The story behind medicinal cannabis

The cannabis plant has been severely criticized and criminalized over the past 50 years. However, this is merely a short timespan compared to how long we humans have cultivated and utilised the Sativa and Indica cannabis species as food, medicine and building material. Since World War II, our cultural development of society has put an end to the medicinal use of cannabis in many countries.

For the past 10 years, however, the debate about medicinal cannabis has become much more urgent. This has resulted in a Danish pilot programme with medicinal cannabis and the legalisation of registered CBD products for personal use.

What is the origin of cannabis?

Cannabis is one of the oldest plants we have cultivated, and documented medicinal and spiritual use of it dates back almost 5,000 years. The plant is indigenous to the plains of China, which today are known as Mongolia and Southern Siberia. From there, the plant spread to India and later to Egypt before entering Europe. Records show findings of cannabis seeds almost everywhere from Chinese burial sites to Scandinavian Viking ships.

Sativa and Indica

It is important to know the difference between the subspecies of cannabis in both cultural context and when they are used medically. Sativa, also known as “Marijuana”, has psychoactive effects through THC. This is the plant being grown for smoking purposes, and it is often referred to as weed or pot. Sativa L, where the L stands for the botanist Carl Linnaeus, is better known as hemp. This plant contains no psychoactive substances and is used for industrial purposes for fibre, clothes, and fuel. Furthermore, it is used for cannabis-based medicine, such as oils without THC.

The plant species Indica also contains the psychoactive substance THC and is used as medicinal cannabis in terms of smoking the buds to relieve the patient’s pain.

Cannabis in Europe

Around 4,000 years ago, cannabis was brought to the area know as the Middle East today. From there, the Ottoman Empire and the Indo-European nomads brought the plant with them through Europa and Africa, and later, the invasions of South America spread the plant even further.

From the Middle Ages, all pharmacies had cannabis in stock, and it was used to cure both stomach ache and pain from arthritis. People also used cannabis for pain relief in the same way we use aspirin today.

The USA and cannabis​

With the colonist conquest of American land, cannabis was introduced. The plants Sativa L and Indica were generally grown and used due to their fibre contents in the production of rope and clothes. With the Mexican revolution in the beginning of the 19th century, the Americans were introduced to the recreational effects of smoking marijuana. It resulted in a radical cultural change, which already around 1930 led to prohibition and criminalisation. When the Americans lost the Philippines to Japan, they had to manage a larger production of industrial hemp themselves. The last hemp field was planted in Wisconsin in 1957.

Cannabis in the 21st century

With the hippies’ new ideas about society, culture and political systems, the complete criminalisation of marijuana followed. In 1961, the UN made cannabis illegal in Denmark, and in other countries. Later in 1970, Nixon signed a law, which classified marijuana similar to drugs such as heroin, ecstasy and LSD. Despite this legislation, the use of cannabis saw an extreme growth and it became a worldwide illegal market. In the middle of the 1990ies, a debate arose on whether terminally ill patients should have the right to use cannabis for pain relief. Today, the debate is still going on worldwide, but baby steps have been made. Medicinal and recreational use of cannabis is legal in some parts of the USA and Europe. The amount of countries that allow the use of cannabis are growing with new Sativa and Indica research.