As we move past the propaganda and stigma that has held medical and scientific research into cannabis back, it is important to remember that this medicinal plant has had a long history with humans that dates back to ancient times. Indeed these historical recordings and findings are a major facet of cannabis education that helped doctors and scientists build the groundwork that the medical cannabis movement stands upon; these were not only the first clues as to how to apply cannabis as a medicine but also what piqued the interest of those who have studied and continue to explore what is possible with this powerful herb.

Below encompasses a chronology of how cannabis has been medically used throughout various cultures and for various ailments. It gives a roadmap of how far cannabis has come - the plant’s history throughout thousands of years, how the medicine’s usage and experimentation progressed, and even to the cutting edge scientific studies that are going on now!

  • 2700 BC - Chinese Emperor Shen Nung (considered the father of Chinese medicine) writes and experiments with cannabis (oftentimes on himself) for a variety of ailments.

  • 1200 BC - Egyptians prescribed cannabis for glaucoma and inflammation. Modern scientists have found evidence of cannabis in the tomb of Ramsesses II who died in 1213 BC.

  • 1000 BC - People in India mix cannabis and milk to make Bhang, a drink used as an anesthetic (pain reliever) and anti-phlegmatic (used to treat apathy and depression).   

  • 600 BC - “Healers” in India utilize cannabis to treat various illness including Leprosy. They also utilize cannabis as a way to improve the quality of one’s life.

  • 200 BC - Greeks utilize cannabis as a remedy for earache, edema (swelling), and inflammation.

  • 1 AD - Based on the writings of Emperor Shen Nung, the “Pen Ts’ao Ching,” a medical compilation of recipes, herbs, and remedies, is published and names cannabis as one of the most useful and versatile medicines that may be utilized for hundreds of ailments and maladies including rhuematic pain, intestinal constipation, disorders of the female reproductive system, malaria, and more.

  • 70 AD - The Greek physician Discorides published a book “De Materia Medica” or “On Medical Matters” and prescribes cannabis to treat earache, amongst other ailments. In 79 AD, the historian Pliny the Elder writes that the roots of the cannabis plant, when boiled in water, may be used to ease cramped joints, gout, and violent pain.

  • 200 AD - It is reported that the Chinese surgeon Hua T’o uses cannabis resin and wine as an anesthetic for surgery.

  • 800-900 AD - Cannabis is used in the Arabic world to treat a variety of ailments including migraines, syphilis, and as a general analgesic and anaesthetic.

  • 1500s - in 1578, a medical text by Li Shizhen, “Bencao Gangmu Materia Medica” or the “Compendium of Materia Medica,” is published and considered to be the most complete and comprehensive medical book written in the history of traditional Chinese medicine. In it, cannabis is also described as versatile and useful for treating vomiting, parasitic infections, and hemorrhage.   

  • 1600s - In 1621, Robert Burton, an English Clergyman and scholar from Oxford publishes “The Anatomy of Melancholy.” He suggests cannabis as a possible treatment for depression. In 1652, the renowned herbalist Nicholas Culpeper publishes “The English Physitian.” In it, he states that hemp extract, “allayeth Inflammations in the Head...eases the pains of the Gout...Knots in the Joynts, the pains of the Sinews and Hips.”

  • 1700s - Both US Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grow hemp at Mount Vernon and Monticello respectively. The use was more for industrial and textile purposes.

  • 1800s - Sir William O’Shaugnessy MD serves in India as an army surgeon. He introduces cannabis into British medicine in 1842. During this era, cannabis is used to treat muscle spasms, rheumatism, convulsions from tetanus, rabies, and epilepsy. It was also used as a sedative for sleep, and it is even reportedly used by Queen Victoria to treat her menstrual cramps. Additionally in the 1840s, French doctor Jacques-Joseph Moreau reports that cannabis suppresses headaches, increases appetites, and aids with sleep.

  • 1850s - Cannabis, or hemp extract, is added to the US Pharmacopeia - then an official public standards-setting authority for prescription and over the counter medicines. The publication listed cannabis as useful for treating neuralgia, tetanus, typhus, cholera, rabies, dysentery, leprosy, incontinence, gout, convulsive disorders, tonsillitis, uterine bleeding, excessive menstrual bleeding, and more. Additionally, it suggests usefulness in treating alcoholism and opiate addiction. During this time, tinctures of cannabis extract were often utilized as a versatile medicine.

