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History of Cannabis

For thousands of years, cannabis has been used for its medical properties by civilizations throughout the world, including the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Indian Hindus, Assyrians, Greeks, Persians, and Romans. In the 1800’s, Irish physician William O’Shaughnessy observed the medical use of cannabis while living in India and introduced it to western medicine. By the 1850s, cannabis has made it way over to the U.S. and was officially listed in the U.S. pharmacopeia, an official standard setting reference. U.S. physicians prescribed cannabis preparations, which were manufactured by pharmaceutical companies still in existence today (such as Eli Lilly) and available in U.S. pharmacies.

Over the next century, cannabis would be increasingly prohibited, and in 1970 U.S. Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act, which classified cannabis as Schedule 1 Drug. Schedule I Drugs are defined as having “no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” Other Schedule I drugs include heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. That federal designattion remains to this day, which create massive barriers to cannabis research and restricts the amount of funding available.

In 1996, California voters passed the “Compassionate Use Act”, making California one of the first governments in the world to officially legalize cannabis for medical use.3 In 2016, California voters passed the “Adult Use of Marijuana Act”, making California the largest population out of any state or country in the world to legalize adult use of cannabis.4 Today, polls show as many as 35 million Americans are using cannabis on a regular basis, nearly double what the number was just a few years prior.5


1. Friedman D, Sirven JI. Historical perspective on the medical use of cannabis for epilepsy: Ancient times to the 1980s. Epilepsy Behav. 2017;70(Pt B):298- 301. doi:10.1016/j.yebeh.2016.11.033.

2. Administration UDE. Drug Schedules.

3. Assembly Bill No. 266. 266.

4. California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation. Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation Laws and Regs. Published 2016. Accessed July 1, 2017.

5. Yahoo News/Marist Poll: Weed & The American Family. Poughkeepsie, NY; 2017. News/20170417_Summary Yahoo News-Marist Poll_Weed and The American Family.pdf.

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