cardiovascular disorders, by attenuating oxidative/nitrative stress, inflammation, cell death and fibrosis." Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Substance abuse treatment. "Clearly, greater attention needs be given to the potential role of CBD in the treatment of addiction and other mental health disorders." The Journal of Neuroscience.
Do these studies have an Ohio State Medical Society ring to them? Was it the action of CBD that was described to the Society in 1860? Inspired by CBD and influenced by Dr. Meschoulam's work, the famed Dr. Sanjay Gupta recently changed his view toward marijuana, vowing to reverse its Dark Ages course.
Cannabis' circuitous journey into the 21st Century has been transformative. The once demonized plant is now viewed as not only
useful and therapeutic, but also fundamental to human physiology. Cannabis is more than just a high. Its many components, particularly CBD, may embody the remedies described in ancient books, centuries-old annals and current medical journals. Because an endogenous bodily system bonds directly to them, CBD and the other cannabinoids aren't just mere chemicals; they form a core part of you … and of me.