The earliest recorded usage of any form of cannabinoid for medicinal usage was by Ancient Chinese Emperor Shen Neng in 2737 B.C. He was said to consume it as a tea, to treat a range of maladies ranging from gout to headaches and from there it's medicinal usage is alleged to have taken off throughout the Asian continent. While this cannot be definitively attributed to the actions of one emperor, it is certain that the use of cannabis across the Eurasian continent throughout early history was widespread.
One of the earliest western medical publications on the medical uses of cannabis was by Irish doctor and physician, William B. O'Shaughnessy. Having initially trained and studied in Great Britain, O'Shaughnessy joined the British East India Company and travelled to India to Kolkata (then Calcutta) to continue his research and to practice medicine. While there, one of the first papers he published was one validating folk uses of cannabis common throughout India, observing how it could be used to reduce the symptoms of illnesses such as tetanus.
In 1940, a University of Illinois team first isolated the CBD component from Cannabis, removing it from the psychoactive elements of the plant that it’s more often known for. This research was fundamental for more firmly establishing the credibility of medicinal cannabis.
Dr. Walter Loewe carried out trials of CBD, THC, and CBN on the rodents. The differences between the responses in the animals were marked. THC brought the rodents to what could best be described as a trance, while CBD produced no noticeable effects in behaviour. For rabbits, THC was noted to produce "central excitant action" while CBD didn't produce any notable differences.
In the late 1960's, the first tests on primates were conducted by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam. The results were not markedly different from the insights gleaned from the initial studies of rodents and rabbits, and it confirmed that CBD had no psychoactive properties.
Dr. Mechoulam continued his research in the field, and by 1980 contributed to a study that conducted the first double-blind trials of CBD on 16 subjects, mostly children, with severe epilepsy. The results confirmed that those who had been administered CBD saw an improvement in their symptoms, establishing the first link between CBD and being a remedy for epilepsy. Unfortunately, the study did not receive nearly enough attention at the time.
By the early 2000's, attitudes towards CBD around the world had begun to change. Countries such as Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg began to gradually legalise cannabis for medicinal purposes, and eventually having CBD as a prescribed drug in small instances. This sadly was not the case everywhere.
The case of Charlotte Figi is well known across the United States as one of the early case studies of CBD being used to treat a child with untreatable seizures. Before her first birthday, Charlotte was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that cannot be treated with modern drugs. After going through an endless cycle of doctors, and almost exhausting their options, Charlottes parents discovered videos of cannabis being used to treat another child with Dravet Syndrome. Charlotte's parents sought to get the necessary referrals from two doctors to have her prescribed medicinal cannabis. While initially hesitant, the doctors (and the cannabis suppliers) eventually agreed to help provide Charlotte with a strain of cannabis that is low in THC and high in CBD (which has since been called Charlottes Web). The effects were remarkable, reducing seizures from 300 a week to 2-3 a month, giving Charlotte her life back.
Cases such as Charlotte Figi's, as well as a more firmly established consensus on CBD not being as harmful as previously thought, led to the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD), concluding that CBD is safe and well tolerated by humans. This affirmation of it’s safety, by perhaps the highest medical authority there is, was a huge moment for the CBD Oil Industry.
Despite the WHO announcement, the inertia of attitudes on CBD oil and its uses remained, and countries such as the UK struggled to properly implement having CBD as a substance that could be prescribed by a GP to treat epilepsy. This caused many families to make drastic decisions in order to seek treatment. One of these was the case of Billy Caldwell, who’s mother had to take him to Canada to seek treatment for the severe epilepsy he had been diagnosed with as a child. While in this instance, they were able to get the necessary prescriptions and provisions, this is sadly not the case for many families in the UK.
Prescribing CBD in the UK remains a complicated subject. While medicinal cannabis has been legalised, it can only be prescribed by a specialist. Even then, it remains difficult for those needing CBD to get their hands on it. For some, these concerns are secondary to the fact that cannabis is illegal in the UK, and any allowance could potentially allow for a harmful drug to become legalised. However, for the families and individuals who still must struggle with debilitating seizures, or seeing their loved ones have them, being denied treatment that is proven to work remains patently unfair.
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