Ebers Papyrus ancient perscription for medical marijuana
Ebers Papyrus

The medical use of cannabis can be found throughout history. Ancient Egyptian texts as far back as 2000 BCE note medicinal applications of cannabis.  The Ebers Papyrus (c. 1550 BCE) from Ancient Egypt has a prescription for medical marijuana applied directly for inflammation.  Cannabis was described in the oldest known Chinese pharmacopeia Shennong’s Materia Medica Classic in 100 AD.  The Chinese surgeon Hua Tuo (c. 140-208) is credited with being the first recorded person to use cannabis as an anesthetic.  Cannabis was a major component in religious and medicinal practices in ancient India.  Surviving texts from ancient India confirm that cannabis’ psychoactive properties were recognized, and doctors used it for treating a variety of illnesses and ailments. These included insomnia, headaches, a variety of gastrointestinal disorders, and pain: cannabis was frequently used to relieve the pain of childbirth.  The Ancient Greeks used cannabis to dress wounds on their horses.  In humans, dried leaves of cannabis were used to treat nose bleeds, and cannabis seeds were used to expel tapeworms. The most frequently described use of cannabis by the Greeks was as an extract for the treatment of inflammation and pain resulting from obstruction of the ear.

Medical Cannabis Bottles from 1890
Medical Cannabis Extract

Cannabis was used widely throughout the United States as a patent medicine during the 19th and early 20th centuries.  It was first listed in the United States Pharmacopia in 1850.  Due to political pressures in the 1930’s government regulation was initiated with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 that restricted the use and sale of cannabis.  Increasing government control was seen in 1942 when cannabis was removed from the United States Pharmacopia.  Subsequently, legal penalties for possession were enacted in 1951with the Boggs Act and furthered in 1956 with the Narcotic Control Act.  In 1970 the Federal Government initiated the prohibition of Marijuana with passage of the Controlled Substances Act.  These legislative actions not only criminalized the use and possession of cannabis, they halted research efforts by restricting access to the plant.

A major change in federal regulation occurred in 2018 with the passage of the Farm Bill.  This ground-breaking legislation legalized low-THC hemp and effectively descheduled hemp derived cannabidiol (CBD) from the Controlled Substances Act.  Although marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, individual states have been enacting laws to legalize medicinal use of marijuana since 1996.  In 2012 Colorado and Washington became the first 2 states to legalize marijuana for recreational use. In November 2019 a turning point for the federal cannabis policy was achieved when the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, or More Act, was approved by the House Judiciary Committee.  The bill, if voted into law will remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances, allow states to set their own marijuana policy and require federal courts to expunge prior convictions for marijuana offenses. A 5% tax on marijuana products would also establish a trust fund for programs designed to help people disproportionately impacted by the “war on drugs,” including job training and treatment for substance abuse.