Founder’s Note: If you read Saturday’s Bulletin, you know that I’m excited about the investment potential of legalized cannabis, hemp and marijuana. But in today’s essay, Dr. Phil Roberts shares some of the sordid history of this movement… and why, as a seasoned medical professional, he’s so excited about what’s to come. It’s a much-needed perspective on this new industry that could soon be worth billions.
In medical school, we studied seemingly endless lists of medications to learn their desired effects and dosages. At first, the work was monotonous and overwhelming. But over time, one particular element jumped out and became downright fascinating to me…
I was amazed by how many of our most powerful medications were derived from plants.
Plants, after all, have been used for medical purposes for millennia…
- Native Americans used Mayapple (Pelargonium peltatum) for snakebites, for parasitic infections and even to suppress suicidal tendencies. They used it to treat cancer as well. And, amazingly, more than a hundred years later, it’s still being used in a purified, concentrated form to treat lung cancer (as a drug called Etoposide).
- Folks with glaucoma may be familiar with the commonly prescribed Physostigmine. This drug is derived from the milky extract of the Calabar bean (Physostigma venenosum). Its first reported use was back in the 1860s. Dr. Ludwig Laqueur successfully treated his own glaucoma with this plant-derived pharmaceutical in 1867.
- Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade) has been used for centuries to treat a wide assortment of conditions, including toxic poison, inflammation, secretions and hay fever. It also functions as a muscle relaxer and increases the heart rate. This drug is a lifesaver if your heart rate is too slow. I often administered it in the ER. Anesthesiologists use it in the operating room prior to intubation. And ophthalmologists use it to keep pupils dilated for days.
Yet as important as these plant-based treatments are, they don’t hold a candle to what’s about to come. I am most excited for the possibilities with cannabis-derived treatments – those with cannabinoids, a compound found in cannabis.
With momentum growing in the U.S. for full cannabis legalization, let’s look at some important developments in the history of this wonder plant.
A Centuries-Old Treatment With a Sordid History
Cannabis has been used for millennia to treat many medical and mental conditions. Chinese manuscripts over 5,000 years show cannabis as a treatment for tapeworms, constipation, hair loss, depression and obtaining enlightenment.
The first mention of its use on American soil was in 1545 by the Spanish. King James I of England also required early settlers to grow 100 plants each for exportation back to England. The plant was cultivated for fiber.
Our forefathers, including presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, actively cultivated this crop. In fact, in the early 1900s, the back of the $10 bill depicted a landscape farm scene of workers harvesting cannabis.
That’s how common and important the crop was to the United States.
In 1839, Dr. William O’Shaughnessy first introduced cannabis to mainstream American medicine. He had learned about its healing properties while practicing in India.
Physicians used it so much for pain, spasms, insomnia and other conditions that, by the beginning of the 20th century, it was the second-most common ingredient in medications.
Nearly 300 manufacturers put cannabis in more than 2,000 different medications.
In 1851, cannabis was cited by the U.S. Pharmacopeia, the organization that sets the standards for drug formulations. Then in 1942, it was removed after decades of debate over prohibition and regulation.
Thus began the swift decline of cannabis in American medicine…
In 1951, the Boggs Act added cannabis sativa to the list of illegal narcotic drugs.
In 1970, the FDA and the DEA classified cannabis as a Schedule I narcotic, putting it alongside heroin, LSD and ecstasy.
Over the decades, Americans came to view cannabis as merely an illicit drug. Its rich medical history – not to mention its history as one of America’s leading cash crops – was all but erased.
Then in 2001, U.S. Patent No. 6,630,507 B1 was granted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It was based on research that showed the usefulness of cannabinoids in treating inflammation, symptoms of aging, and autoimmune and ischemic diseases.
Two years later, California Senate Bill 420 (naturally) established a framework for growers and medical providers, creating California’s medical marijuana program.
Following a number of state ballot victories, a 2017 poll revealed that 64% of Americans now support the legalization of cannabis.
In a major development, the FDA approved Epidiolex (a drug with 99% CBD – that is, cannabidiol, a type of cannabinoid) for intractable pediatric seizures in June 2018.
Two-thirds of the U.S. have now legalized either medical and/or recreational marijuana. The tide has finally shifted. But I can’t help but be suspicious of what the future holds. I have questions (and so should you), like…
- Why does the U.S. government have a patent on cannabinoids, which have already been used for thousands of years all over the world?
- If the U.S. government knew about the healing properties of cannabinoids before getting the patent in 2001, why didn’t it share this with the American people? Hundreds of thousands of lives could have been spared from the opioid epidemic alone.
- How did GW Pharmaceuticals get a patent on and approval for Epidiolex – a treatment for children – when it contained a Schedule I drug?
There are many more questions than answers when it comes to the government’s and Big Pharma’s involvement in research for cannabis-derived treatments. It’s a crucial topic I’ll be studying more in the months ahead. But I’d also like to hear your thoughts…
Are you watching these cannabis developments? Are you looking forward to the expanded use of cannabis? I’ve put together a brief survey to get your thoughts. It’ll take only a minute to respond. Click here.
To optimal aging,
Dr. Phil Roberts