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The Long and Still Unfolding History of CBD

  • 4 min read

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The history of cannabis dates back to ancient times. Many timelines trace it back as far as 4,000 B.C., when China farmed it as a major food crop.

Back then, people used it because it improved their lives in some way. They had no idea that cannabis comprised dozens of cannabinoids — and they did not know that many of the medicinal benefits they experienced were due to something that is today known as “CBD.”

Fast forward to 1940, when the chronicled history of CBD begins. What follows is a timeline of some of CBD’s key turning points…

In early 1940, Harvard graduate Roger Adams and his University of Illinois team identified and synthesized cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN). In 1942, he was granted a patent on his method for isolating CBD. He was also the first to identify tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). He and his team were the first to determine there were parts of the Cannabis sativa plant that did not impart psychoactive qualities.1940 - Roger Adams isolates CBD from marijuana.

Despite this, he’s often not given credit for his discovery, because while he identified CBD, he didn’t describe its chemical makeup. One reason for this was that the technology to do so had not been developed yet.

1946 – Dr. S. Walter Loewe confirms THC is the psychoactive agent of cannabis.

German chemist Siegfried Walter Loewe tested cannabinoids on animals. He ran trials on mice and rabbits with cannabinoids, THC, CBD and CBN. Loewe’s work showed that while THC caused “central excitant actions” in rabbits and an induced trance in mice, the other cannabinoids did not. However, because their chemical structures had not yet been identified, he could not attribute specifications to the cannabinoids that caused them.

1963 – CBD is assigned a chemical structure.

Israeli scientist Dr. Raphael Mechoulam identifies the chemical structure of CBD. Dr. Mechoulam is referred to by many as “the father of medical cannabis research.”

1964 – The structure of THC is identified.
Dr. Mechoulam identifies the structure of THC.

Late 1960s – That THC gets you high and CBD doesn’t is confirmed.
Dr. Mechoulam tests cannabis compounds on primates and confirms that THC is responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis while CBD has no psychoactive properties.

1970 – Cannabis designated as a Schedule 1 drug.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency concluded that  cannabis 1) had a high potential for abuse; 2) had no currently accepted medical use; and 3) lackedaccepted safety precautions for its use under medical supervision. This led to passage of The Controlled Substance Act of 1970. Other Schedule 1 drugs include heroin, LSD and morphine. This act is significant in the history of CBD because it limits the scientific research of cannabis (as it does to this day).

Mid-1970s – First cannabis oil for medicinal use appears.

British Pharmacopoeia, a publication of quality standards for medicinal substances, releases a licensed cannabis tincture for therapeutic use (most likely it contains CBD in a full-spectrum oil).

1978 – First state passes bill legalizing medical marijuana research.

New Mexico passes the “Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act.” This is the first time in the United States that cannabis is recognized for its medicinal properties.

1980 – Dr. Mechoulam teams up with South American researchers for an epilepsy study. 

Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and a team of research scientists from Brazil’s Faculty of Medical Sciences of Santa Casa conducted a study showing subjects who received CBD experienced an improved condition, with little to no side effects. However, Dr. Mechoulam’s later work on CBD for epilepsy would go largely unnoticed by the medical community. His frustration with this disregard is reflected in this quote attributed to him: “Who cared about our findings? No one! … And that’s despite many of the epilepsy patients being kids who have 20, 30, 40 seizures a day. And what did they do? Nothing.”

1996 – California legalizes medical marijuana.
California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana.

2003 – The U.S. government patents CBD and other cannabinoids.
The first two lines of U.S. Patent #6,630,507 reads: “Cannabinoids have been found to have antioxidant properties, unrelated to NMDA receptor antagonism. This newfound property makes cannabinoids useful in the treatment and prophylaxis of a wide variety of oxidation associated diseases, such as ischemic, age-related, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.”

2013 – Severe epilepsy successfully treated with CBD.

Charlotte Figi was born with Dravet’s Syndrome, an extremely severe and rare form of chronic epilepsy. She suffered up to 300 seizures a day until — as a last resort — she was given a high-CBD strain of medical cannabis. Charlotte’s seizures were reduced to one or two per month.

2014 – Industrial hemp is differentiated from marijuana.

The Agricultural Act of 2014 stipulates that industrial hemp plants must contain a THC concentration of less than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis. 

2017 – World Health Organization concludes that CBD is safe.

At the November 2017 meeting of its Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, the WHO concluded that “in its pure state, cannabidiol does not appear to have abuse potential or cause harm.”

2018 – Hemp is no longer classified as a Schedule 1 drug.
The 2018 Farm Bill federally legalized the full cultivation of Cannabis sativa, provided that it contains less than 0.3 percent THC; the legislation also removed hemp from the list of controlled substances and reclassified it as an agricultural commodity.

It’s taken a very long time for the stigma surrounding cannabinoids to be quelled by discoveries demonstrating their huge potential for medicinal use. But the future will only get brighter for CBD and people’s access to it. More and more states are legalizing CBD as well as cannabis for medical and/or recreational use. 

Finally, both consumers and politicians are waking up to the power of CBD.