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6 Historical Facts About Marijuana as Medicine

History of Marijuana

Marijuana is currently illegal in most parts of the world, but its use as a medicine dates back thousands of years.

As the debate over legalizing marijuana heats up, many people continue to dispute the value of marijuana as a treatment for various ailments. But, as the following facts show, history tells a much clearer story:

1. The earliest record of marijuana used and medicine comes from ancient China.

In 2737 BC, Chinese Emperor Shennong wrote a book on medicine that included marijuana as a treatment for many conditions. According to ancient Chinese texts, marijuana was thought to be helpful for constipation, gout, rheumatism and absent-mindedness.

Interestingly, Shennong was not only an emperor but a pharmacologist as well. He was said to have tried hundreds of herbs on himself in order to test their medical value.

2. Ancient Egyptians were the first to use marijuana as a treatment for tumors.

The 2nd century Fayyum Medical Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian text, is believed to contain the earliest record of marijuana as an ingredient in cancer medicine.

While little is known about the successes of ancient Egyptian cancer treatments, marijuana continues to receive significant interest as a cancer therapy today.

3. Marijuana was used as a veterinary medicine in ancient Greece.

The ancient Greeks used cannabis to dress wounds and sores on their horses after battle. The plant was also given to humans for a variety of ailments, including ear pain and inflammation.

Interestingly, the practice of medical cannabis/marijuana is believed to have spread to Arabic countries from ancient Greece.

4. Medical marijuana was introduced to Western medicine in the mid-1800s.

In the 1830s, an Irish physician by the name of William Brooke O’Shaughnessy observed the use of medical marijuana during a trip to India.

After studying its effects, he introduced marijuana to physicians in England as a treatment for a wide range of conditions, including muscle spasms, rheumatism, epilepsy and pain. As early reports of its effectiveness were published, the popularity of marijuana-based medicines quickly spread across Europe and North America.

5. The name ‘indica’ refers to Indian cannabis.

The name Cannabis indica was originally thought up by a French biologist in 1785. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was also visiting India when he observed a difference between locally-grown cannabis and its European cousin, the hemp plant.

European hemp was mostly used for agricultural purposes and was known at the time as Cannabis sativa. Lamarck decided to classify the Indian species separately, giving it the name Cannabis indica.

6. Cannabis was listed in the United States Pharmacopeia from 1851 until 1941.

The United States Pharmacopeia (USP) provides a list of acceptable medical products each year, and cannabis/marijuana was recognized in many of its earliest editions. But while cannabis/marijuana preparations were widely prescribed in the late 1800s, they began to be replaced by synthetic drugs during the 20th century.

Leading up to and following the passage of the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, prescribing cannabis/marijuana became increasingly difficult and its once-prominent role in Western medicine was soon forgotten. It was removed from the USP in 1942 and has never appeared since.