Today medicinal marijuana is fast gaining popularity, with 86% of Americans believing it has genuine therapeutic applications. This versatile plant has a rich history steeped in both deep cultural practices and everyday practical uses. Let's take a look at marijuana's storied path to becoming a powerful natural remedy for mind-body wellness.
Marijuana is a variety of the cannabis plant, specifically cannabis sativa. It contains healthy compounds called cannabinoids that act as signaling agents throughout your brain and body. Two of the most well-known cannabinoids are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). They have been shown to help manage the symptoms of a variety of health conditions, including:
Marijuana products come in a number of forms such as oils, tinctures, edibles, vape products, topicals, and flower. Depending on the form you choose, it can be smoked, vaped, taken orally, sublingually (under the tongue), or topically on the skin. Tincture products are often recommended for medicinal use, in part because they have some of the best absorption rates.
Some people use marijuana products that include THC, which is the compound responsible for the "high" people can experience. Others who want to avoid the psychoactive effects of marijuana will use strains high in CBD and other healthy marijuana compounds, but with little to no THC. Each has its advantages, and there are certified medical marijuana doctors in every state where marijuana is legal who can guide you through the best options for your wellness goals.
You might think of medicinal marijuana as a relatively new phenomenon, but in fact marijuana cultivation and human civilization rose together as far back as 12,000 years ago. The Central Asian Steppes in modern-day Mongolia and southern Siberia were home to the first marijuana domestication, and major cultures throughout human history have used the plant for both spiritual and medicinal purposes for approximately 4,700 years.
In 2737 BC Chinese Emperor Shen Nung was the first to record using of the plant to treat different health issues such as gout and constipation. There's some evidence that the ancient Egyptians treated patients who had cancer tumors with cannabis, and the ancient Greeks applied it to veterinary medicine by wrapping their horses' wounds with marijuana poultices.
The plant eventually spread throughout Korea, India, and the Middle East, then on to Europe, parts of Africa, and South America. Archeological and documented evidence suggests that some of its main therapeutic uses included:
In keeping with its storied past, marijuana took not one but two routes into what became the U.S.
The plant that made its way over with the colonists starting in the 1600s was largely the hemp variety of cannabis, although some marijuana was also brought. It was used primarily to make rope, ship sails, clothing, and even money.
The second wave was the marijuana variety of the plant, and it was brought up primarily from Mexico in the early 1900s by immigrants. This is when recreational use of the product began in larger numbers.
The 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act attempted to regulate any cannabis used in over-the-counter medicines by requiring content labeling. Efforts also began to criminalize the plant for recreational use starting in earnest in the 1920s and 1930s.
The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 imposed heavy taxes on the growth of both marijuana and hemp. This move towards criminalization came from the perception that the drug's use was linked to crime and addiction. There's also some evidence that lobbying from the petrochemical and paper industries may have helped shut down industrial hemp competition.
Whatever the case, throughout the 1950's, federal laws requiring mandatory sentences for marijuana use were enacted. Then in 1970 it was placed on the Controlled Substance Act as a Schedule I drug, a category with the toughest penalties.
While marijuana became illegal, research conducted as early as the 1940s revealed that earlier attitudes towards the drug were unwarranted.
The 1944 LaGuardia Report stated that the drug didn't appear to lead to addiction, violence, criminal activity, or additional drug use. By the 1960s both private and government attitudes towards the plant began to change, and groundbreaking research by famed scientist Dr. Raphael Mechoulam led to the discovery and synthesis of the THC and CBD compounds.
With this research in hand, in 1978 Louisiana became the first state in the union to re-legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. However, a system wasn't in place to legally obtain and distribute the product, and so real-world legalization didn't occur in the state until much later.
Breakthroughs in understanding the medicinal benefits of marijuana began in the late 1980s and early 1990s. While working to understand how the cannabinoid compounds found in cannabis affect people's health, scientists discovered that our bodies contain their own naturally-occurring cannabinoids. They are part of a system that includes receptors and enzymes which work together to properly regulate numerous key processes in your body, including:
Researchers named this newly discovered network the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) in honor of the cannabis compounds they were researching at the time of the breakthrough. They also revealed that the system's main job is to ensure that many of your body stays in a healthy state of balance.
However, just like other systems in your body, the ECS can become depleted from poor nutrition, stress, and environmental factors. When this happens, all kinds of health issues can occur, such as inflammation, chronic pain, migraines, fibromyalgia, and digestive problems.
The good news is that scientist found that marijuana's cannabinoids mimic the human body's endocannabinoids This means that if the ECS becomes depleted, these plant compounds can 'step in' to help rejuvenate your ECS by binding to key receptors in the brain, and helping limit the uptake and breakdown of your body's natural endocannabinoids. This helps your body stay in a natural state of balanced wellness.
As new medical information about marijuana was being revealed, states took the lead in creating marijuana laws for patients with certain medical conditions. In 1996 California became the first state to legalize medicinal marijuana, and include a means of prescribing and purchasing it for certain health conditions.
Since that time, laws governing marijuana's use have evolved forward as researchers continue unlocking its wealth of wellness secrets. Because of this, medical marijuana is now legal in some form legal in 38 states.
Marijuana made U.S. history again in 2018 when the FDA approved the first-ever pharmaceutical-grade CBD drug, for use in two kinds of childhood epilepsy.
Then in December 2020 the U.S. House of Representatives passed The MORE Act, a bill to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level by removing it from the Controlled Substance drug schedule. Although the bill must be reintroduced and pass both branches of the new Congress, this was a historic first step towards national re-legalization of medical marijuana.