  • 1850s-1900s - In 1889, an article is published in The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, by Dr E.A. Birch exploring cannabis as a possible medication for opium withdrawal. He also describes the anti-emetic, or anti-nausea effects of cannabis. At the end of the century, from 1893-1894, the Indian Hemp Commission is established to examine the use of cannabis in India. It finds more beneficial effects when regarded as medicinal in character, and few negative effects when used in moderation.

  • 1930s - By the 1930s the US pharmaceutical firms Parke-Davis, Eli Lily, and Grimault & Company were marketing cannabis extracts and cigarettes as useful for being analgesic (pain relieving), anti-spasmotic, and sedative. However, by 1936, new medications such as aspirin, morphine, and other opium-derived drugs began to replace cannabis for various medical conditions in western pharmacopeia. Harry Anslinger leads the Federal Beureau of Narcotics (FBN) in the prohibition of Marijuana.


  • 1936, 1937 - In 1936 the anti-marihuana morality film “Reefer Madness” is shown in cinema. With the combination of the alleged yellow journalism spread by William Randolph Hearst, the propaganda spread by the aforementioned film, alongside racist associations with the drug, hemp and cannabis become associated with a type of wild Mexican tobacco and labeled the word marihuana. In 1937 the Marihuana Tax Act is passed despite opposition by the American Medical Association (who to this day supports research on medical cannabis). This tax act criminalized the possession and sale of marihuana, which included cannabis extracts and even hemp derived products. This same year the first marihuana seller, Samuel Caldwell (58 at the time) was convicted and sentenced to four years of hard labour in prison for selling two cannabis cigarettes. He died a year after release.

  • 1938 - New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia assigns the New York Academy of Medicine to investigate the claims on which the prohibition of marihuana is founded on. The “LaGuardia Commission Report” is subsequently published and finds that marihuana is not addictive and does not lead to insanity or violent crime. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics at the time confiscated mass amounts of the reports and destroyed them.  

  • 1942 - Cannabis and Marijuana are officially removed from the US Pharmacopeia thus removing it from therapeutic legitimacy in the accepted medical community.

  • 1951 - US Congress enacts the Boggs Act (named after the sponsor Rep. Hale Boggs (D)); this law establishes mandatory 2-5 year minimum prison sentences for simple possession of drugs on a first offense; marijuana is at the top of the list of offending drugs. Over the past few decades, such sentencing has been thankfully revised. The 50’s “Beat” generation embraced smoking marijuana as a recreational drug; writers such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg make multiple references in their works.

  • 1960 - College kids of the 60s as well as “Hippies” explore and embrace marijuana recreationally.   

  • 1964 - Delta 9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is first identified, isolated, and synthesized by Dr Raphael Mechoulam, Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and his team. The discovery was described as, “Isolation, structure, and partial synthesis of an active constituent of hashish.” Their team primarily experimented with monkeys throughout the 60s and this research led to a publication, “Marijuana Chemistry” by Dr Mechoulam in 1970.

  • 1968 - University of Mississippi becomes the first official cannabis grower for the Federal Government. As the only DEA registered cultivator of marijuana in the US, the University of Mississippi supplies marijuana to researchers for studies ranging from chemical research, preclinical toxicology in animals, and even to clinical work on humans. This same year, the Wootton Report, written by the UK government’s Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence, finds that “the long term consumption of cannabis in moderate doses has no harmful effects” and that “Cannabis is less dangerous than the opiates, amphetamines, and barbiturates, and also less dangerous than alcohol.

  • 1970 - US Congress passes the Controlled Substances Act and the law is signed in by President Nixon. This places cannabis into Schedule I drug classification with “No accepted medical use.” This same year, NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is founded.

  • 1971 - Following the passing of the Controlled Substances Act, President Nixon declares the infamous and ongoing “War on Drugs.”

  • 1972 - The National Commision on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, also known as the “Shafer Commission,” recommends decriminalizing marijuana. Despite the findings of the commission, Nixon decides to go forward with the War on Drugs.

  • 1973 - The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is established. They are formed with the merging of the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNND) and the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE).

