The therapeutic benefits of cannabis have been known for many thousands of years. The first documented use of medicine derived from cannabis dates back to 2737 BC when Chinese Emperor Sheng Nung was prescribing cannabis infused tea for the treatment of malaria, rheumatism, gout and poor memory. However, archeologists have found evidence of hemp use in China dating back to the Neolithic age, with hemp fibre imprints found on Yangshao culture pottery dating from the 5th Century BC.
How Were Cannabinoids Discovered?
Though cannabis has been in use for centuries, it was not recognised by the mainstream medical community until relatively recently. In 1839 an Irish physician and medical researcher called Willam B. O’Shaughnessy published a study investigating the plant’s therapeutic effects, which prompted researchers to begin considering the medical uses for cannabis. His results noted that cannabis had beneficial calming and pain relieving effects.
Though he may not have realised it at the time, O’Shaughnessy had made the first small step towards the discovery of cannabinoids. This finally happened in 1940, when British chemist Robert S. Cahn reported the partial structure of cannabinol (CBN). Two years later, American chemist Roger Adams successfully isolated the first cannabinoid, which was cannabidiol, or CBD, the compound that makes up the CBD products we are now familiar with. Adams also discovered tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive element in cannabis.
The Development of Cannabinoid Pharmacology Research
During the early stages of research, scientists had limited understanding of the biological composition contained within the cannabis plant, meaning they could not accurately determine which compound was causing which effect. Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, an Israeli chemist, made a breakthrough in understanding the effects of individual cannabinoids in 1963. By identifying the stereochemistry of CBD, and a year later THC, he revealed that it was THC that caused the mind-altering effects associated with cannabis use, and disassociated CBD as a mind-altering compound. This important discovery paved the way for the use of CBD as a medicinal product.
Thanks to continued research, the American state of New Mexico passed the 1978 Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act, a bill that legally recognised the medicinal value of cannabis for the first time. Dr Mechoulum continued his work, and during the 1980s contributed to a study that conducted the first double-blind trials of CBD on children with severe epilepsy. Those who were administered CBD saw an improvement in their symptoms, which was the first established proof of CBD being a remedy for epilepsy. However, due to the stigma surrounding cannabis at the time, the results did not receive much attention.
Despite this stigma, interest in the therapeutic applications of CBD continued. In 1988 a study at the St. Louis University School of Medicine discovered the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), a biological system within the body that plays an important role in various processes including mood, sleep, appetite, memory, and reproduction and fertility. Part of this discovery were the CB1 and CB2 receptors, which prompted further research into whether our bodies naturally produce cannabinoids to interact with these receptors, rather than them simply being reliant on cannabinoids from plants. It became clear that our bodies do produce these compounds, now known as endocannabinoids, as part of the ECS. Research is still continuing into how CBD products interact with the endocannabinoid system to produce the associated health benefits.
The Story of Charlotte Figi
By the early 2000’s, attitudes towards the use of CBD were very slowly beginning to change. Some countries, such as Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg began to legalise cannabis for medical purposes. However, it wasn’t until a powerful story of the incredible impact CBD had on a child’s life emerged that more medical practitioners began to take notice.
Charlotte Figi was born in Colorado in 2006 with a rare and devastating form of chronic epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome. By the age of four, Charlotte had lost the ability to walk, talk and eat, and experienced approximately 300 seizures every week. Her parents tried every option modern medicine could offer, to no effect. Eventually they decided to try CBD, and sought the necessary referrals from two doctors to have her prescribed medical cannabis. Whilst doctors were initially hesitant, the doctors agreed to provide Charlotte with a strain of cannabis that was high in CBD and low in THC. The effects were remarkable, with Charlotte only experiencing 2-3 seizures a month instead of hundreds every week.
CBD Becomes Part of the Mainstream Wellbeing Industry in the UK
Thanks to high-profile cases like Charlotte Figi’s, the stigma towards CBD dramatically changed in America and this soon spread around the world. In 2018, The World Health Organisation’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence concluded] that CBD is safe and well tolerated by humans. This affirmation was a big moment for the CBD industry, propelling it to even greater levels of mainstream success.
In the UK, CBD has become a phenomenon over the last five years. Due to this, concerns have arisen over regulation over the CBD industry, as it is a relatively new market area. In March 2020, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced that all CBD brands in the UK will be required to submit a Novel Foods Application. This will help to establish the market as selling high quality and safe products, legitimising CBD use within the UK once and for all.
What is the Future of CBD in the UK?
Approximately 11% of the UK population used a CBD product during the year between 2018-2019, with consumers spending over £3million per year. As research continues into CBD, more products will arrive on the market, reaching more and more people. The future of CBD in the UK looks very bright and it’s set to become a cornerstone of the UK wellbeing industry for many years to come.