Is Cannabis The Original Painkiller?

Before modern analgesics like Codeine, there was cannabis. Let's find out about how cannabis has helped to reduce pain throughout history.

In the modern era, pain management has consisted of the prescription and consumption of opioids, aspirin, and other drugs that are combined with ibuprofen. As many people are aware, these drugs are effective by inhibiting the pain receptors in the brain and blocking out feelings associated with injury and discomfort. Consequently, the continuous prescription of these medications have led to overuse and abuse in some countries.

Indeed these drugs have been an effective source for treating pain, but was there anything before aspirin?

Before the introduction of medications and over-the-counter pain killers, there was cannabis. Before the 1900s, cannabis was the western civilisation's number one source of analgesics. Explorations and studies into the history of cannabis and its origins have indicated that the plant has long been used for medicinal purposes.

In northern China, a team of archaeologists discovered a 2700-year-old tomb, and within it, they found nearly 2 pounds of dried cannabis flower. Experts who studied the green matter found it to be the oldest cannabis in the world. This discovery shows that cannabis was in fact used in ancient China. The exact purposes are unknown however, the options can be narrowed down to either medical purposes or ancient rituals. From China, cannabis migrated to India, and then eventually made it's way to western civilisation, including the UK and North America. Cannabis was introduced to American and British medicine in the early 1800s.

Dr William Brooke O'Shaughnessy pioneered one of the first trials for medicinal marijuana in the UK. His trials were dedicated to treating rheumatism, hydrophobia, cholera, tetanus, and convulsions. Interestingly, many historians have found that even Queen Victoria herself was prescribed cannabis to treat her menstrual cramps. At this point in history, cannabis was widely known for its anti-inflammatory and sedative effects.

The end of medicinal cannabis in the early 1900s.

In the early 1900s, cannabis was in the US Pharmacopoeia and was listed to treat approximately 100 different diseases. At the time, cannabis was found to be an extremely effective analgesic and a source of pain relief. Studies and reports from medical associations around the nation proved that cannabis had its medical benefits and was an effective and safe method for treating pain.

Despite evidence of medical benefits, prohibitionists in the Federal Narcotics Bureau of the US argued otherwise. In 1937, Harry Anslinger, the head of the Bureau, argued that cannabis was a dangerous narcotic and led to increased crime and mental illness. From these suggestions and support from congress, the country introduced the Marihuana Tax Act which imposed a heavy tax on cannabis use. From the implications of the Tax Act, cannabis was later prohibited and banned on a federal level. In 1942, cannabis was officially removed from the US Pharmacopoeia, and medical associations halted prescribing it to patients.

In addition to prohibition, there was the invention of aspirin. Aspirin gave birth to the modern pharmaceutical industry and was a catalyst for the end of cannabis and its use as an analgesic. Aspirin comes from the Spiraea, a species of plants, and is found to consist of the active ingredient known as salicylic acid. The chemical that we know today was originally developed by a chemist, Felix Hoffmann, at Bayer in Germany, which he used to treat his father's rheumatism. The company, Bayer, later adapted the chemical into powder form and started giving it to doctors to prescribe to patients to treat pain. The drug was an absolute hit among patients and from there it started to be distributed as an over-the-counter medicine. Governments worldwide classified the development of aspirin as societal progress and a monumental achievement for the medical industry.

Cannabis comes full circle.

Evidence and studies suggest that the use of cannabis is approximately 5000 years old. Archaeologists uncovered ashes in Romania that were found to consist of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). From this discovery, cannabis use can be traced back all the way to about 400 AD. From then on, the cannabinoid compound has had its ups and downs in the medical world.

Cannabis was extensively applied as a patented medicine in the 18th and 19th centuries in the US and the UK. Unfortunately, cannabis was later prohibited and classified as an illegal narcotic. In the US, cannabis was put on the list of illegal controlled substances. However, with new medical findings and research, cannabis has made its way back into modern medicine. In particular, CBD, a chemical component of cannabis, has been found to be a tremendous replacement for toxic pain meds. Today it's used all over the world for treating medical ailments, such as epilepsy, depression, and chronic pain. Furthermore, CBD doesn't come with the side effects that are commonly associated with prescription pain meds.

Countries that have legalized marijuana for medical use include the United States, Australia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Lithuania, and Luxembourg… to name a few. With the rise of opioid use and the opioid epidemic in America, medical marijuana is becoming more prominent than ever before. Many athletes have endorsed the use of cannabis by-products, and have said to prefer it over traditional pain pills. Some professional sports leagues, such as the NFL, are beginning to loosen restrictions on cannabis laws.

Cannabis was the world's original analgesia, and perhaps in the future, it will again be the number one source of pain management.

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Casey Peternell
Casey Peternell

Casey is a media and content creator with a keen eye for creativity. Casey is currently in the process of obtaining a double bachelors degree in Media & Communications and Business from Swinburne University in Melbourne.

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