The History of CBD

Dr. Raphael Mechoulam Giving a Lecture

The use of cannabis stretches back nearly 5000 years. Ancient Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Indian, and Arabic cultures used the plant for a wide variety of applications including medicinal, religious, and recreational purposes. Despite the long history of use, it wasn't until recent times that society has gained an understanding of the plant's chemical makeup.

In this article, we take a look at the recent history including the discovery of the cannabinoids contained in cannabis, identification of CBD's potential benefits, and the growing acceptance of cannabis as medicine.

Discovery & Identification of Cannabidiol (CBD)

In 1940, American organic chemist Roger Adams used ethanol extraction to produce a 'red oil' from Minnesota hemp. The resulting oil was documented to have a 45-50% concentration of CBD. (1)

In 1963, Raphael Mechoulam and Y Shvo working in Rehovoth, Israel published a study on cannabidiol. (2). This paper defines the complete chemical structure of CBD for the first time. This definition was possible thanks to new imaging techniques like NMR spectroscopy and X-ray structure determination.

In 1964, Mechoulam also went on to identify the chemical structure of THC in 1964. Today he is known as the 'Father of Cannabis' thanks to his ongoing studies and contributions.

After the identification of these substances, studies of the primary cannabinoids (CBD & THC) were performed on animals. Thanks to Mechoulam's testing of tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9 THC) on primates it was determined that THC alone is responsible for the psychoactive effects of marijuana use. Later Mechoulam brought home a dose of THC and asked his wife Dalia to add it to a cake. Eating the cake, he experienced a marijuana 'high' for the first and only time in his life. (3)

Promising CBD Research Fails to Build Momentum

In 1980, Mechoulam and a team of research scientists at Sao Paulo Medicine Faculty of Santa Casa performed and published a double-blind experiment using CBD to treat epilepsy patients. The study found that a 200-300 mg daily dose of CBD was effective in preventing or reducing seizures. The test also showed that CBD was well tolerated and there were no signs of toxicity or serious side effects. (4)

Despite these promising findings, little followup research was performed during next 20 years. This is likely due to the scheduling of marijuana as an illegal drug and the accompanying public perception around marijuana use.

Through the late 1980's and early 1990's significant progress was made in the discovery and understanding of cannabinoid receptors. During this time the endocannabinoid system is defined and the CB1 and CB2 receptors are discovered.

Modern CBD Development & Testing

Medical Testing Report

In 1998, GW Pharmaceuticals was co-founded by Dr. Geoffrey Guy and Dr. Brian Whittle. The two well-known biotech entrepreneurs worked closely with the UK Home Office and medicines regulatory authority to establish the necessary licenses and procedures to facilitate their cannabinoid research program. The company went on to perform many placebo-controlled trials using cannabis-based medicines.

Using cannabis plants high in CBD, the company developed a consistent CBD-only extract Epidiolex®. The drug is designed to treat seizures in epilepsy patients, specifically two rare and difficult to treat conditions: Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS).

On June 25th, 2018 the FDA approved Epidiolex, making it the first prescription CBD medication available. This was an important landmark and an important step forward for medicinal cannabis.

CBD Explodes into the Public Consciousness

Charlotte Figi surrounded by hemp plants

In 2013, the story of Charlotte Figi was published by CNN. (6) The feature tells the story of a Colorado family whose daughter Charlotte developed a rare, severe form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome. The disease is defined as intractable epilepsy meaning the seizures are not able to be controlled by medication.

As an infant, Charlotte had her first seizure. From 3 months until 5 years old, the Figi's dealt with Charlotte progressing from infrequent seizing to 300 grand mal seizures a week. With her back against the wall, Charlotte's mother Paige began looking for any treatment possible.

After much research, Paige discovered a low-THC, high-CBD non-psychoactive oil which she purchased from a Denver marijuana dispensary. Immediately upon administering the oil, Charlotte's seizures stopped. Fast forward a year and her condition improved so much that she is only seizing 2-3 times per month, primarily in her sleep.

The story is cited as being responsible for bringing CBD's medical benefits to the attention of the USA.

State's Begin Legalizing CBD

In 2014, CBD seems to have finally built some momentum. This year marked the passing of 10 state-level laws allowing CBD usage. Much of this progress is driven by the epilepsy community which is turning to CBD as the only hope for suppressing seizures in intractable epilepsy cases. State level laws continue to be passed and impact the overall legality of CBD in the USA.

This legalization process was accompanied by the 2014 Farm Bill. This bill gave power to states to implement hemp production programs for research and education. Unlike marijuana production which focuses on high-THC cannabis plants, industrial hemp focuses on high-CBD, low-THC plant production.

2018 Farm Bill & Federally Legal Hemp + CBD

After 4 years of 'grey area' operation under the 2014 farm bill, the 2018 farm bill builds on the practices established by the states under the 2014 bill. With passage in late December 2018, the new bill creates separate definitions for hemp and marijuana, finally classifying non-psychoactive hemp, it's extracts, cannabinoids, and derivatives containing less than 0.3% THC separately from marijuana at a federal level.

This separation of definitions brings industrial hemp out from under the long-standing federal schedule 1 status and fully legalizes the plant. The result is an open market for hemp, allowing production across the USA with farmers enjoying access to critical services like crop insurance and participation in USDA programs for certification and competitive grants.

This also allows retailers the freedom to access banks, merchant services, credit card processing, and online commerce services without worry. Consumers can also rest easy, knowing CBD products are fully legal to purchase and ship across state lines. The result is a new era for hemp and CBD, with companies previously hamstrung by the restrictive hemp/marijuana classification and confusion.

For more information on the 2018 farm bill, see our article that fully outlines the result of this new bill as it pertains to hemp production and CBD products.



Originally Published: May 25, 2018 | Last Updated: December 17, 2018

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