Cannabis has been known as a medicinal plant for several thousand years. The first records date back to the emperor Shen-Nung, who lived in ancient China around the year 2,800 BC. Already in the oldest pharmacopoeia in the world (Shen-Nung bencaojing), the effects of the cannabis plant were described in great detail. In traditional Indian and Arabic medicine, too, the healing powers of cannabis were already known between 600 and 800 AD. For example, the use of cannabis as a painkiller, anticonvulsant, sedative, sleep aid, anti-inflammatory, for spasticity and as an appetite stimulant was well documented.
A vial containing cannabis residues was even found on a mummy more than a thousand years old, presumably a princess. Researchers found that the princess must have suffered from several severe chronic diseases, confirming their assumptions that cannabis was already used to treat chronic ailments at that time.
Analogous to the traditionally described medicine, modern medicine rediscovered identical fields of application for cannabis since the 19th century. In Germany, around 1900, even more than half of all medicines consisted of hemp and its extract. Above all, however, the decoding of the body’s own system (endocannabiniod system), at which the components of the cannabis plant exert their effects, contributed to increasing interest and the rediscovery of cannabis as a medicine in modern medicine.
At the beginning of the 20th century, however, the trend reversed and hemp, or psychotropic cannabis, was increasingly ostracised and outlawed. Some politicians and lobbyists of the chemical fibre and cotton industries eventually ensured, with the help of countless negative campaigns, that cannabis was banned in 1960 and classified internationally as a drug. As a result, research into medicinal cannabis and its many applications has been halted for a long time or has only been carried out on a small scale.
Especially within the last ten years, the interest in the use of cannabis has increased again very much. In some countries, the use of cannabis has already been legalised and a trend is emerging, especially in America and Canada. Nevertheless, due to the negative campaigns of the 20th century, it will probably be a long time before the stigma surrounding this unique and versatile plant is completely removed. Therefore, it will be even more important to continue studies and research to learn more about the healing properties of the plant and to advance cannabis-based medical therapies.
Dwarakanath C (1965) Use of opium and cannabis in the traditional systems of medicine in India. Bull Narc 17: 15-19
History of Therapeutic Cannabis, M. Aldrich, Cannabis in Medical Practice: a Legal, Historical and Pharmacological Overview of the Therapeutic use of Marijuana, chapter 3, McFarland & Co, Jefferson, NC, and London, (1997).
Abel, E.L. (1980). Marijuana, The First Twelve Thousand Years. New York: Plenum Press.