Can Weed Save Lives? The Turbulent History Of Medical Cannabis

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Can Weed Save Lives? Blog image

The world is looping back on itself. After societies started using cannabis for its medicinal properties way back in 2700 BCE, our governmental overlords are *finally* catching up to the idea that marijuana might not just be about getting high. The therapeutic benefits are real, with study-based applications for treatment of rare epileptic disorders, and... Read more »

The world is looping back on itself. After societies started using cannabis for its medicinal properties way back in 2700 BCE, our governmental overlords are *finally* catching up to the idea that marijuana might not just be about getting high. The therapeutic benefits are real, with study-based applications for treatment of rare epileptic disorders, and a whole plethora of other reported medicinal uses. But due to a relatively recent prohibition (fuelled mainly by prejudice and stigma) that we’re still trying to recover from, we’ve barely scratching the surface of what cannabinoids can do. Things are starting to change, we believe, we hope. But while we’re waiting for them to do so, take a trip with us down memory jane. It’s a wild one, and it all began with…

The First Recorded Use Of Cannabis As Medicine During The Pen-ts’ao Dynasty, And How It Spread From There

The first recorded use of marijuana as medicine dates back to the Pen-tsao ching, which operated the world’s oldest drug synthesis operation, AKA pharmacopoeia. It’s said that ruler Shen-nung espoused cannabis as being able to treat over 100 diseases, stating that, if taken over a long period, allows one to ‘communicate with spirits and light one’s body’. A prime advertisement for the varied physical and psychological layers that can be found in a good plant, we think.

Jumping forward to between 117 and 207 AD, the founding father of Chinese surgery Hua T’o likened cannabis to an analgesic. Apparently he would give patients due to have an operation a pre-game cocktail of weed and wine, which, regardless of the outcome, meant they at least went out having a good time. As the success of cannabis use both recreationally and medicinally spread, it made its way over to India, where it was used extensively for both of those functions. It was also incorporated into religious ceremonies, even becoming one of the five sacred plants of hinduism, where it was told that a guardian angel lives inside those iconic dappled leaves. Finding salvation in the form of an incorporeal friend within the plant is something most of us can relate to, and the Hindus were ahead of the curve on that one.

An Ancient Herbal Medicine Woodblock book

An ancient Pen ts’ao woodblock book, circa 1249 BCE

Further Medicinal Applications Of The Natural Plant In India, Syria, And How It Was Used To Aid Meditation Amongst Buddhist Monks

Indian medical practitioners took full advantage of the remedial benefits of cannabis. They used it for a variety of reasons and properties, attempting to treat it for diseases and ailments such as rabies, anxiety, rheumatism and respiratory conditions not limited to bronchitis and asthma. Its influenced fanned through to the Assyrians, who were cognisant of the psychoactive effect of cannabis since 900 BCE. In 450 BCE it was being widely used in the Mediterranean, which comes form the first-hand account of Herotodus (the history of cannabis is suitably epic.) There’s strong evidence for it being applied in the treatment of infected cuts and gout in Persia circa 1000 AD. Adding to the list of holy organisations that smoked that dank and smoked it heavy, Tibetan monks used cannabis to aid Tantric Buddhism and enhance meditative states.

Two buddhist monks among trees meditating

Two Buddhist monks meditate having just, we can only assume, billed two packed cross-joints stuffed with premium Tibetan green

Jumping along the THC crystal-covered timeline, marijuana was imported to South America by way of the slave trade. The African community that arose from that unspeakably evil forced migration engaged cannabis in rituals, and favoured it for its magical and medicinal potencies. Cannabis seeds travelled from there to Mexico, where it began to be ‘used recreationally by individuals of socio-economic class. This would plant the seeds for a strikingly similar tragedy to occur to the black population at the start of the 20th Century in America, which we’ll get to if you stick around.

The Introduction Of Cannabis And Its Remedial Properties Into Europe, Starting With England From Colonised India

East India Company illustration

Ah, the irreparable damage of colonisation accompanied by a scent of lingering tea

The earliest recorded medicinal use of marijuana in Western medicine occurred in 1839, where the Irish doctor William O’Shaugnessy shared skepticism at the stimulatory or remedial benefits of the plant. He was introduced to the plant while working in colonised India, and did eventually give it more of a chance after speaking to elders, reading the literature and consulting healers. After testing on animals, he came to the conclusion that the plant which grew freely from the ground was safe, and began using it in the treatment of patients for its analgesic and sedative applications. O’Shaughnessy’s greatest accomplishments when using the drug came when attempting to treat those afflicted with muscle spasms caused by tetanus and rabies.

