The full story of marijuana
Editor’s note: You will see the terms marijuana and cannabis in this article. Marijuana refers specifically to products made from the dried cannabis plant, while cannabis refers to cannabis products, including oils.
Marijuana has fascinated humans for thousands of years because of the wide range of psychological and physical effects that vary from person to person. When smoked or eaten, it can act as a stimulant, depressant and hallucinogen.
The story of marijuana in medicine starts 2,500 years ago, where evidence suggests that cultivation began around 500 BC in Asia.
In historical times, marijuana was grown for purely medicinal purposes, where it was eaten or smoked to treat severe pain and disease.
The hemp plant, which is the same species as the marijuana plant, can be traced back even further to 3,000 BC in ancient Korea, where it was used to make fabrics. Today, hemp is legally defined as a cannabis plant that contains 0.3 per cent or less THC.
An ancient high
The smoking of marijuana as a recreational drug is a later phenomenon, but not by much. A historian named Herodotus (Greek) recorded the Scythians in Central Asia (7th century B.C. to the 3rd century B.C.) inhaling the smoke from marijuana plants to get high.
Analysis shows that early help plants had very low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive substance responsible for the "high" in marijuana.
Early modern medicine
The use of cannabis in modern medicine began in the 1830s when Sir William Brooke O'Shaughnessy found that cannabis extracts could treat stomach pain.
In the late 1800s, scientists discovered that THC was responsible for the drug's psychoactive effects. THC is now used in oral medicines like Marinol.
Cannabis extracts were sold in pharmacies across Europe in the late 1800s, although its use as a recreational drug didn't occur until the early 1900s.
Over time, stories about cannabis's ability to treat severe pain and heal disease (take these reports with a pinch of salt) led to intense research into the drug.
A by-product of this was the isolation of CBD, or cannabidiol, the second most prevalent active ingredient in cannabis. CBD is the compound in cannabis responsible for some of the drug's pain-relieving and relaxant qualities.
Cannabis-based products for medicinal use are now prescribed under the NHS and in most developed countries. These products are known as 'cannabis-based products for medicinal use' (CBPM). For example, Epidiolex is a prescription CBD medicine used to treat seizures in Dravets and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.
Legal recreational use
The U.S. is the leading force behind cannabis legalisation for recreational use, with marijuana legal in 18 states at the time of writing. Cannabis farming has developed into a multi-billion dollar industry, producing significant tax dollars.
The U.K. takes a dimmer view of cannabis, where it is classified as a Class B drug and illegal to own or possess without legal grounds.
However, with cannabis-based products being increasingly prescribed, it appears that there is a place for cannabis in British society, although smoking cannabis recreationally in the UK isn't going to be legalised anytime soon.
CBD, however, is legal, and you can get oils, gummies and other products that contain it, if you want to try legal cannabis products for medicinal purposes.