  • 1974  - The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) becomes the only administrator of a contract to grow cannabis for research purposes; they work closely with the University of Mississippi to cultivate cannabis for the US Government. The aim of their research was primarily to study the negative effects of marijuana. Additionally, pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly produces a synthetic cannabinoid called Cesamet (which would later be renamed to Nabilone) for the treatment of nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy. Pfizer would also begin production of CP-55940, another synthetic cannabinoid which was used to study a variety of THC’s therapeutic and protective effects on the brain.

  • 1976 - Cannabis is decriminalized in the Netherlands. This lead to a mini boom of cannabis cafes in Amsterdam. This same year Judge James Washington ruled that a Washington DC man, Robert Randall’s use of cannabis for his glaucoma constituted a medical necessity and that he was free of criminal charges in the court case US vs Randall. Subsequently, the FDA approved access to government grown marijuana for specific individual cases; Robert Randall became the first recipient of legal medical marijuana.

  • 1978 - The US Federal Government and NIDA begin to supply medical cannabis to seven patients under the Investigational New Drug Applications (IND) Compassionate Use Program as part of a lawsuit settlement by the Department of Health and Human Services.

  • 1980 - A drug mimicking THC known as Marinol (Dronabinol) is synthesized and used to experiment on patients with various cancers. It’s purpose is to treat the nausea and vomiting associated with cancer and cancer chemotherapy. Over the next five years, experiments across six states find that smoked marijuana is still superior to marinol in terms of relief and efficacy. Within this time, UniMed purchases the patent to Marinol for the treatment of nausea.

  • 1985 - Marinol is approved by the FDA for the purposes of treating nausea . In 1992 It would also later be approved for anorexia associated with HIV/AIDS Wasting syndrome.

  • 1988 - DEA Judge Francis Young makes the recommendation that Marijuana be rescheduled to Schedule II, which would allow doctors to prescribe smoked marijuana to patients in need. The following year, the DEA Administrator Jack Lawn overrules Judge Francis Young and denies the rescheduling of marijuana. Additionally, the first evidence of cannabinoid receptors, unique receptors that respond to endogenous cannabinoids is discovered by researcher William Devane working in the lab of Alynn Howlett at St Louis University.

  • 1990 - Scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health, lead by Miles Hirkenham, heavily study cannabinoid receptors in several mammals including humans. This major breakthrough would inevitably lead to a storm of research that would begin to explain how cannabis works on a molecular level. Scientists were able to clone these receptors in both cell culture dishes (in vitro) and in mammalian models (in vivo) in order to further study and test how they work. Over the next few years, CB1 receptors located in the brain, and CB2 receptors located in the gut, spleen, liver, heart, kidneys, bones, blood vessels, lymph cells, endocrine glands, and reproductive organs are mapped out.

  • 1991 - San Francisco passes the first medical marijuana initiative in the US with an overwhelming 79% vote on November 5 1991. Proposition P called on the State of California Medical Association to restore hemp medical preparations to the list of available medicines in California, and to not penalize physicians from prescribing hemp preparations for medical purposes.

  • 1992 - Dr Raphael Mechoulam in collaboration with the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH) discover a special internal naturally occurring neurotransmitter that mimics THC and that also binds to the cannabinoid receptors - described as an almost inner cannabis produced within one’s own body and subsequently classified as an “endocannabinoid.” Responsible for helping to produce ‘feel good’ compounds in your body such as dopamine; Mechoulam and his group call this compound “anandamide,” deriving from the Sanskrit word meaning bliss. This same year, the IND Compassionate Use program where specific patients are provided with medical cannabis cigarettes is cancelled. 27 patients across the US who were approved by the FDA were no longer allowed to use cannabis; 13 patients were grandfathered after the cancellation of the program and continued to be supplied cannabis by the Federal Government.

  • 1995 - The second petition to reschedule marijuana is filed by Jon Gettman, former director of NORML. The 275 page petition is filed with the DEA and requests that marijuana and THC be moved from schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act because neither has the high potential for abuse required under the law for this prohibited status. This same year, Dr Mechoulam and his group discover the second major endocannabinoid, 2-arachidonoylglycerol or 2AG for short; this compound binds to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors to help trigger a cascade of physiological responses.

  • 1996 - On November 5th, voters in California passed the very first state medical marijuana initiative by 56%. Officially known as Proposition 215, it permitted patients and their primary caregivers, with a doctor’s recommendation, to possess and cultivate cannabis for the treatment of AIDS, cancer, muscular spasticity, migraines, and several other disorders. It also protected these individuals from punishment if they recommended marijuana to their patients.

