Wait - CBD's not just a recent fad? A Brief History/Timeline of CBD

Black and white image of people harvesting hemp in 1860 in Paris.
In the last couple of years, we've seen explosive growth in the CBD market. While CBD may seem like a modern trend, it’s far from it. CBD, or cannabidiol, is one of the hundreds of naturally occurring active compounds in the cannabis and hemp plant - a family of plants considered one of humanity’s oldest cultivated crops.

These plants were used for centuries until one day they became illegal. As we’re re-entering a period of legality, the global cannabidiol market was worth USD 2.8 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow approximately 21.2% by 2028. Consumers all around the world are turning to CBD as a solution to a myriad of problems. 

However, there is still a lot of misinformation and mysticism surrounding this topic. Is it all just a myth? Is it a trend that will go away as fast as it arose? Or may there be some truth in its many proclaimed benefits?

To bring some clarity, we’ve put together a brief history of CBD.

Where does CBD come from?

There’s a lot of confusion around this question. So much so, that we even wrote an article on it. 

The short version: CBD is a compound found in both hemp and cannabis plants. The terms hemp and marijuana are often used as synonyms, but they do not refer to the same plant. Both hemp and marijuana are subspecies of the cannabis Sativa plant. The main difference between them is that hemp contains low levels of THC, the cannabis compound that gets you “high”. However, hemp contains higher levels of CBD.

Hemp’s usage dates back as far as 8,000BC. The hemp plant history goes all the way to ancient China and can be traced back through history in various cultures around the world including Egypt, Eastern Europe, South America, and others.

Archeological findings point out that hemp was probably the earliest cultivated textile fiber. Moreover, hemp has been used in a variety of ways - fiber, building material, paper, food, medicine, and much more. However, up until recently, people were not aware of the individual compounds like CBD that make up the hemp and cannabis plants. 

How and when was CBD discovered? 

In general, cannabinoid science is quite recent. CBD, an abbreviation for cannabidiol, was first identified in 1940 by the American organic chemist Roger Adams. By the 50s, scientists were able to isolate and then extract CBD from the plant. Following this breakthrough, more researchers started focusing on the chemical structure of CBD and its properties.

Moreover, Dr. Adam Roger also hypothesized about the existence of THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol). THC was discovered only a few years later, in 1964, by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam.

Another great discovery was made in 1992 when Lumir Hanus isolated the endocannabinoid called anandamide in the brain. Anandamide got its name from “ananda,” which means “bliss” in Sanskrit. 

The discovery confirmed that human brains produce their own cannabinoids, and that’s how CBD - the cannabinoid found in the Cannabis Sativa plant family - interacts with our own endocannabinoid system. This interaction allows us to experience the therapeutic effects of CBD. 

Hemp marijuana leaf

The usage and legality of CBD throughout history

Even though we became aware of the existence of CBD in cannabis only recently, that doesn’t mean our ancestors weren’t aware of its many therapeutic benefits. Here’s a breakdown of the history of CBD:

Ancient times

The cannabis plant has been used for recreational, medicinal, and religious purposes for thousands of years. 

Findings show that cannabis was prescribed as medicine for the treatment of a range of conditions such as rheumatism, malaria, poor memory, and more. And this was as early as 2,737 B.C in Ancient China. The popularity of cannabis as medicine was widespread throughout Asia, the Middle East, the eastern coast of Africa, and certain parts of India. 

Early restrictions

Starting in the 1300s, some early restrictions on the use and cultivation of cannabis were put in place. The oldest recorded cannabis ban dates back to 1378 in Arabia. Then, during the late 1800s, several Islamic countries also banned the consumption of cannabis.

Introduction to modern Western medicine

The modern Western medicine world was introduced to cannabis largely thanks to the 19th-century Irish physicist William O’Shaughnessy

Born in 1809 in Limerick, O’Shaughnessy received his Doctorate of Medicine from Edinburgh in 1829. Later, he moved to India, when he became the first professor of chemistry for the Calcutta Medical College. That’s where O’Shaughnessy took notice of the widespread usage of hemp in India and conducted the first scientific research on its properties. 

The Irish physicist noted the stimulating effects of hemp, as well as its ability to alleviate pain. William O’Shaughnessy reported numerous case studies that demonstrated how hemp helped many of his patients suffering from a series of issues, such as severe epilepsy. His research was published in the London Provincial Medical Journal and the Dublin Journal of Medical Science. O’Shaughnessy’s findings led to the widespread adoption of cannabis as a medicinal product throughout the Western world. 

It’s impressive how his observations are now scientifically validated. However, it took us going through a period of prohibition to get there. 

Period of prohibition

The beginning of the 20th century saw more countries imposing cannabis restrictions, some for religious and some for political or economic reasons.

In 1906, the District of Columbia was the first to ban cannabis in the US. Among other countries, Jamaica, New Zealand, and the UK follow with their bans. 

The federal prohibition of cannabis in the US began in 1937, with the Marihuana Tax Act. Then, in 1970 cannabis was classified as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act. (This classification means that cannabis is not considered to have an acceptable medicinal use and that there is a high risk of addiction.) This was a classification that went against the recommendations of science. It is widely argued that the War on Drugs and the prohibition of cannabis were primarily political (but we won’t be getting into all of those fun details). 

Hemp plant and CBD oil

CBD today

Today we are presented with a very different story - the use of CBD has become widely accepted. Plus, CBD is also considered safe by the World Health Organization (WHO). We are witnessing a boom in the CBD market and new studies coming out on the regular. Needless to say, things have changed. 

The 2000s saw a widespread movement on the decriminalization and/or legalization of cannabis. As we are coming out of a period of prohibition, there is still a lot of confusion and misinformation going around. All this can seem intimidating, especially if you’re a first-time CBD user or like the rest of us, find it hard to keep up with all the change. 

Legality of CBD

The legality of CBD varies per country. So, make sure you check the rules of each place to ensure that it is legal where you’re buying or going. 

In the US, the Farm Bill passed in 2018 legalized all products derived from industrial hemp. Hemp is now considered an agricultural commodity and a variety of hemp-based goods are legal to sell and buy, as long as the hemp plant contains less than 0.3% THC. 

CBD market

While the CBD market is growing globally, there are only two CBD medical treatments approved through the FDA: Sativex and Epidiolex.

In 2010, Sativex, a cannabis-derived botanical drug used to treat severe spasticity in patients with multiple sclerosis was approved for sale in the United Kingdom (UK). Sativex is made out of two active cannabinoids THC and CBD. 

In 2018, FDA approved Epidiolex - the first CBD-based, cannabis-derived medicinal product in the US. Epidiolex is an oral solution administered to children who suffer from two rare forms of epilepsy, Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome. 

The approval of these products marks a step forward in CBD’s legality battle, demonstrating that CBD has real medicinal and therapeutic benefits.

Nevertheless, there is still a lot of preliminary research as well as anecdotal evidence suggesting that CBD can be used as an alternative form of relief from many ailments, including chronic pain and nauseainsomniastress and anxiety, and more. 

Today, the CBD market is heavily focused on the health and wellness industry. CBD is quickly becoming part of the mainstream culture of people who seek alternative forms of treatment and is available in more places than ever before. You can easily purchase CBD online, from the comfort of your home. When you do, make sure you are buying from a trusted brand that provides certificates of quality for its products. 

The future of CBD

According to market estimations, the future of CBD seems promising. This is in part due to the continued legalization efforts as well as the growing research on its many benefits. Both these factors are causing a shift in public opinion towards acceptance. 

We can only hope that the progress will continue so that many more people can have access to this natural form of treatment. 

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