Follow us
Health Pain Policy

Cannabis: A History of Its Medicinal Use in the United States

Written by Dr. Leah Zachar

Cannabis has been used as a medicine since ancient times.  The earliest reference of its use for healing purposes was in the Chinese Pharmacopeia, circa 1500 BC.

Fast-forward 3,339 years to the year 1839.  This was when Dr. William Brooke O’Shaughnessy introduced Cannabis Indica, or “Indian hemp,” to the Western world. Immediately after it was introduced, several prominent physicians, including Sir William Osler, who is considered the father of modern-day medicine, started prescribing cannabis for their patients.

The United States officially recognized cannabis as a medicine in 1850 when it was listed as a medicinal agent in the U.S. Pharmacopeia.

Millions upon millions of patients have benefited from cannabis since then. However, this came to a screeching halt in 1937.  This was the year that the Marijuana Tax Act was passed. This law prohibited the production, importation, possession, use, and dispersal of cannabis.  As a result, doctors could no longer use cannabis to treat their patients.

The federal government went further, and in 1970, cannabis became a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act of 1970.  This meant that not only was cannabis no longer able to be used by medical professionals to help their patients, but the federal government considered cannabis to have no medicinal or therapeutic value whatsoever.

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) stated that cannabis had a lower risk of dependence than benzodiazepines, opioids, cocaine, or nicotine. The medical organization added that the withdrawal symptoms of cannabis were very mild, and essentially negligible compared to the withdrawal symptoms seen in patients with benzodiazepine, opioids cocaine, or nicotine addiction.

We can only hope that the federal government will one day realize that a plant that has been used to heal people for 3,500 years should be permitted to be given to those who need it.

Ref: “Medical marijuana: Do the benefits outweigh the risks?” Current Psychiatry   January 2018 

Have anything to add? Your voice matters! Join the conversation and contribute your insights and ideas below.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

About the author

Dr. Leah Zachar

Dr. Leah Zachar, M.D. is a physician who worked for nearly thirty years in Internal Medicine.
She currently is a scientific adviser to CBD Testers. Dr. Zachar believes that there is much that medical cannabis, and cannabidiol in particular can offer to traditional medicine.