Cannabis: Ancient Beginnings
The cannabis plant originated in Mongolia and Siberia, where evidence of human cultivation of cannabis dates back 12,000 years, making it among the oldest cultivated plants on Earth. Then, as now, cannabis fiber was used to make rope and textiles and its seeds, which are high in protein, were valued as a food source. As it made its way around the world cannabis has contributed significantly to local cultures, traditions, and technological advancements.
In the ancient Indian traditional practice of Ayurveda, cannabis was highly revered and was incorporated into its medicinal, religious, and spiritual, practices. The Chinese used cannabis for treating arthritic conditions, as a cure for malaria, and as a cognition and memory enhancer. In China, we also see the first recorded use of cannabis as a pain reliever, by a surgeon who used it as a surgical anesthetic. From Asia cannabis spread to the Middle East where, around 1550 B.C., the ancient Egyptians were the first to note its anti-inflammatory effect, which today is one of its most sought-after benefits.
Cannabis Arrival in the Americas
Cannabis came to the Americas in the 1500s as a source of fiber in the form of hemp, a variety that contains negligible amounts of the psychoactive compound, THC. By the 1600s, hemp had become a valuable crop and Virginia colonists were obliged by order of the king to grow it. In the early 1900s, the modern era of cannabis prohibition began after psychoactive cannabis species were brought up to the United States from Mexico. By 1931 all forms and varieties of cannabis had been made illegal in 29 states.
Also, by that time, cannabis had become a recognized and valued medicinal herb, having earned a place in the American pharmacopeia. As a result, when the federal government weighed in in 1937 making cannabis illegal under the Marijuana Tax Act, the American Medical Association fought back, citing its apparent safety and untapped potential for future medical uses.
Discovery of Cannabinoids and the Endocannabinoid System
The AMA’s opposition went unheeded and funding for cannabis research was largely curtailed, though it continued on a limited scale. The government provided small amounts of medicinal cannabis to a select group of patients for diseases such as glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, and certain congenital and painful orthopedic conditions.
The discovery of the first cannabinoid molecule, cannabidiol (CBD), in 1940 marked a new era of understanding and appreciation for cannabis and cannabinoids. In 1971 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component of cannabis was discovered. A decade later, scientists identified the corresponding receptor system in humans and other vertebrates: the endocannabinoid system. In the early 1990s, endocannabinoids – cannabinoid molecules produced within the bodies of humans and all vertebrates, were discovered.
Over the ensuing decades, public pressure to legalize medical cannabis persisted and grew and today, we are witnessing the reversal of the draconian laws that have held back the advancement of scientific knowledge of the benefits and best uses for cannabinoids. We now know that cannabinoid receptors are distributed widely throughout the body and influence virtually every system and function including the immune and nervous systems, metabolism, the cardiovascular system, pain and stress response, mood, emotions, and cognitive function. And the list goes on.
Currently, 120 cannabinoids have been identified in cannabis species. Additionally, related families of molecules such as terpenes contribute significantly to the activity and effects of cannabinoids. Cannabinoids and cannabinoid-like molecules can also be found throughout the plant kingdom. Scientists are busy making up for lost time identifying and investigating the wide world of cannabinoids and our rapidly expanding knowledge holds promise for the many potential uses to come.
For all the many different cannabinoid molecules only two main cannabinoid receptors are known to exist. These are the CB1 receptor, which is found mostly in the brain and spinal cord and to a lesser degree throughout the body, and CB2, found mostly in the peripheral nervous system, i.e. all of the nerves outside the brain and spinal cord.
Cannabidiol is the most prevalent non-psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis and hemp. While it has a weak affinity for CB1 and CB2 receptors, which means that it doesn’t directly activate them, CBD affects the cannabinoid system by interacting with a multitude of other signaling systems. For example, it increases the activity of serotonin, reduces pain and inflammation, prevents seizures, reduces muscle spasms, and quells anxiety. CBD is also a potent antioxidant. And its effects last longer than those of your body’s own endocannabinoids. CBD is proving to be enormously valuable medicinally. As a supplement, it can help your body achieve and maintain balance and homeostasis through stress, illness or injury.
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