420 Day – The History of Medical Marijuana

April 15, 2019

Cannabis. Hemp. Marijuana. Hashish. Pot. Kush. Weed. Reefer. Ganja. Mary Jane.

Medicinal. Recreational.

Legal. Illegal.

Legal again?

Our relationship with the Cannabis Sativa plant is long, complicated, and seemingly ever-changing, so this 420 Day we take a brief look at the history of medical marijuana.

With cannabis illegal in most countries from the beginning of the 20th century, 420 Day became the ‘unofficially-official’ counterculture holiday celebrating cannabis. What began as a group of high school friends in California searching for a rumoured abandoned cannabis crop, became an excuse to illegally light up in public with a group of like-minded people and stick it to the man.

However, as more and more countries make moves to legalise Cannabis in some form, and with the increased popularity of CBD products, 420 Day has become less about counterculture and more about dancing mascots and counting profits.

But it hasn’t always been this way.

Indigenous to Central Asia and India, the cannabis plant has been found by archaeologists across the continent dating back to 8,000 BC, utilised as food, fabric, and medicine.

Throughout the ancient world, from China to India, Egypt to Greece, cannabis was celebrated for its medical and recreational properties.

Chinese emperors called it Ma and praised it for its healing properties, administering it for over 100 maladies including rheumatism and malaria, claiming it possessed both yin and yang to help the body keep in balance. In Ancient India it was used to treat leprosy and fevers, as well as being mixed with milk into Bhang to be used as an anesthetic. Persian philosophers claimed it to be the most important of over 10,000 medicinal plants. The Egyptians prescribed it for glaucoma and inflammation, and cannabis pollen was even found on the mummified body of Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II. In Ancient Greece, cannabis was used to remedy earache and edema.

Cannabis is even mentioned in the Bible, with the Book of Exodus describing the original recipe for holy anointing oil passed from God to Moses as including Kaneh-Bosem – hemp oil.

Medicinal cannabis was used far and wide for millennia, from the Ancient Chinese to the Victorians, Shakespeare was reported to be a fan, and Queen Victoria once said “it is one of the most valuable medicines we possess.” The first president of the USA, George Washington, grew industrial hemp on his plantation, and at one point it was even illegal to not grow cannabis in parts of the USA! In Jamestown, Virginia, 1762, the state rewarded growers and penalties were imposed on those who did not produce it.

However, around the turn of the twentieth-century cannabis quickly went from one of the most valuable medicines we could have, to public enemy number one. The combination of misinformation, fear, and racism all culminated in the prohibition of cannabis and the ensuing ‘War on Drugs’.

While there are many conspiracy theories to explain why cannabis was banned – such as the claim that hemp was ruining the timber industry as it was more efficient to produce items such as paper from hemp than timber, which lead to the timber industry lobbying for cannabis prohibition – the main factor that led to the demonisation, and eventual criminalisation, of cannabis in both the UK and the USA was racism.

Although hemp had been used in everyday life for millennia, it was not until the beginning of the twentieth century that smoking cannabis became more common practice in western society. While cannabis in the form of oils and tablets derived from hemp did not cause the euphoric highs we now associate with cannabis, this new form of cannabis, smoked recreationally, did and authorities didn’t like it. In the USA this new form of recreational cannabis was referred to by its Spanish name ‘marijuana’, and its popularity attributed to Mexican migration to the USA following the Mexican revolution. In the UK it became associated with immigrants from elsewhere in the Commonwealth, such as India and the Caribbean.

It was not the first time authorities has used drugs to target minority groups and further embed racist attitudes in society – opium was previously banned to target the Chinese communities, not to protect the general public from drug misuse and abuse. Nor was it the last, with people of colour today statistically more likely to be arrested for drug possession, and face stiffer sentences than the white population.

By associating cannabis with migrants from India and the Caribbean in the UK, and with Mexicans and African Americans in the USA, lawmakers could further demonise minority groups and spread fear and misinformation about cannabis. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s both countries passed a series of laws criminalising the cultivation, sale, possession, and consumption of cannabis. Propaganda such as the film Reefer Madness (1936) served to further the idea that cannabis, and therefore the minority groups associated with it, were dangers to society.

And so it stayed with prohibition laws in various forms, until the 1990s, when scientists discovered the Endocannabinoid System and began to understand different chemical compounds found in cannabis interact with the human body. The Endocannabinoid System is one of the human body’s major organ systems, responsible for maintaining homeostasis – essentially it is our body’s internal balancing mechanism. Rather than a structural organ system like the Cardiovascular or Respiratory Systems, the Endocannabinoid System has receptors on the body’s other main organs for cannabinoids to attach themselves to. With receptors throughout the body it helps to regulate functions such as inflammation, mental health, and pain sensitivity.

While different states in the USA began legalising medical marijuana and eventually cannabis for recreational use, with California leading the charge in 1996, in the UK, cannabis remains a Class B drug. Moves to legalise cannabis for medical reasons are gaining traction in the UK, motivated by the case of 12-year-old Billy Caldwell, who suffers severe epilepsy had cannabis oil confiscated at Heathrow airport after returning from Canada. Caldwell’s mother had purchased a six month supply to treat her son who suffers up to 100 seizures everyday. Caldwell had previously been treated in Canada and the USA where medicinal cannabis is legal, but was unable to get it in the UK.

Medicinal cannabis was legalised in Scotland, England, and Wales in November 2018, meaning specialised doctors will now be able to prescribe the drug. Restrictions are in place to ensure the quality of medicinal cannabis, and laws pertaining to the Class B drug are still enforced. At the same time, CBD has been growing in popularity across the globe.

Unlike medicinal cannabis and marijuana, CBD does not contain the chemical THC which is responsible for the euphoric high associated with cannabis. CBD shops have sprung up everywhere all over the world, selling all manner of CBD infused products, from oils and capsules to gummy bears and energy drinks.

However, in 2016 the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) ruled that if CBD is being advertised for medical purposes it needs to be licensed. This means that while CBD is technically legal in the UK, manufacturers cannot make any kind of medical claims about it. There are an increasing number of scientific studies being conducted into the effects and benefits of CBD, but these are not yet enough to classify it as a medicine, and therefore it remains classified as a food supplement.

As leaders in the UK CBD industry, #Organics work in collaboration with expert farmers, chemists, technicians, and professors to bring high-quality products to the market. This means that all our products are 100% organic, non-GMO, ethically sourced, and suitable for vegetarians and vegans. In addition, all products and processes are fully compliant with UK regulatory bodies.

All #Organics products are 100% THC free, meaning they are safe, legal to use in the UK and won’t get you high. In January 2018, the World Anti Doping Agency removed CBD from their list of banned substances. So, no matter what you do, whether you’re an athlete or an accountant, #Organics products won’t show up on a drugs test or negatively affect your job.

Grown in nature, defined by science. #Organics