There are more CBD products and product types on the market than ever, but because of CBD’s association with cannabis and marijuana, adoption throughout the world has been slow. Still, as research becomes more advanced, CBD’s benefits for medicine and wellness are being increasingly acknowledged. It’s already legal under specific conditions in many countries, including the UK, US, and many parts of Europe.
CBD is kickstarting a new wave of innovative products as global regulations adapt. Despite all this, it’s far from being a newcomer. Cannabis has actually been used by people for thousands of years, and the history of CBD has many twists and turns, involving Queen Victoria, a long-ago Chinese emperor, and surprising stories of children with severe epilepsy finally finding relief.
CBD comes from the cannabis plant, which humans have been cultivating as far back as 6000 BC. The late great Carl Sagan, we well known advocate of cannabis but probably better known for his popularising of cosmology and physics on TV in the 70s and 80s, claimed that cannabis was probably the first crop to be cultivated by people.
Records of cannabis have been found across different areas, including Ancient China, Greece, and India. In 2700 BC, a Chinese emperor was already turning to cannabis-infused tea for conditions like rheumatism and gout. The Romans saw the potential of cannabis as a pain reliever, and it was present in the tombs of Ancient Egyptians, who had a wide knowledge of medicinal plants and herbs.
Even during the Middle Ages and beyond, cannabis was grown all over Europe as hemp. The purpose of this was extremely practical: its fibres could be used for making ropes, clothes, fishing nets, and paper. Because it had great economic and industrial value, Henry VIII of England went so far as requiring all farmers to cultivate hemp in the 16thcentury—otherwise, they would have to pay a fine.
On top of this, cannabis extract was also used as medicine. Queen Victoria was said to take it in the 19thcentury to ease her menstrual cramps. It was more or less accepted then throughout the UK and endorsed in major medical texts. These included “Anatomy of Melancholy,” which promoted cannabis extract for its mood-boosting properties, while “Edinburgh New Dispensatory” and “The New England Dispensatory” described how it can help with pain and skin inflammation.
The Discovery of CBD
During the 20thcentury, cannabis was made illegal in the UK. In 1928, it was officially banned because British officials and health experts were persuaded against it after an international conference.
It didn’t help that cannabis research had barely started back then. Although cannabis had been common in the past, its benefits were deemed unproven because there was little approved scientific evidence for it. Cannabis plants also have different properties depending on how much of certain compounds they have. For example, cannabis plants with high THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are more psychoactive and likely to be addicting. With no way to chemically analyse each plant, all cannabis plants were lumped together then, causing much confusion and inconsistency.
One of the pioneers who introduced cannabis to Western medicine was William B. O’Shaughnessy, an Irish doctor. As early as the 18thcentury, he was already studying the effects of cannabis and showing its applications in medicine. It would take more evidence—and more than a century, in fact—before O’Shaughnessy’s efforts could bloom into acceptance of cannabis among the medical community.
Huge progress was made when CBD as a compound was finally isolated from the cannabis plant. Depending on who you ask, the scientist who discovered cannabis could either be Roger Adams or Raphael Mechoulam.
Roger Adams, who was working at the University of Illinois, successfully extracted CBD from cannabis in 1940. It was more of an accident, though, so he didn’t realise it until years later. His research led to the further discovery of THC.
On the other hand, Raphael Mechoulam arrived later at 1960, but he went a major step further than Adams and figured out its chemical structure. Without the chemical structure, scientists couldn’t really make strong state between CBD and its supposed effects. Mechoulam also discovered the chemical structure of THC after a year, and he was able to pinpoint it as the compound responsible for the high in marijuana, not CBD. This lessened the stigma around CBD. Mechoulam deservedly won several international awards, and to date, he already has more than 300 published papers on cannabis.
Growing Interest in CBD
Because of Mechoulam’s research, people became more open to the idea of CBD’s potential medical applications. The first CBD oil supplement meant to be taken by humans was created by the British Pharmacopeia in the 1960s. A Home Office investigation report also confirmed that cannabis doesn’t cause people to become violent or aggressive, and it doesn’t seem to be addicting.
Alongside CBD, other compounds in cannabis were studied, and scientists learned more about how these interact with the body. Another notable research done by Mechoulam in the 1980s implied that severe epilepsy in children could be calmed down by cannabis with little to no side effects. More studies on CBD would come up, pointing to a wide variety of benefits such as lowering pain and anxiety.
In the late 1990s, GW Pharmaceuticals conducted the UK’s first cannabis medical trials, creating a uniform extract that could be tested consistently in trials. The founders of GW were enthusiastic about producing CBD-based medicines that wouldn’t be psychoactive, and this led to more studies and trials throughout various countries.
CBD in the Modern World
With science in support of CBD, the UK ban on cannabis was finally modified in 2001, much to the elation of pro-CBD researchers and visionaries who had been advocating for it since decades back. Businesses could cultivate the hemp variety of cannabis for industrial use as long as they had a license from the Home Office. Hemp refers to non-psychoactive cannabis plants with high levels of CBD and low levels of THC, as opposed to marijuana, which has low CBD and high THC.
From a global perspective, some other countries took a more open stance, either making cannabis and CBD completely legal or allowing their medical use. Bulgaria was the first in Europe to legalise hemp-derived CBD, and by 2019, CBD—under certain conditions—is already legal in several countries, including Japan, Greece, US, and Chile. In most of these, including the UK and the US, hemp-derived CBD is legal but not marijuana-derived CBD.
A landmark moment in the UK was when Sativex—a cannabis-based medicine with both THC and CBD—was approved for patients with severe multiple sclerosis in 2010. While it’s still rarely prescribed by doctors, regulations were adjusted just this November 2018 so that specialist doctors in England, Wales, and Scotland could finally prescribe more cannabis-based medicine. These changes were triggered by several accounts of children whose epilepsy was relieved by CBD when nothing else worked.
A CBD Revival
Today, although there’s still a long way to go before CBD becomes completely mainstream around the world, the stigma around it is dying down fast. In the UK, CBD-based products are already easily accessible. In fact, according to a Dynata survey in 2019, more than 4 million people in the UK have already tried CBD. With more research upcoming, CBD is also already on the way to being integrated into formal medical practice.
Cannabis is among the most basic crops that have been with human beings from the start. CBD may only have been isolated as a separate compound over the past century, but its effects have been recognised throughout history. It’s only fitting that today, science is catching up and CBD is becoming gradually accepted again. At the same time, we’re putting a modern twist on it—CBD may already have been known for it’s pain and inflammation relieving qualities, but it’s only now that we’ve made it more accessible in the form of lotions, foods, e-juice, and even supplements for pets.
CBD is going through a pivotal period in its long history. Let’s hope its future is a bright one.