Why the World is Falling Back in Love with Cannabis?
The cannabis plant has been embraced by humans much more than it has been shunned in the near-12,000 years of human civilization. Cannabis has been both smoked and eaten, and modern-day science has enabled the development of non-psychoactive products like CBD e-liquid and vape oil.
With cannabis essentially globally prohibited since the early 20th century, public knowledge of the plant was, until recently, deteriorating. However, to the curious mind, that never made much sense, with cannabis growing all over the world and being used by various ancient civilizations, for a variety of reasons, including medical and spiritual. And it’s clear that cannabis was an essential for many cultures, as they took the time to reference it in their art and writings – this is perhaps first seen in ancient Egypt but fleshed out further in ancient Chinese medicinal texts.
And indeed, cannabis continued to be used as a medicine right up until it was banned, with even the likes of Queen Victoria reported to have taken the herb in oil form to deal with menstrual cramps.
However, the tide of opinion turned against cannabis, starting with abuse of hashish in Egypt in the early 1900s – this highly concentrated form of cannabis is very psychoactive, and Egyptian authorities considered hashish to be at the root of the country’s growing problem with insanity.
For all intents and purposes, cannabis was banned in the United States with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Other countries soon followed, and research into the plant was reduced to a minimum. A conspiracy that American conglomerate DuPont wanted cannabis made illegal to pave the way for nylon to overtake hemp as the best material for fiber has gained considerable traction on the internet, although there has always been an absence of compelling evidence.
The 1960s boom
Cannabis received plenty of publicity in the 1960s, along with several other stronger psychoactive substances. The plant became a huge part of counter-culture, embraced by the Beatles and other social icons from the flower-power era.
However, abuse of cannabis and psychedelics caused a dramatic shift in scientific and public opinion against both, and pretty much all psychoactive compounds had been banned by the United States federal government by the early 1970s. Cannabis was accused of exacerbating mental illnesses like psychosis and schizophrenia and inducing negative emotions such as paranoia and anxiety.
But back then, the necessity of having a favourable “set and setting” was not recognized. Ultimately, THC-rich cannabis is mind-altering, and is known to zone in on emotions already being felt and make them more prominent. In the wrong scenario, this could indeed be a recipe for trouble.
Unfortunately, at this time, the complex effects that cannabinoids have on the body were unknown, and there was no blueprint on how to minimize the risks when taking cannabis. The plant slipped out of the mainstream public conscience, and arguably did not return in the United States until 1996, with Proposition 215 in California – an initiative that led to the legalization of medical cannabis.
The importance of Israeli cannabis research
Cannabis research did continue, albeit very slowly, during the early years of prohibition, with scientists at the University of Illinois becoming the first to isolate cannabidiol (CBD) in the early 1940s. However, their understanding was basic and flawed, with CBD initially being considered toxic.
Raphael Mechoulam, an Israeli chemist specializing in cannabis, revealed more on CBD’s chemical structure in 1963, and advanced knowledge on the psychoactive properties of the herb by becoming the first to isolate tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in 1964 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
It’s no coincidence that Israel has been a hub for the most important developments in cannabis science. Mechoulam’s research has received around $100,000 a year in grants from America’s National Institute of Health since the 1960s. Even today, Israel continues to set the pace, with the likes of Tikun Olam cultivating new medical strains and carrying out high-quality, clinical research.
The growth of non-psychoactive cannabis (CBD)
While scientists have been aware of CBD for even longer than they have THC, the compound’s all-round medical benefits went largely unconsidered before the 2000s.
CBD started to make an impression with the public when stories of how non-psychoactive cannabis oil can mitigate epilepsy symptoms in children started to gain traction. A number of patients – defined by the media as “medical cannabis refugees” – started flocking to cannabis-friendly states from other parts of the US and even from around the world. Initially, many medical experts were skeptical about treating severe conditions with a cannabis derivative, but views started to change when the benefits were proven consistently. Furthermore, for conditions like intractable epilepsy, effective treatments are few and far between.
Now, cannabis is helping out in areas of health that were once unforeseeable – the antioxidant properties can help with aging, CBD is an effective regulator of the immune system through the ECS, and a host of non-psychoactive cannabinoids are helpful at protecting neurological health, and possibly even treating Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Cannabis-based treatment is also much more accessible than it was in the days where the psychoactive effects were an inevitable, and the primary way of consuming the plant was to smoke it. Hemp-based CBD oil, for instance, has been federally legal in the US for several years, with no medical cannabis card needed to purchase. Many Americans have capitalized on this easy availability, self-medicating with CBD products, often to reduce dependency on prescription medication which can come with many downsides, including addiction.
When medicine researchers work to develop new treatments for various illnesses, their goal is to influence systems in the body to correct imbalances, largely by promoting or suppressing compounds and receptors. This is exactly what cannabinoids can help facilitate in the endocannabinoid system, which manages multiple strands of physiological and psychological health.
With this in mind, it’s obvious that cannabinoids from cannabis are not alien to the body – they just function in a system that scientists have been slow to discover.