• Cathy Rosenbaum PharmD MBA RPh CHC

The History of Medical Marijuana (Cannabis) - Part 1


The earliest documented use of cannabis or marijuana (MJ) took place around 2700 B.C. in China where it was touted for the treatment of gout, malaria, constipation, menstrual disorders, and memory loss. Ancient Egyptians used it to enhance uterine contractions and for the management of general fever and illness.

Medical MJ was adopted into Western medicine in the 1830’s, prescribed by physicians through the 1930’s, and predominantly sold in U.S. pharmacies as an OTC analgesic.

By the 20th Century cannabis extracts were being marketed by major U.S. pharmaceutical companies. The Federal Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 began limiting its accessibility, and cannabis was eventually removed from the U.S. Pharmacopoeia in 1942. U.S. prohibition pressure led former President Richard Nixon to pass the 1970 Federal Controlled Substance Act making MJ possession or use a criminal act and declaring MJ a Schedule I Substance (e.g., defined as highly addictive product devoid of medical value or safety).

In 1996 consumer demand culminated in state legalization and MJ’s reintroduction for medical use in California. The Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California was established in 1999. In 2009 the U.S. Attorney General announced the government’s policy of not prosecuting people who grew or used MJ if they were in compliance with state medical use laws.

Today 24 states and Washington DC have followed California in legalizing medical MJ, a decision in direct violation of the 1970 Federal Controlled Substance Act. As of June, 2016, Ohio became the 25th state/district to do so. Yet, U.S. DEA and federal tax agents have cracked down on MJ growers and dispensary owners in several other states (please see National Conference of State Legislatures: www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-medical-marijuana-laws.aspx ). The amount of MJ that a person may possess for medical use varies from state to state where it is legalized. At minimum, MJ conjures up complicated controversy and debate, to say the least.

Much of what has led to today’s views on medical cannabis in the U.S. is based on political and societal agendas rather than on available published research. There is a need for more practical and safe governmental regulations regarding the scheduling of cannabis and its availability for clinical trials so that MJ research on active constituents can be advanced.

Prominent groups have petitioned the feds to reconsider Schedule I status and support further MJ research including the Institute of Medicine, the National Institutes of Health, the American Medical Association, and the American College of Physicians.

Continued in Part 2

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