Marijuana has been illegal in the United States for so long we forget that it was actually legal for a much longer period of time before that. The plant has a deep history. Archaeologists have found traces of it in Siberia dating back to 3000 BC. Chinese doctors were using cannabis as medicine thousands of years ago. In US history, George Washington grew hemp and wrote of it’s benefits.
The Demonization of Marijuana Science
Then in the sixties something happened. The Nixon administration needed a reason to arrest hippies who were protesting the war. Due to the 1st Amendment, Nixon could not arrest war protestors simply for being against his foreign policy. War protestors did have one common thread other than not wanting to fight in Vietnam – drug use. So Nixon being a deft politician used drugs as a tool to crush his opposition. With drugs like Marijuana and LSD now against the law, Nixon could arrest and jail most war protestors for drug use. The United States government eventually made marijuana a schedule 1 drug in 1970 which demonized it even further. Marijuana science has been almost non-existent as a result of this legal change. Cannabis was suddenly very difficult to study because it was considered a drug with no valid medical use and a high potential for abuse, in the same category as heroin. Most researchers attempting to study or learn about cannabis were considered criminals and risked jail time.
The Marijuana Science Renaissance
The public position has evolved a great deal over the last 15 years. Millenials and Baby Boomers are both familiar with weed and as a result there is a lot less fear. Marijuana is now legal for medical use in 23 States and recreational use in 4 others (Alaska, Colorado, Oregon & Washington). According to NORML – “2016 Will Be a Watershed Year for Marijuana Legalization” .
Marijuana science seeks to unlock the many secrets of the plant that have still not been explored due to the years of demonization. Now that the plant is more widely accepted by the public and less of a taboo the doors have been opened to study it more thoroughly. Researchers want to learn things like what’s going on inside the plant? How do the chemicals it contains really affect our bodies and brains? What could the chemicals in marijuana tell us about how our brains function? Could these chemicals lead us to discovering new medicines that cure age old diseases?
The Discovery of THC – A Turning Point in Marijuana Science
In 1963 a chemist in Israel, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam took the first major leap in marijuana science by discovering THC. He wanted to look deeper at the plant’s chemical composition. Dr. Mechoulam thought it was interesting that scientists have extracted cocaine from coca leaves and morphine from opium but that scientists still had no idea what the principal psychoactive ingredient was in marijuana. So he eventually acquired some confiscated Lebanese hash from Israel National Police and began his research. When he extracted the compounds from the plant and injected them into monkeys, the monkeys became calm and docile. Further testing lead to Mechoulam’s discovery of marijuana’s principal active ingredient and its mind-altering essence “tetrahydrocannabinol.”
Israel has one of the world’s most advanced medical marijuana programs and due to Mechoulam’s discovery now more than 20,000 patients have a license to use cannabis to treat conditions such as inflammation, appetite loss, tourettes, asthma, and glaucoma. While pharmaceutical companies want to make cannabis based medicines that isolate individual compounds from the plant, Mechoulam advises against this. He strongly suspects that the key chemicals in marijuana work much better in concert than when separated, he calls this “the entourage effect.”
Cannabis has also been used recently to treat cancer. For medical purposes it was intially mostly used as an appetite enhancement to help deal with some of the nastier side effects of chemotherapy. Some doctors and researchers now belive that marijuana may contain a cure for cancer. The majority of these claims are anecdotal but there are mentions of laboratory evidence that points to cannabinoids as possible anticancer agents. Most of these reports are from a lab in Spain and the man who runs it is Manuel Guzman. Guzman is a biochemist who has studied cannabis for about 20 years. Guzman and his team recently discovered that cannabis reduces tumors in lab rats and in some cases completely eradicated them. He is cautious against too much optimism but says these are the types of discoveries that gets the world excited. Guzman believes that cannabis can help fight cancer and the mentality towards research like his is changing for the better at a rapid pace.
Marijuana science is quickly becoming an exciting new field. Cannabis is already well known for use in treating diseases such as epilepsy and glaucoma. Who knows what other incredible cures the plant may hold. We “highly” ; ) recommend reading this National Geographic article about marijuana science.