A theory discovered and tested in 1839 is only now starting to gain traction towards the first quarter of the 21st century, with millions of muscle spasticity sufferers, including those with the debilitating disease Multiple Sclerosis, using cannabis as a treatment to improve symptoms. So we’re finally starting to catch up to an era where women were barely considered human beings and children dying was totally normalised. Oh, and just to reiterate, England invaded a country, depleted their resources, created multiple famines, received valuable medicinal knowledge of cannabis in return, and then made it illegal to buy or sell. Imperialism really does turn everything it touches to shit, doesn’t it?

Cannabis Reaches Mainstream Medicinal Use In America And England And Is A Big Success, Until It Isn’t

Picture the scene: you’re a young, starry-eyed kid, probably on a farm with straw in your mouth; sorry if that’s stereotypical, our research for this piece did not stretch to daily practises of American teenagers during the 1800s so we’re going by gut here. You’re probably content with your life, but feeling like something might be missing. Little do you know that over yonder, at the 1860 Committee on Cannabis Indica of The Ohio State Medical Society (try saying that three bowls deep) it’s been declared that cannabis has reported medicinal applications for a variety of ailments. This was preceded with its first appearance as a patented medicine in the United States Pharmacopoeia in the 1850s.

Pretty soon you’re able to get it over the counter at pharmaceutical companies (a glaring missing feature in Red Dead Redemption 2, by the way) and pretty soon you’re realising the joys of getting blitzed out of your mind and seeing the world in a whole new light while trying to get treatment for a cough. What a time to be alive. Well, not really, but you get the picture. After quite literally being marketed as the ‘One Day Cough Cure’ and various other uses, popularity skyrocketed and over 100 papers were compiled detailing its therapeutic uses. Good thing that does good thing is a success! Life is so simple! Isn’t it?

nakin and Padme meme. Anakin: It's 1839. Cannabis has medicinal properties and we're going to use it to treat ailments. Padme: That's great! You're not going to stop doing that, right? Anakin: *blank face* Padme: You're not going to stop doing that, right?

This meme’s still relevant, right? Right?

O’Shaugnessy’s work did lead to the adoption of medicinal cannabis use in Europe and North America. However, problems started to arise at the turn of the century that would have anyone currently using cannabis, therapeutically or otherwise, to suddenly feel a bit – wait for it – green at the gills at the prospect of losing access (we apologise unreservedly for that tasteless and honestly pretty rubbish pun. We hereby swear an oath that that will be the last cannabis-based bit of wordplay to sprout up in this post). After the introduction of the tetanus vaccine, cannabis became obsolete in that path of treatment, and the synthesis of pharmaceutical analgesics negated it even further.

But it was the introduction of the hypodermic needle that many believe to be the precursor to the death knell for cannabis legality in the US; its ability to deliver opiates, allowed them to deliver a compound of extreme power and efficacy. It also set the stage for pharmaceutical companies and executive bigwigs to knowingly produce extraordinarily addictive medicines with a view to making profit over personal treatment. All in all, a pretty dire sliding doors moment in terms of public health. Oh, and a big fuck you to those companies and those execs. We hope you all stub your toes five times a day for the rest of your evil little lives.

The Role That The Black Population Of New Orleans, The Rise Of Jazz, And Fearmongering Of Mexican Immigration Had To Play On Prohibition Of Cannabis

There’s a show on Netflix called Grass Is Greener that succinctly dissects the relationship between weed prohibition and racial injustice; spoiler alert, it’s a direct line from the former to the latter. It covers the topic in a much better way than we could ever hope to so give it a watch!  The Cliff Notes version is that marijuana’s recreational use really exploded within the cannabis-infused black music scene, specifically jazz. New Orleans, the originator of the legendary genre, was a melting pot of exciting new music and liberal ‘jive’ use, described as ‘The latest crave, the country rave, it’s jive, jive, jive’ by Buster Bailey on the iconic ‘Light Up’.

As noted in the documentary, and by John Hudak, author of Marijuana: A Short History the general public’s mistrust of and prejudice against minorities was used and stoked to drive the proto-War On Drugs. Hudak describes it as ‘explicitly racists roots of Cannabis policy’ and that legislation was mainly used by ‘politicians across the political divide spending much of the 20th century using marijuana as a means of dividing America.’, which, while the weed stance may have changed, not much else has.