  • 1997 - The National Institute of Health (NIH) calls for more research into medical cannabis. They concluded at the time that scientific evidence was insufficient to definitively assess cannabis’ therapeutic potential and advised that the traditional scientific process should be allowed to evaluate the drug’s use for certain disorders.   

  • 1998 - Voters in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington legalize medical cannabis. The UK House of Lords Committee also recommends legalizing medical cannabis. Lord Perry of Walton, chairman of the inquiry stated, “We have seen enough evidence to convince us that a doctor might legitimately want to prescribe cannabis to relieve pain, or the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and that criminal law ought not to stand in the way. Far from being a step towards general legalisation, our recommendation would make the ban on recreational use easier to enforce. Above all, it would show compassion to patients who currently risk prosecution to get help.” The UK’s GW Pharmaceuticals receives the license to produce Sativex, a near 1:1 ratio of CBD and THC plant extract spray for the treatment of pain and spasticity in Multiple Sclerosis (MS). The medicine begins production the following year.

  • 1999 - Voters in Maine make it the fifth state to legalize medical cannabis. Additionally, Health Canada announces official funding for medical research into cannabis. Marinol is also moved to Schedule III in order to increase availability to patients. Last but not least, the US Department of Health and Human Services files for the patent to cannabinoids as Patent US 6630507 B.

  • 2000 - Voters in Hawaii, Colorado, and Nevada legalize medical cannabis.

  • 2002 - The only study conducted on the IND Compassionate Use Program finds that marijuana improves the quality of life for medical patients; it concluded that, “cannabis smoking, even of a crude, low-grade product, provides effective symptomatic relief of pain, muscle spasms, and intraocular pressure elevations…” and that “clinical cannabis patients are able to reduce or eliminate other prescription medicines and their accompanying side effects.” Additionally, in the court case Conant v Walters, the US Court of Appeals prohibited, “the federal government from either revoking a physician’s license to prescribe controlled substances or conducting an investigation of a physician that might lead to such revocation, where the basis for the government’s action is solely the physician’s professional ‘recommendation’ of the use of medical marijuana.”

  • 2003 - Jari Dvorak, a Canadian HIV patient, 62 at the time, became the first Canadian patient to receive government supplied cannabis. The program was created in response to an Ontario court order for the Canadian government to have a legal supply of cannabis available to authorized patients. This same year, the US Department of Health and Human Services receives patent US 6630507 B1 - Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants.

  • 2004 - Montana and Vermont legalize medical cannabis. Cannabis in the UK is moved to Class C, which carries lower penalties for possession.

  • 2005 - Federal Agents would execute one of the most widespread state raids and would shut down 11 medical cannabis dispensaries in San Diego and 2 in San Marcos. No arrests were made, but an undisclosed amount of money and cannabis was seized without return or compensation. Authorities said the investigation was aimed at determining how much marijuana was being sold and who was supplying it. This same year, GW Pharmaceuticals’ Sativex wins conditional approval from Health Canada for the treatment of MS, and qualified patients in Canada may obtain a prescription  for the medicine.   

  • 2006 - Rhode Island legalizes medical cannabis despite opposition from the state governor; the state legislature overrode Gov. Carcieri’s veto against the measure. This same year the FDA confirms opposition to medical marijuana and issues a statement, “there is currently sound evidence that smoked marijuana is harmful. A past evaluation by several Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies...concluded that no sound scientific studies supported medical use of marijuana for treatment in the United States, and no animal or human data supported the safety or efficacy of marijuana for general medical use…”

  • 2007 -  New Mexico legalizes medical cannabis. Additionally, Mary Ellen Bittner, then the Administrative Law Judge of the DEA, issues a ruling that stated Professor Lyle E Craker PhD should be allowed to cultivate medical cannabis at the University of Massachusetts for research purposes.

  • 2008 - The American College of Physicians (ACP) publishes the paper, “Supporting Research Into the Therapeutic Role of Cannabis,” and makes official their stance on medical marijuana. Dr. Ethan B Russo also publishes his article, “Phytocannabinoids and Genetic Analyses of Ancient Cannabis from Central Asia,” in the Journal of Experimental Botany; in it he describes and discusses the discovery of more than 2lbs of cannabis found buried in the tomb of an ancient Chinese shaman, as well as the use and application of cannabis as a medicine in ancient cultures. This year Michigan becomes the 13th state to legalize medical cannabis.  Interestingly, the UK reschedules cannabis from Class C to Class B, thereby increasing penalties for possessing cannabis; under class B, offenders may face up to 5 years in prison for simple possession.

