The History of Cannabis

TRANSCRIPT: History of Cannabis


Jessie Gill, RN: (00:00)

Welcome to our first module where we're going to discuss the history of cannabis based medicine. Cannabis is not a new medicine. It grows on every continent except Antarctica and it's been used as a medicine on every continent for thousands of years. It's use is well documented in both ancient and modern societies. The earliest written reference to cannabis is in the 15th century BC in a Chinese pharmacopoeia and according to Chinese legend in 27 37 BC, emperor Shenyang was one of the first major leaders in the ancient world to officially prescribe marijuana tea to treat various illnesses. And then in ancient India, a drink of milk, cannabis, and spices called bhang was commonly consumed medically. And medical marijuana was also commonly used in ancient Europe and yes, even here in the United States in the early nineteen-hundreds, cannabis was a common medication. Tinctures and oils were routinely sold in us pharmacies.


Jessie Gill, RN: (01:07)

It was even listed in the U S pharmacopeia until 1942 after it had been made illegal. Now at this time. There was no stigma at all associated with cannabis use. To understand the legal status of cannabis, we really need to get an idea of what the world looked like back when prohibition began. In 1910 the Mexican civil war caused an increase in immigration to the United States. Now, at the time, work here was plentiful and laborers were needed, especially down in the South. So immigrants were very much welcomed. These Mexican immigrants also brought a new method of consuming cannabis. They smoked it, but they didn't call it cannabis, the Latin derived term. Instead, they called it by the Mexican word, which we believe to be derived from Nahuatl marijuana. Now, up until that point in the United States, we had only consumed cannabis via an extract or tincture. It wasn't something that was commonly smoked.


Jessie Gill, RN: (02:12)

So because of this, most people didn't even realize that the cannabis being sold in the pharmacy and marijuana being smoked were the same plant. And then in 1920 alcohol prohibition began and smoking cannabis became popular as a replacement for alcohol, especially among young adults socially and in the entertainment industry. With alcohol prohibition, the government discovered civil forfeiture laws and they enjoyed the money that they confiscated from illegal alcohol producers. Then in the 1930s the great depression gripped the country and resources became scarce. This sparked an intense fear and hatred of immigrants. Now, racism was already rampant in this segregated society of the 1930s and 1940s but the great depression intensified racism even more. And then in 1933 the U S government realized alcohol prohibition wasn't working and ended it, and this left a former alcohol prohibition agent Harry Anslinger without a job. Anslinger went on to make it his mission to make marijuana illegal.


Jessie Gill, RN: (03:25)

Anslinger utilized the press to mobilize racist propaganda in order to motivate cannabis prohibition in the United States. In an effort to scare people into supporting prohibition, he gave outrageously racist fear monitoring interviews, and wrote articles with absurdly false claims such as, "Deadly marijuana, dope plant. Ready for harvest means enslavement of California children." He called marijuana "the most violence causing drug in the history of mankind". The film reefer madness came out, which portrayed cannabis as a severe societal ill that had to be eliminated. This movie targeted parents and warn them about their children consuming the substance. Now keep in mind this was way before TVs were popular. TV's didn't become popular in homes until the 1950s at that time, if you saw someone who you perceived as being of authority on a large screen speaking to you, you were likely to believe what they were saying. So people who saw it took this movie seriously as a warning. It's interesting to note that during the congressional hearings of the marijuana tax act of 1937 the American Medical Association testified against prohibition and in favor of cannabis. They wanted cannabis to remain available as a medication.


Jessie Gill, RN: (04:50)

However, Anslinger ignored their pleas and the pleas for many others around the country. After finding social support for his war against the plant, he created the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 and this act made cannabis illegal in the United States. At that point, prohibition laws became a tool to incarcerate minorities and deport immigrants and our prohibition laws are still being used for that same purpose today. After that, Anslinger went on to become the country's first commissioner of the federal Bureau of narcotics and he continued to serve as our drugs are until 1962 then in 1969 the Supreme court declared the marijuana tax act unconstitutional. This brought us to the 1970s the 1970s were a complex time. We had the Vietnam war going on. We had hippie culture and this was towards the end of the civil rights movement and the black Panthers had just been formed. Richard Nixon was our president.


