Cannabis has been used as a medicine for A VERY LONG TIME ...marijuana timeline

Cannabis has been used medicinally for thousands of years. From ancient China in 2900BC through to the Western Hemisphere in the early twentieth century, cannabis was an ingredient on a wide range of treatments .

In the 1940s public perception of this plant changed. Cannabis use became associated with hedonistic anti-social behaviour and the plant was criminalised worldwide.

The result has been that a plant with a large therapeutic capacity was ignored at the same time as huge developments were made in modern medicine

Recreational use – smoking, toking etc, did not stop when it became illegal. It just skipped outside societal norms and went underground. And as the hippies of the sixties reached their golden years in the nineties, many started reporting that the occasional joint helped their aches and pains. Starting with Canada, the idea that medical marijuana was a valid therapeutic treatment, became established in law and practice.

It would be easy to think that cannabis was used as a treatment in the same way spiders webs were used to bind open wounds. That former hippies, now retired judges and bank managers, manipulated a change in attitude as they became part of the establishment.

Actually, the legislative/medical shift came as a result of science.

Raphael Mechoulam , an Israeli organic chemist and professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, mapped out what he described as the endocannabinoid system: the largest neurotransmitter system within mammals. At cellular level, there are cell receptors – locks, which when triggered by the correct fitting key (chemical molecules called agonists) will respond with a pre-determined action. Normally the body produces these agonists itself, but if there is an imbalance or deficit, illness results. Externally there are various plants which trigger an agonist production, but cannabis is the one plant which appears to be able to fit all “locks”.

cannabis as medicine

But how can one plant treat so many different illnesses throughout the whole body?

The answer is straightforward (and simultaneously horribly complex):

  • Cannabis does not target individual illnesses. It is not a treatment for epilepsy and additionally a cure for cancer and an analgesic and etc etc
  • Rather the different chemical components in Cannabis (but most notably THC and CBD) enable the brain and body to perform corrective actions to restore a natural health.

Put simply:

Cells throughout the brain and body communicate with each other using a chemical messaging network between receptors on these cells. The cannabinoids in Cannabis are structurally so similar to this system that it is referred to as the Endocannabinoid System.

The National Geographic has an excellent and readable article, Science Seeks to Unlock Marijuana Secrets, about this research and the people behind it.


Lets just take a step back to describe the plant cannabis itself. Cannabis has grown wild worldwide for millennium; it is an annual, meaning that seeds germinate in early spring, the plant achieves large vegetative growth until midsummer when the lengthening of night hours stimulates the plant to flower. Naturally seeds develop into either male or female plants, and the female flowers are fertilised by pollen from male plants. Fertilised flowers develop seeds which ripen and fall into the earth where they remain until the following spring. Having fulfilled their reproductive function, both male and female plants wither and die as winter starts.

It is the female cannabis plant that interests us, whether as a recreational or a therapeutic user. Her flowers are very cannabinoidsdifferent to the male’s both in form and construction. Cannabis flowers are not an arrangement of petals (like you would find on a rose), but are formed from a clustering of calyx (tear-shaped nodules) sprouting hair-like pistils. Each calyxhas a high concentration of trichomes (crystals), miniscule glands oozing resinous terpines and cannabinoids. Resin production is highly valued by cannabis cultivators, and most modern strains now produce trichomes not only on the bud sites, but across small leaves (sugar leaf) and even onto the upper stem.

Chemically, cannabis is a complex plant with 483 chemicals, 85 of which are unique to the cannabis strain.  These 85 chemicals are called cannabinoids: 

cannabis is my medicine

Recreational cannabis users get their kick thanks to THC, which is psychoactive – but as you can see, THC forms only part of the plant’s unique chemical structure. The science is still new, but it seems that CBD has a huge part to play in treating many illnesses. But what is also emerging is an understanding that focusing on one compound alone, lessens the efficacy of treatment. Possibly this is because cannabis as a medicine works by interaction with the entire endocannabinoid system rather than targeting the non-functioning point. Terpenes also have an unexplored role.

Put simply:

The female cannabis plant develops tiny glands (trichomes or crystals) as flowering matures. These glands have high concentrations of chemical compounds which interact with our bodies at a cellular level.

How do you take medicinal cannabis?

Unlike most prescribed drugs, cannabis doesn’t come in tablet or liquid form. Worldwide, the most commonly available form of cannabis is as dried buds, flowers that have been trimmed of excess leaves, dried and cured until ready to smoke. Recreational smokers often crumble these buds, mix with tobacco, and smoke in joints or blunts. As a health conscious medical user, smoking tobacco is probably not attractive. Vaporizing cannabisis a healthier alternative as it heats the buds to the point where THC and CBD are evaporated without the harmful effects of combustion (read our guide to vaporizinghere). Edibles are made using cannabis infused butter. Dosage can be difficult to judge, so take small amounts at a time, leaving an hour to realise the full effect, however, this effect is deeper and long lasting, usually at least 4 hours. Tinctures dilute highly concentrated cannabis oil and should be taken drop by drop.

Smoking / vaping / eating buds works extremely well for some medical problems, for example pain, insomnia and tremors. But it was Rick Simpson’s use of cannabis oil to push his cancer into remission – and the power of the internet to spread this information, that galvanised worldwide investigations into the power of cannabis as a means of treatment for a huge number of differing diseases.

Mankind’s newfound understanding of how the cannabinoids in this “miracle plant” interacted with our bodies at cellular level hinted at that potential cannabis might have as a medicine, but if that was true, “stoners” wouldn’t fall ill.

Cannabis oil however concentrates the amount of cannabinoids consumed at a level impossible even for the hardened toker – and for some ailments, it is this high concentration that is necessary to activate and reset improper CB1 & CB2 receptors.


This article is based on one we originally wrote for the

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