The American Government Proves They’re The Real Bad Guys By Masking Concerted Attacks Against Non-White Populations With Anti-Cannabis Propaganda & Legislation

Government officials used racially charged invective across various avenues to stoke fear, paranoia, and hatred for cannabis use – and by extension minority populations. As Baz Dreisinger, Author and Associate Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, puts it, ‘the whole population of urban America is shifting, and there is a ton of anxiety around this population’. They tied into the already existing paranoia of Mexicans moving to America with the influx of the dangerous, mind-altering drug. A Texas State Senator proudly stated: ‘All Mexicans are crazy and marijuana is what makes them crazy‘. Officials employed the use of journalists to print or sensationalise apocryphal stories of weed-induced ‘violence and sexual deviancy’.

Along with various other forms of prejudices against people of colour, including the much pushed and much believed belief that the black New Orleans population would use marijuana to get young, white teenagers hooked for life on the drug, states began outlawing the plant in 1916. The American Medical association were quite clear of their stance on cannabis, stating that it remains a medical agent, has medicinal use, low toxicity and shows absolutely no evidence that such use leads to any form of addiction. In spite of this, it was made illegal across America in the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. This trend followed generally around the world at varying stages, with old Blighty already beating them to the punch by classing it as a prohibited drug in 1928.

Anti cannabis propaganda image

Fun fact: the ‘j’ was  eventually added in by officials to make it sound more Mexican. Isn’t history great!

The True War On Drugs Begins, Cannabis Continues To Be Used Recreationally, But Significant Scientific Breakthroughs Are Made With The Discovery Of THC

It doesn’t bear repeating how fruitless and worsening the ‘War On Drugs’, enacted by Nixon’s government, ultimately was, especially when it’s been dissected to such a skewering degree here. It goes without saying that it certainly didn’t improve the likelihood of cannabis reaching users medicinally. Still, important discoveries were made about the compounds that cannabis is made up of structurally. Gaoni and Mechoulam’s groundbreaking 1964 study ‘Isolation, Structure, and Partial Synthesis of an Active Constituent of Hashish’ was the first recorded discovery of cannabis’ active component, ‘Δ9-THC’, or Tetrahydrocannabinol for long. Further studies revealed the presence of receptors within the brain (CB1 and CB2) which proved to be the binding site of THC, and also ‘the most abundant neurotransmitter receptor in the central nervous system’. 

The existence of cannabinoid receptors within our mess of unimaginably complex grey matter, found within ‘neural and immune’ cells, suggested a mode of action that could likely be the source of cannabis’ analgesic, sedative and immunoregulatory properties’. It was the first conclusion of cannabis’s efficacy on various medical ailments based on empirical proof. And it still took over 60 years for it to be considered for legalisation. World’s bonkers.

Cannabis genome structure

Here’s a picture of a molecular breakdown of the cannabis genome. It’s extremely important for you to understand that we have absolutely no idea what any of it means

Legalisation Beckons In The US As Medicinal Treatments Of CBD Prove Effective, But Are Only Approved For Use For Two Conditions

The US has been passing different, state-based forms of Medical Marijuana laws in some form for decades now, even in spite of the Trump administration doing as much as it could to upend the rare examples of the Obama administration getting something somewhat right. Things aren’t all rosy, however, considering the use of medical marijuana is legal in more than two thirds of U.S. states. Epidiolex, a CBD oral solution proven to treat two rare, severe forms of epilepsy, was greenlit in 2018. Epidiolex is sans the THC element.

That’s fine, considering that all available data suggests that it’s CBD which is the therapeutic compound found within the cannabis genome. And is the one that can treat various illnesses. What’s not fine is that the most effective way to extract it is from cannabis’ cousin, the hemp plant, which apart from being a wonder-material that could potentially save the world, and is completely non-psychoactive, holds the same drug status as its sibling.

I.e., even the most ardent, disgruntled, irascible anti-weed brigader could find no problem with the plant, because it doesn’t even do all of those ‘scary’ things that weed supposedly does. It just helps people with seizures. Which is utterly despicable and flat out should be regulated to the teeth, because it looks and smells like a bad plant that was outlawed on terrible premises. Hemp, along with cannabis at large has a current status of a Schedule 1 drug, so assigned by the almost comically evil DEA. Just to put that in perspective, that means it joins the ranks of LSD, Ecstasy, and Heroin. And just to put that that into perspective, weed, LSD, and Ecstasy are apparently as bad as HEROIN.

field of hemp

Remember that time where through a series of bad decisions and/or societal and economic circumstances out of your control you got hooked on hemp and it completely ruined your life? Probably worse than brown, actually

Relief As Sufferers Find Hope In Medicinal Cannabis, But Anger In Their Inability To Obtain it

The United Kingdom, which is where Chosen Seeds is based, somehow managed to find itself even more backwards and conservative than the United States, which is actually quite impressive. Outside of the aptly named Green Party, true parliamentary advocacy for cannabis legalisation has been almost non-existent. Which, while annoying, is to be expected: a populace that is able to open up different pathways in their brain is a populace that might just start to realise all is not right with a system designed to keep poor people poor and rich people rich.

