Alright, all you cannabis braniacs out there—time to study up on some of the best cannabis research. So much has changed in the cannabis landscape, from the particularly racist and classist War on Drugs, to its eventual recognition as a valuable medicine, and today, the gradual legalization/decriminalization of cannabis throughout much of the United States. To truly understand the impact cannabis has had on our society through the years, it is important to remember the work of researchers across the globe: folks who were curious about how this particular plant interacts with our bodies biologically and what this means medically moving forward.
A little bit of background to start: Cannabis has long been used as a medicine. Ancient Chinese doctors used cannabis as an anesthesia (Ernest L. Abel, PhD Marijuana, the First Twelve Thousand Years, 1980) while it is also found in medical scripts in ancient Rome (Martin Booth, Cannabis: A History, 2005). It was used in a multitude of medicine across the globe, ranging from treating earaches and toothaches, to allegedly suppressing sexual desire. Interestingly, some scholars have speculated that Jesus used cannabis oil in healing ceremonies (Carl Ruck, PhD “Did Jesus Use Cannabis?” The Sunday Times, Jan. 12, 2003). Up until the early 1900s, cannabis was used as a painkiller. Massachusetts was the first state to outlaw cannabis, ushering in the prohibition era. After decades of work and research through the 20th and 21st centuries, cannabis is now again entering the mainstream as a valuable plant medicine.
Here is a timeline throughout the last 50+ years, detailing some of the best and game-changing findings in cannabis research.
1964 – Israeli doctor and researcher Raphael Mechoulam is one of the primary figures in cannabis research. Anyone who is interested in the science behind medical cannabis is likely familiar with his name. He has been resolutely exploring cannabis and its biological effects for the past 50 years. In 1964, he discovered the chemical cannabinoids, in particular tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) and how they interact with the body. Finally, the mechanisms by which cannabis reacts with human biology were being revealed. He was also the first to synthesize THC in a lab.
1968 – The UK Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence conducted an independent study, “The Wooten Report,” on cannabis use. While they don’t encourage the legalization of cannabis in any regard, it does state:
“We think that the adverse effects which the consumption of cannabis in even small amounts may produce in some people should not be dismissed as in-significant … On the other hand, we think that the dangers of its use as commonly accepted in the past and the risk of progression to opiates have been overstated, and that the existing criminal sanctions intended to curb its use are unjustifiably severe.”
1980 – The National Cancer Institute begins testing and, later, distributing the oral pharmaceutical Marinol. Marinol consists of synthetic THC, and is given to cancer patients going through chemotherapy as an anti-emetic drug. It represented another option for patients who were not responding to conventional treatment, and proved the valuable benefits of cannabinoids. It was later approved by the FDA in 1985. Even so, cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug.
1990 – Miles Herkenham, the senior investigator at the National Institute for Mental Health, discovers cannabinoid receptors in the human brain. These receptors, found in the basal ganglia, hippocampus and cerebellum, bind with the various cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, which results in a number of pharmacological effects. This would eventually lead to the discovery of endogenous cannabinoids (cannabinoids that are produced naturally in our bodies), which leads us to our next study….
1992 – The endocannabinoid system is discovered. Twenty-eight years after discovering THC, Raphael Mechoulam and his team discover the first endogenous cannabinoid, anandamide. Its name is derived from the Sanskrit word “ananda,” meaning eternal bliss, and is released in the human brain after vigorous exercise, explaining what some describe as a “runner’s high.” The endocannabinoid system is also believed to be a regulatory system, helping to coordinate emotions, memory and movement.
2000 – 2010 – A series of studies allowed by the FDA completed at the University of California in San Diego, revealed “Cannabinoids may be useful medicine for certain indications” and deserve further research, according to Igor Grant, professor and executive vice chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the university. This represented another supporting claim given to the medical benefits of cannabis. The study also pointed out, however, there is little comparable research produced regarding the possible harms of cannabis.
2011 – A study completed by D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University and Daniel I. Rees revealed that U.S. states who had legalized cannabis saw an increase in cannabis use among adults, and no increase in use among minors. Furthermore, their data showed a nine percent decrease in fatal car accidents; the researchers theorize this is due to using cannabis as a replacement to alcohol.
This timeline is only a small peek into the amount of research that has been given to cannabis across the globe. We can only imagine what findings will emerge in the coming years.
— Words by Taylor Haynes