Cannabidiol (CBD) has become synonymous in recent years with a variety of remarkable health benefits previously undreamed of by medical science. Indeed, the full ramifications of our newfound understanding of the medical potential of this extract have yet to be appreciated–and cannabidiol, because it is derived from the cannabis plant, remains a Schedule I substance according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Schedule I drugs are believed to have no medical value, a high potential for abuse, and cannot be demonstrated to be safe even in clinical environments. According to the government, CBD–and all other marijuana derivatives–are dangerous indeed.
But things were not always this way. In fact, although we use “cannabis” and “marijuana” interchangeably today, the term “cannabis” is not just another nickname or street name. It is the name by which the controversial plant has gone in medical literature over the course of its fascinating history.
The plant from which CBD is derived has a long history with the medical profession, one that may go back 5,000 years. The ancient Chinese used it even before the invention of writing. It was believed to contain both yin and yang energies, meaning that it promoted balance within the body, a mainstay of the ancient Chinese understanding of health.
In the United States, as late as the early 20th century, cannabis and extracts thereof held a significant place in any physician’s bag of cures. President Theodore Roosevelt signed a law into effect–the first of its kind in the United States–requiring drug manufacturers to disclose certain ingredients in their tinctures. One of the substances that had to be mentioned if it was included in the final product was “cannabis indica,” a strain of marijuana.
It was only in the 1930s–and many argue under the penumbra of the Puritanical streak sweeping the nation at the time, the same one that led to the prohibition of alcohol–that the U.S. government–and the governments of the 48 states at the time–began considering regulating marijuana. The proposed 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, opposed by most physicians, laid heavy taxes on cannabis, and criminalized possession without a prescription. The law’s many complex requirements led to a turning-away from cannabis-based cures on the part of many physicians. It was markedly simpler just to prescribe drugs based on less regulated substances, like opiates.
It was not until the 1970s, and Nixon, that cannabis became the pariah among drugs that it is today. Officially considered more dangerous than cocaine (a Schedule II drug), distributors of medical cannabis under modern state laws still suffer prosecution at the hands of federal enforcement agencies, largely the DEA.
But times are changing. The state laws allowing for medical cannabis use (and the three states that now also allow recreational use) reflect a broader pattern in American culture, one that sees cannabis as a useful medicine and potentially harmless recreational drug. And while cannabis’ future as a cure may yet be unsure, the worldwide attitude towards the substance has shown, in recent years, a marked change.
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