But what’s inexcusable is their reaction to medicinal cannabis reform, which lead to multiple sufferers having to source what is essentially their medicine through illicit means. James Coke elucidated his struggle with multiple sclerosis, and his necessary self-treatment with cannabis, in this prescient article  The headline reads: ‘I shouldn’t be criminalised for using cannabis to ease my constant pain.’ The turning points came with two mothers and two sons, Hannah Deacon and Alfie Dingley and Charlotte Caldwell and Billy Caldwell.

Epilepsy sufferer Alfie and his mother Hannah

Warrior Alfie Dingley and his warrior mum

The Stories Of Billy Caldwell, Alfie Dingley, And How Their Law-Disavowing Mothers Took Medical Cannabis Treatment Into Their Own Hands

Both endlessly brave parents were forced to channel Mr Nice himself by going overseas to obtain adequate relief for their respective sons’ treatment-resistant epilepsy. Hannah took Alfie to the Netherlands where he obtained cannabis oil treatment for five months at direct cost to his family. If they used the resources available to them under the current system, the best they could have hoped for was a gradual reduction in Alfie’s seizures which number up to 20-30 a day. It was noted that he would likely suffer psychosis, be insitutionalised, and then die in that institution prematurely. Dark stuff.

Billy Caldwell was also suffering with severe, treatment-resistant epilepsy at the same time, and after some research Charlotte began flying to Canada to get supplies of much needed cannabis oil. In a show of genuine evil, this was seized at customs. Predictably, Billy’s symptoms deteroriated rapidly, and it was only when he faced death that the almost comically evil Home Office granted him an exceptional license to use cannabis oil to save his life. Both children have access to what they need, and it can technically be prescribed in England. But as the NHS website itself says, ‘very few people in England are likely to get a prescription for medical cannabis‘. However, they also offer a form of treatment ‘Nabiximols’ for MS sufferers, which is inarguably great.

The problem of course is, everyone that doesn’t have the specific conditions those medications were created to prescribe, not to mention the deluge of less equipped countries that are probably decades away from even this. The NHS website admits that there are reports of medicinal cannabis use being effective for pain relief, but that they have no plans to prescribe it as such. It’s the heartlessly conservative, change-averse leadership that are behind the dithering. The reason this is taking so long is because of the years of concerted stigmatisation affected mainly by the US, but also perpetuated by countries across the world.

Epilepsy Sufferer Billy Caldwell Hugs His Mother

Trailblazer Billy and his medicine-smuggling mum | credit: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

A Round Up Of What Medicinal Cannabis Can Do, What It Might Be Able To Do, And Where It Goes From Here

While it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of an easily grown plant that could cure, or help manage, a variety of diseases, it’s important to state that as of yet, cannabis has only been medically proven to help with a relatively small number of issues. These are: pain control, symptoms of multiple sclerosis, some forms of epilepsy, to help manage nausea in chemotherapy patients, to stimulate appetite in those with wasting syndrome due to AIDS. However, the list of benefits that haven’t yet been technically proven is vast. It is considered to be an extremely effective muscle relaxant and so would likely have an impact on any disease that  requires such a thing. Its confirmed uses prove it to be a highly effective medical option; its speculative uses, should they come to fruition, will make it an essential medicine in every country – which it should already be.

There is even a growing force of people that swear Rick Simpson Oil, a concentrated version of cannabis oil, can be used us an alternative cancer treatment. While actual medical evidence of this isn’t there yet, we have anecdotally seen it help people. And part of the reason the medical evidence isn’t there could be because countries, regimes and scientific resources have all been hamstrung from giving the plant the rigorous medicinal testing it requires.

The problem lies almost entirely in the damage that was done by anti-cannabis legislation that started brewing over a hundred years ago. The medicinal uses of cannabis could change the world, and have already, but the right people need to be able to analyse, extract, and unlock this wonderful plant in a way that the current stigma doesn’t fully allow. Not until the damage has been reversed from decades of misinformation will medicinal cannabis achieve its full potential. We’re anxiously awaiting the day that finally happens.

For more ready things, head to our blog section. Thanks for reading, and share if you found it interesting!