The History of CBD (extended)

history of cbd

You wouldn’t be alone in thinking that CBD was a modern phenomenon, and certainly only in recent years has it resurfaced as a popular therapeutic aid to pain relief, sleep, stress, and many other issues. However, CBD is a naturally occurring substance and so has been around for tens of thousands of years. In fact, records show that hemp may have been one of the earliest plants to be cultivated by humanity during the birth of agriculture 10000-12000 years ago.

The Origins of Hemp

The cannabis plant is indigeneous to Central Asia, particularly India, and experts believe that hemp was the earliest plant to be cultivated for textile fibre due to its strong, coarse properties. It is thought that Siberians and Mongolians harvested and grew cannabis plants for this purpose in 12000BC. From then onwards, various communities used cannabis, hemp and CBD for different purposes. 

From 6000BC, oil & seeds from cannabis plants were used as a food source in China. And in 2737BC, as the first documented use of cannabis, Chinese Emperor Sheng Nung drank cannabis-infused tea to relax and bring his body back into balance, believing cannabis could aid memory, malaria, rheumatism, and gout. This soon became regular practice, with the Chinese Book of Documents outlining this in 2300BC. It is interesting to note that this is very similar to how we can put CBD into our drinks to help bring balance back to our bodies and minds today!

There are many other documented uses of cannabis and CBD throughout early history, particularly in relation to religion and celebration. Between 2000BC and 1000BC, Indians regularly used cannabis in religious ceremonies – in fact, the Atharva Veda, a sacred text, names cannabis as one of the “five sacred plants”, stating a guardian angel inhabits its leaves. Cannabis was widely consumed to honour the God Shiva, and the Hebrew Old Testament also refers to cannabis burning in temples; the fragrance is said to have pleased the gods, and this may have been amplified due to people nearby feeling the balancing effects of the CBD burning in the air around them.

The first recorded use of CBD for skincare purposes was in ancient Egypt, where Pharoah Ramses II (governed 1279BC – 1213BC) was an avid user of hemp oils. In fact, he believed in the benefits of hemp so much that he and several other Pharoahs and advisers at the time were buried with hemp oils! Egyptian research into cannabis can also be found in scrolls dating back to 2000BC.

The importance of hemp was clearly not overlooked in history. On several occasions in history, it was actually a crime to not grow hemp plants! In 1533, King Henry VIII fined farmers who did not grow hemp, and in 1619 it was completely illegal to not grow hemp in Virginia, with potential for capital punishment for offenders!

More recently, several monarchs & people in power have used CBD to alleviate pain – most famously, Queen Victoria is alleged to have used hemp in the late 19th century to help with her own menstrual cramps.

The Discovery of CBD

Although hemp has been used for thousands of years, the discovery of CBD and its properties is still relatively new. In fact, little to no attention was paid to the science behind the “magic” until 1839, when William B. O’Shaughnessy investigated hemp’s therapeutic effects. After that, researchers began to take more of a scientific interest in hemp & CBD, but it took a century for anything more to be discovered…

In 1940, there was a breakthrough by Robert S. Cahn, who isolated CBN (cannabinol) from the hemp plant – the first cannabinoid to be discovered. CBD shortly followed this, with its concrete discovery in 1942 by American chemist Roger Adams. Then, in 1963, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam (a widely regarded leading scientist in the field) identified the stereochemistry of CBD, reigniting the spark for research into the mysterious hemp plant. And in 1964, he isolated THC. Through this, chemists discovered the properties of both CBD and THC, and by comparing the stereochemistry of the two, concluded that CBD did not have the mentally stimulating effects that THC did. Due to this discovery, CBD was declared safe to use, and so the first therapeutic & commercial products containing CBD began to be discussed.

After these discoveries, hemp and CBD began to be taken far more seriously. In 1978, New Mexico passed the Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act, legally recognising the medicinal value of cannabis, and in the 1980s studies were conducted on CBD specifically for the treatment of epilepsy, which were a success.

Discoveries of the endocannabinoid system followed on from this; in the 1980s, findings from Allyn Howlett’s lab provided evidence for the existence of cannabinoid receptors, identified as CB1 and CB2 in 1990. And in 1992, Mechoulam, still fascinated by the hemp plant & its various properties, isolated anandamide & 2-AG, the first endocannabinoids.

Since these discoveries, CBD and hemp have faced a lot of backlash from the public, with many believing that marijuana is a “gateway drug” & by definition also CBD. However, there have been several customer experiences, as well as more research into the properties of CBD, that have led to where we are today, with millions of people using CBD to treat a variety of conditions from insomnia & mental health conditions, to chronic pain & illness.

Legality and Public Opinion

CBD is now regarded as a staple of the wellbeing community, however this was not always the case. CBD comes from the hemp plant, which also produces THC, the psychoactive substance found in marijuana. The war against drugs has long included marijuana, and today it is illegal in many countries and states – but CBD is a bit of a different story…

As a whole, cannabis has been prohibited in the USA since the 1940s due to its psychoactive properties. However, the discovery of THC in 1964, and the differences between this and CBD, kick-started a wave of new research and, as a result, new laws across the world, but particularly in the USA. The identification of the stereochemistry of CBD in 1963 also led to cannabis being decriminalised in Oregon the same year, which is often seen as the start of the legalisation of cannabis and CBD.