Jessie Gill, RN: (05:57)

This was pre Watergate. Nixon was very much against marijuana. However, he formed a commission to examine the risks and dangers of cannabis. This commission is commonly referred to as the Shafer commission. Now, Nixon expected the commission would come out against marijuana. In recordings, you can hear him as he attempts to influence members of the commission towards criminalization. However, the commission determined that cannabis should not be criminalized and in recorded conversations. Members of the commission can be heard attempting to explain the facts to president Nixon, but the truth is Nixon made up his mind way before the work of the commission ever began. Ultimately, he ignored the commission's recommendations and added cannabis to the controlled substances act as a schedule one narcotic. This means the government has determined that cannabis has no medicinal value and is highly addictive and neither of these are true. Nixon's prejudice is clearly illustrated.


Jessie Gill, RN: (07:06)

In a 1994 interview with John Ehrlichman. Ehrlichman was Nixon's domestic policy advisor and he made a statement to a writer for Harper's magazine, Dan Baum, and here's what he said. "The Nixon campaign in 1968 and the Nixon white house after that had two enemies. The antiwar left and black people. You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about drugs? Of course we did," and so Nixon placed cannabis on the controlled substances list the most devastating effect of cannabis being listed as a schedule one substance is that studying it became illegal. Prohibition laws have severely stunted the research and development of cannabinoid medicine here in the United States and even today.


Jessie Gill, RN: (08:15)

Research of cannabinoid therapeutics remains extremely expensive and restricted, In the early years after the plant had been made illegal by the marijuana tax act of 1937 cannabis could still be obtained for research from the department of treasury in a limited number of cases. Cannabis extract was studied by Harvard educated chemist, Dr. Roger Adams in the 1940s he was actually the first person to isolate CBD and he was awarded a patent for his process in 1942 he also isolated THC and analogs of THC, but he lacked the technology to identify the molecules completely. He published 27 different studies on cannabis. His work was controversial. He was suspected of being a communist in part for his work on cannabis and his security clearance was withheld for some time, but eventually he became part of the top secret Manhattan project. Within the Manhattan project. Adam's THC extracts were tested as a truth serum at Saint Elizabeth's hospital in Washington DC.


Jessie Gill, RN: (09:29)

At the direction of the U S department of defense. Those extracts proved not to be useful in interrogations. Then finally in 1963 in Israel, Dr Raphael Mechoulam fully identified and described the chemical structure of CBD and THC and he named the molecules so he is often credited with discovering them. Research on cannabis continued around the world on a small scale and by the 1970s CBD oil was listed in the British pharmacopeia or the directory of medicine. The first significant clinical study published about CBD was remarkable. In the 1980s Dr Mechoulam studied 10 patients with epilepsy who did not respond to traditional medication. His results showed that while taking CBD oil, none of the patients experienced seizures. Despite this remarkable research, it would be a very long time before cannabis received the attention it deserved from the medical community. But in the 1990s the internet changed everything.


Jessie Gill, RN: (10:39)

Research wasn't happening here in the United States, but it was happening elsewhere. Now before the internet, information sharing was limited. Knowledge came from schools, doctors, encyclopedias, newspapers, and nobody at that time was writing about the benefits of cannabis. But in the 1990s the internet began to evolve and it offered everyday people the opportunity to share information around the world. So papers and organizations could no longer effectively squash a story. The information was getting out, even if it would take another few decades to go mainstream. Dennis Perone in California was hugely instrumental in reintroducing medical marijuana to today's society. He was an activist that began providing marijuana to patients who were suffering from AIDS. He and an incredible team of activists worked heroically and in 1996 California legalized medical marijuana. At this point, more people started experiencing the benefits firsthand, and doctors and healthcare professionals began to witness the transformations.


Jessie Gill, RN: (11:49)

People started recording testimonials and eventually sharing them to social media. Now to be able to witness firsthand as cannabis relieves seizures or Parkinson's tremors is really powerful. It wasn't long before other States and regions began to legalize medical marijuana and eventually many regions and territories began to legalize adult use marijuana as well. Legalization is sweeping the globe. Countries like Australia, Italy, and Israel have legalized medical marijuana. And so far as of this recording, 38 U S States and territories have legalized medical marijuana and we expect that to grow. Countries like Canada and Uruguay have fully legalized adult use cannabis. And 13 U S States and territories have also legalized adult use cannabis and many, many more have decriminalized. So now that you know a little bit about the history, let's talk about why cannabis helps so many patients the way that it does. Join us in our next module as we explore the endocannabinoid system.

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