  • 2009 - Then US Attorney General Eric Holder announces that DEA raids on legitimate state approved medical marijuana dispensaries would stop. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) issues what is known as the Ogden memo, which intended to “provide clarification and guidance to federal prosecutors in States that have enacted laws authorizing the medical use of marijuana.” This memo stated that legal medical marijuana patients would not be prioritized for prosecution. This year, the American Medical Association (AMA) softened up it’s position on medical marijuana in a policy statement that read, “Our AMA urges that marijuana’s status as a federal Schedule I controlled substance be reviewed with the goal of facilitating the conduct of clinical research and development of cannabinoid-based medicines, and alternate delivery methods.”

  • 2010 - Voters in New Jersey and Arizona make them the 14th and 15th states respectively to legalize medical marijuana. Washington DC also follows suit. Voters in South Dakota, however, reject a measure to legalize medical cannabis in their state. This year, the California Supreme Court affirms their ruling that possession limits on cannabis are unconstitutional. The US Department of Veteran Affairs also relaxes their marijuana rules; in the Veteran’s Health Administration (VHA) directive, they state that vets who participate in legal medical marijuana programs will not be disqualified from, “substance abuse programs, pain control programs, or other clinical programs.”

  • 2011 - Voters in Delaware make it the 16th state to legalize medical cannabis. This year, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) rejected the request to reclassify marijuana out of schedule I; it was ruled that, “marijuana has no accepted medical use,” and that it should remain illegal under federal law - regardless of conflicting state legislation allowing medical marijuana. In Israel, the government arranges to cultivate and supply medical cannabis for research purposes.

  • 2012 - Voters in Connecticut and Massachusetts make them the 17th and 18th respective states to legalize medical cannabis. Voters in Colorado and Washington legalize marijuana for recreational use.

  • 2013 - Voters in New Hampshire and Illinois make them the 19th and 20th states to legalize medical cannabis. CNN airs Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s Weeds which focuses on the medical effects of cannabis; the story of an epileptic 2 year old child named Charlotte Figi is told, and it depicts her use of cannabidiol (CBD) to significantly reduce her seizures and save her life. The Justice Department announces that it will no longer challenge state marijuana laws.

  • 2014 - Voters in Maryland, Minnesota, and New York make them the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd states to legalize medical cannabis. Guam, a US territory in the Pacific also legalizes medical cannabis. Federal guidelines to allow banks to provide financial services to legal marijuana sellers would be issued. The Obama administration also includes a provision in the nation’s spending bill that prevents the Justice Department from interfering in states that have legalized medical cannabis.

  • 2015 - The Governor of Puerto Rico, Alejandro Garcia Padilla, signs an executive decision to legalize medical cannabis. The Obama administration makes research into cannabis easier by redefining complex review processes involved with the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services.

2016 and On...      

It is impossible to predict the outcome of the future. In reviewing the ripples and clues of the past that led us to this point, however, what is illustrated to us is a multifaceted story that will lead us to a better understanding of how to approach cannabis not only as a medicine to study and foster, but also the growing culture and society that surrounds it, the right laws to write about it, how to perceive and educate each other about this sadly misunderstood plant.

We can certainly speculate on legalization and the green rush, the rising wave of reform that we all want - there is certainly a new world that all of us wish to see, and those of us in the 420 subculture want nothing more than this movement and this medicine to be done right. The previous century and past fifteen years saw the most radical chapter in the history of cannabis - propaganda, misinformation, prohibition, the “beatnick” and “hippie” generations, the war on drugs, modern scientific analyses, the medical revival, prop 215 and the nationwide legalization movement, the formation of cannabis collectives, it’s presence in pop culture, the DEA raids, the discovery that it could save lives, where we’re at here and now....and the story continues to write itself.

There is opportunity - for reform, for research, for new markets, for the continual redefining of the cannabis culture, and those that would be a part of it. 2016 and the future of medical cannabis is open for those who wish to write and build it.                                                                                                   


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