Man has always relied on plants and plant-derived products for food, medicine, and other sources of daily livelihood. The use of plant parts for medicine is as old as mankind itself. Although the processes widely utilised at that time focused on the use of the whole plant extracts, we have since developed important procedures to identify the bioactive components in the plants and, by so doing, promote their intended therapeutic effects.
The cannabis plant is one of the widely utilised plants that has gained so much attention lately, thanks to the legalisation of cannabis for both medical and recreational use in major parts of the United States. This plant was identified to contain over 400 different chemicals, with about 120 belonging to the cannabinoid family, over a hundred belonging to the terpenes while the rest are occupied by other plant chemicals. A cannabinoid is a large group of compounds capable of interacting with the endocannabinoid system of the body. They include but are usually not limited to cannabidiol (CBD) and its derivatives, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and its derivatives, Cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), cannabichromene (CBC) and others. In this article, we shall discuss the history of CBD, how it moved from being a highly illegal compound to a choice, and fast-growing potential therapeutic.
How the Journey Began
The earliest mention of cannabis use in wound healing, relaxation, and management of chronic pain was linked to ancient Chinese medicine. During this time, whole-plant extracts of the cannabis plant were applied to battle wounds to promote healing while reducing the exposure of the wound to bacterial infection. In 2737BC, it was reported that Chinese Emperor Sheng Nung used a cannabis-infused tea to aid with several ailments, including those relating to gout, rheumatism, malaria, and memory. References to cannabis are found throughout classical Chinese literature, including in many famous works of philosophy, poetry, agriculture, and medicine.
Reports also derived from ancient Egyptian medicine have shown how the ancient Egyptians have used the medicinal properties of cannabis far beyond what we have achieved in modern medical science. Information derived from the Eber Papyrus written about 1550 BC displayed information about a number of formulae which made use of hemp to reduce inflammation and alleviate pain caused by several injuries and diseases. It was clear that women used marijuana to deal with depression and other psychological challenges in ancient Egypt.
Pieces of evidence from ancient Greek and Roman literature reported how cannabis was used in treating horses, especially for dressing sores and wounds. The same principle was also applied in treating humans. The dried leaves of the cannabis plant were used by ancient Greek physicians to treat nosebleeds, while the seeds were a choice treatment for tapeworm infections.
All these discoveries were before the successful identification of cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. With the advancement of medical and scientific knowledge, the medical claims of these early users were experimented on, thus, leading to the discovery of CBD and THC. This recent interest and discovery was the basis of Williams B. O’Shaughnessy’s paper published in 1839. He reported the plant's therapeutic effects, thus opening doors for more research in the area of cannabis and cannabinoids. Although his finds were somewhat controversial, Williams was able to outline the basic effects of the cannabis plant and also described its potential medical applications with interest in the area of anesthetic.
The discovery of the Cannabinoids
After the ground-breaking research of Williams in 1839, it took almost a century before new studies on the cannabis plant emerged. This time around, it was more detailed and identified a class of plant-based compounds now known as the cannabinoids. Robert S. Cahn was the first to discover Cannabinol (CBN) as a single cannabinoid in 1940. A second phytocannabinoids (plant-based cannabinoid) known as CBD was later identified by Adams and colleagues in the same year. Reports had it that it was in combination with cannabidiolic acid (CBDA). Two years later, the highly psychoactive member of the cannabinoid family, THC, was isolated by Wollner et al. (1942).
In 1963, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam conducted the first research to understand the effects of each cannabinoid extracted from the cannabis plant, starting with CBD, thus giving information about its stereochemistry. In 1964, Mechoulam and a group of other researchers discovered the relationship between THC and the euphoric effects linked with cannabis use, thus dissociating CBD from the earlier theories of being involved in the mind-altering effects of the cannabis.
The Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act passed by Mexico in 1978 was able to recognize the medicinal value of the cannabis plant, thus serving as the starting point for using CBD and other hemp-derived products for treating ailments. This newfound theory continued until Dr. Mechoulam, and his team studied the potential therapeutic benefit of CBD in the treatment of epilepsy. The group of researchers monitored the effect of 300mg of CBD on 8 subjects who are suffering from epileptic seizures. After four months of the research, 50% of the subjects were found to reduce the level of seizures while the seizures were completely absent in the other half.
More cannabinoids were successfully discovered and isolated from the cannabis plant in less than a decade after the Mechoulam’s work on CBD and epilepsy. This also led to the identification of the endocannabinoid system, a further understanding of cannabinoid structure. This gave more vivid information on how cannabinoids react when present in our bodies. This recent finding led to the adoption of CBD and other cannabinoids in major regions of the world, including the United States.
CBD in the United Kingdom
Since the ground-breaking research of linking CBD and cannabinoids to the activity of the endocannabinoid system in 1993, several interests were sparked in how the compound can be made legal in all regions of the world, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom. The use Cannabis in the UK dates back to 1533 when England’s King Henry VII fined farmers for not cultivating hemp for industrial use. In less than 100 years later, the settlers of Jamestown, Virginia began growing hemp plant for industrial purposes like fiber.
The distribution, contribution and possession of Cannabis is prohibited by the UK governement. Illegal possession of cannabis can land you in jail for 14 years. Just like in many parts of the world, the use of pure CBD products is legal in the UK since it is not part of the classified substances.
Under the terms of the UK laws, it is legal to sell CBD oil tinctures and CBD products containing no more than 0.2% THC. Any product containing more than this concentration is regarded as illegal and considered a cannabis product. At the time of writing this article, cannabis is still a Class B drug under the UK misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
The concentration of THC holds for all products regardless of the CBD concentration. For instance, a product containing just 5% CBD or 40% CBD must conform to the THC limit of 0.2%.
Unlike what is obtainable in the US, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has recognized CBD as a medicine in the UK. Even though this is subject to strict regulations. The therapeutic potentials of CBD oil have been widely recognized too.
If you would like to learn more about this subject, please read our comprehensive guide to CBD laws in the United Kingdom.
Even with the levels of restrictions placed on the use of CBD and other members of the cannabinoid family, it is clear that CBD may hold the key to the treatment of several diseases linked with the endocannabinoid system. Although only the use of CBD for epileptic seizures have been approved by the FDA, information from current research has shown how CBD may play a key role in the management of diseases like diabetes, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, cardiovascular diseases and many more.
CBD is presently being incorporated into everyday products like tea, honey, energy drinks, CBD moisturiser, CBD capsules and gummies. With time, we will see a complete acceptance of CBD for all levels of treatments.