The History of CBD: An Overview
Posted on February 23 2021
CBD is simultaneously old and new. On one hand, the history of cannabis and human utilization of hemp goes back centuries. On the other, cannabidiol (CBD) itself was not successfully isolated and extracted from the cannabis plant until 1940, when chemist Roger Adams conducted various tests on the plant. Couple this with the recent legalization of the compound in the United States, and you have the newest natural pain-reliever on the scene.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit of a history nerd. There’s something about diving into past civilizations that excites me to no end. When I learned that the history of CBD goes back thousands of years, I knew I had to write a post about it. So, dear reader, if you’re as much of a history buff as I, read on. And if you’re not… read on anyway. I promise it’s fascinating.
Hemp in the Ancient World
The known history of hemp (and thus, CBD) begins at least twelve thousand years ago, during the Neolithic Age. At this time, hemp was primarily used as a textile. Societies from Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent would use hemp to make fabric, shoes, rope, clothes, and an early version of paper. In fact, hemp cloth has been found in Chinese burial chambers from the Chou Dynasty (1122-249 B.C.), showing that even the wealthiest members of society relied on the plant.
Hemp was also used decoratively—the fibers would be pressed into wet pottery, leaving the completed ceramic with natural, plant-based designs. Hemp oil (a precursor to CBD) was also used in ancient Chinese cooking!
However, hemp wasn’t used only for artistic and practical needs. It was also a celebrated medicine in the same vein as CBD. According to the Psychology Today article “History of Cannabis in Ancient China,” by Jann Gumbiner Ph.D, Chinese emperor Shen-Nung was one of the first to discover the medical uses of the CBD-rich hemp plant as early as 2737 BC. The plant would be brewed into a simple tea, which would then be used to treat “gout, rheumatism, malaria, beriberi (thiamine deficiency), constipation, and absentmindedness.”
Fast-forward a few hundred years, and we see the medicinal plant spread throughout Asia and the Middle East, eventually reaching Africa and Europe. At this time, many Indian civilizations, including Hindu monks, were using the plant for stress and anxiety relief, in addition to weaving clothing from hemp fibers. Honestly, did they need any other plant?
Continued Medicinal Use
Hemp and various cannabis-derived medicines continued to be used into the modern era, with prominent figures like King Henry VIII and Queen Victoria utilizing the compounds. Hildegard von Bingen, a 12th century German abbess, wrote in her book Physica that hemp is “gentle and profitable in the stomach… Whoever has an empty brain and head pains may eat it and the head pains will be reduced.”
The compound was also used medicinally by Arab physicians in the medieval Islamic world, primarily to cure nausea, epilepsy, inflammation, and fevers, in addition to general pain relief. Indalecio Lozano, PhD, states in his article “The Therapeutic Use of Cannabis sativa in Arabic Medicine” that this continued through the 18th century.
It wasn’t until the 1830s, however, that cannabis gained wider medicinal use in the Western world. William Brook O’Shaughnessy, an Irish physician, conducted myriad experiments with cannabis and hemp-based plants. He gave the CBD-rich compounds to patients suffering from muscle spasms, stomach cramps, and more general pain. He then continued to use these cannabinoid-rich compounds to treat migraines and insomnia, ultimately informing Western society of the efficacy of such treatment. This was extremely remarkable, as it was one of the first times in modern Western medicine that such natural remedies had been proven and accepted.
Of course, O’Shaughnessy’s work failed to hold sway as the world progressed into the 20th century. As cannabis started to find recreational use as marijuana, society forgot about the various medicinal properties of the plant.
What about CBD?
We’ve talked a lot about the historical use of medicinal hemp and CBD-rich compounds, but what about CBD itself?
Well, our favorite cannabinoid wasn’t discovered until 1940, when Harvard graduate Roger Adams isolated CBD from the rest of the cannabinoids found in hemp plants. After this discovery, research continued to be done on cannabinoids, ultimately resulting in the discovery of THC (yep, CBD came first). It was eventually discovered that CBD was responsible for much of the calming and restorative properties of the cannabis plant.
Unfortunately, CBD research in the United States came to a standstill in 1970 with the passing of the Controlled Substances Act. It seemed that the medicinal and pharmaceutical benefits of CBD-rich plants would be a thing of the past. That is, until 1988, when scientists Allyn Howlett and William Devane discovered the first cannabinoid receptor in a mouse.
Finding this first receptor led to a boom in scientific research regarding cannabinoids. Not long after, the same receptors were found in the human body. This discovery proved that the human body not only responds to cannabinoids, but also makes them itself. As a result, scientists made yet another discovery with the endocannabinoid system (ECS)—a natural system in the human body composed of cannabinoids that is involved in the regulation of many human processes. If you’re interested to learn more about how CBD works, check out this previous post.
However, this discovery was impeded by the social stigma and questions of legality surrounding CBD. It wasn’t until the mid-2000s that CBD took center stage, giving society the realization that the benefits are numerous.
Charlotte Figi was a young girl from Colorado that suffered from Dravet syndrome—a genetic disorder that causes catastrophic epilepsy. Born in 2006, she was subject to up to 300 grand mal seizures a week, resulting in her being confined to a wheelchair. In a CNN article by Saundra Young, it is reported that Charlotte was on “seven drugs—some of them heavy-duty, addictive ones such a barbiturates and benzodiazepines. They’d work for a while, but the seizures always came back with a vengeance.”
It wasn’t until 2011 when Charlotte’s parents, Paige and Matt, decided to try using CBD to stop the seizures that a difference was noted. “The seizures stopped for an hour. And for the following seven days.” Eventually, it was reported that Charlotte’s seizures went from 300 a week to two or three per month. As a result, the strain of non-intoxicating CBD that Charlotte used was renamed Charlotte’s Web. Kinda poetic, right?
Due to Charlotte’s recovery, CBD and other hemp-based plants were seen with new eyes by the United States. Specifically, it was noted how beneficial non-intoxicating and non-psychoactive variants of the cannabis plant can be. This resulted in the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, which fully legalized hemp (defined as cannabis with no more than 0.3% THC content).
So, CBD and other medicinal hemp products are officially available to the general public. That’s all well and good, but unfortunately many companies fail to educate their customers on the quality of their CBD. While the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp products, it failed to regulate the availability—making it easy for companies to sell unsafe products and misinform their customers.
That’s where Farmer & Chemist comes in. Unlike many CBD companies, we are dedicated to providing our customers with the information they need to make an educated purchase. We are transparent about everything that goes into our products—all you need to do is scan the QR code on the label. Our store features in-house pharmacists that are ready to answer your every question.
More than anything though, we offer quality products that actually work. Just like Emperor Shen-Nung used cannabinoids to calm inflammation, we use Yummy Gummies or Problem Salved. In the tradition of the Vedic monks, our Steady Going and Lickety Split take your anxiety way in a snap.
Don’t believe me? Come into our store located at 7719 S Main St in Midvale, UT today, and try it yourself!
After all, if a Chinese emperor can use it, it’s good enough for you.