After this initial decriminalisation, more research was put into CBD and its effects (which you can find here). As a result of this, in 1996, California passed Proposition 215, crowning itself the first state to legalise medical marijuana. After this, several other states were quick to follow, including Oregon, Alaska, and Washington in 1998, Maine in 1999, and Hawaii, Nevada, and Colorado in 2000.

However, legalisation did not mean instant public approval. Stigma around hemp & marijuana continued to rise, and CBD being from the same plant meant that it was also heavily criticised. Between 1998 and 2002, a study showed that more than two thirds of Americans opposed cannabis legalisation and believed it was a gateway drug. And although scientists knew the difference between CBD and THC, the public did not, and so CBD was also looked down on alongside cannabis.

Things began to change, however, in the 2000s, as people began to feel the effects of CBD and medical marijuana, and started sharing them to the world. Rick Simpson was one of the first to do this, telling his story of the relief he found from his rare form of skin cancer. From this, many other stories followed from hundreds of customers finding the help they needed from CBD for anxiety, depression, insomnia, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and a host of other conditions.

Perhaps the most famous success story of CBD comes from Charlotte Figi, in 2010. Born in 2006, Charlotte suffered from Dravet Syndrome, a serious & rare form of chronic epilepsy affecting only 1 in every 16000-21000 infants. Her condition was so severe that by the age of 4, Charlotte couldn’t walk, talk, or eat, and suffered from up to 300 seizures a week. Her parents had tried countless medications to no avail, and decided to give a small dose of CBD oil a go. They reported that within an hour, Charlotte’s seizures had completely stopped. Continuing to give her CBD oil, her parents claimed that her life was completely transformed, with only 2-3 seizures a month affecting her – she could live her life as a regular child would. Tragically, Charlotte lost her life on April 7, 2020, due to pneumonia complications. However her tale inspired millions of people to try CBD out, and completely reversed the stigma surrounding it. 

Today, hemp is widely legal, and 18 states allow the recreational use of marijuana, as well as the FDA legally approving the first hemp based medication, epidiolex, to be used in treating epilepsy. More importantly for us, in 2018 the UK parliament passed legislation legalising certain cannabinoids, including CBD! Since then, we have seen a boom in the use of CBD products to assist people in their daily lives, with 6 million people trying CBD in the past year alone. Here at Hemp Well, we’re just glad that we can finally bring people the relief they deserve from our premium CBD products!

Studies on CBD

Of course, in order for CBD to be legalised, research needs to be done – several studies have already been carried out about the benefits, but there is definitely still a window of opportunity for even more, and CBD research is very much still ongoing. 

The first major modern research conducted on CBD was for the treatment of epilepsy in the 1980s by Dr. Mechoulam and his team. They administered daily doses of 300mg CBD to 8 subjects, and after 4 months of this, half of the subjects had stopped having seizures altogether, while the others reported significantly less seizures than they had previously been experiencing. Unfortunately, due to the stigma around hemp and CBD at the time, Mechoulam’s research was essentially swept under the rug, despite its seemingly overwhelming success. To quote Mechoulam; “who cared about our findings? No-one!”. 

However, this did not deter Mechoulam from continuing his research into CBD. In 2001, he and his team published an article talking about their study into 2-AG, an endocannabinoid, and its effects on mice with a brain injury. They found evidence that 2-AG had a neuroprotective role, significantly reducing swelling and cell death, while giving better clinical recovery to the mice. Not only did Mechoulam and his team find success in this research, but the leadup to this also helped coin the term “entourage effect” for the first time, when, in 1998, Mechoulam found that two molecules known as 2-linoleoylglycerol and 2-palmitoylglycerol improved the ability of 2-AG to bind to CB1 & CB2, and therefore giving increased CBD effects.

However, it has not always been a smooth sailing CBD journey. In 2006, a drug known as rimonabant was approved in Europe to tackle obesity. It was a CB1 receptor blocker, helping curb appetite, and had some success in helping patients to lose significant amounts of weight. But in 2008, it was quickly taken off the market due to psychiatric side effects, including suicidal ideation. Much as this was in some ways a step back for CBD, it did, however, prove something very important – CB1 receptors have a significant role in our mental health, including regulating mood, lowering anxiety and easing symptoms of depression. Even though the drug was a failure, the information we got from a CBD standpoint is invaluable and used today to ensure the safety and efficacy of all our products.

Despite Mechoulam’s research into epilepsy being almost entirely overlooked at the time of publication, as CBD began to become more and more popular, researchers began to look deeper into its benefits, and Mechoulam’s study slowly resurfaced. It took a while, and extensive additional research, but on June 25, 2018, Epidiolex became the first plant-derived, purified CBD medication to become FDA approved and used in everyday life for people suffering from epilepsy. This medication has been a great success, and is partially responsible for the boom in popularity of CBD, alongside countless new clinical trials and research studies now underway – every day, we understand more and more about CBD and the endocannabinoid system.