In the ancient world, hemp was a common agricultural crop — harvested for its high-protein seeds, oil, and fiber used for rope and clothes. Hemp is one variety of the Cannabis plant, but it doesn’t have the same mind-altering effects as marijuana.
In ancient China and elsewhere in the world, however, hemp was grown for food and had hundreds of other uses — so it was only natural for people to discover that other types of the Cannabis plant could be used medicinally. The history of medical marijuana use first started in China, then traveled throughout Asia into the Middle East and Africa. In ancient times, cannabis was used to alleviate pain and treat various conditions. But doctors also warned against using it too much, as they believed it could cause people to “see demons.”
According to Chinese legend, Emperor Shen Neng was one of the first major leaders in the ancient world to officially prescribe marijuana tea to treat various illnesses — including gout, rheumatism, malaria, and poor memory.
The Spanish brought cannabis to South America, but during the North American colonization, there was only hemp — used for practical purposes like clothes, bags, paper and ropes for the maritime industry. The hemp industry largely relied on slave labor, and cannabis wasn’t introduced to America as a psychoactive or medicinal drug until years later.
At this point in time, some American medical journals were suggesting using hemp seeds and roots to treat various health problems, including skin inflammation and incontinence. William O’Shaughnessy was an Irish doctor in the British East India Company who touted medical marijuana’s benefits for rheumatism and nausea in England and America.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is created to prevent another morphine addiction crisis — as many people were becoming addicted to heroin, opium, and morphine which weren’t properly regulated. The FDA mainly controlled opium and morphine during this time, and not so much marijuana, but its creation signaled a major shift in drug policy in America.
During this time, Mexican immigrants entering the U.S. introduced marijuana to the country (and the word “marijuana” itself likely originated in Mexico), popularizing the recreational use of the drug more. However, many Americans saw those who smoked weed as debaucherous and troublesome, associating cannabis with “lower class” criminality.
Drug use, under the Harrison Act, is officially declared a crime.
By now, 23 states have outlawed marijuana. The government also passes the Marihuana Tax Act, making the use of non-medical weed illegal. Cannabis was still used in various medical treatments, albeit in controlled forms.
Marijuana was categorized as a Schedule I drug along with more dangerous ones, and was listed as having no accepted medical use. Despite the fact that some early American medical journals had begun listing the medical uses of cannabis, the government restricted any further research into it until more recently.
The history of Medical Marijuana use took spurt in the 2000s. Medical Marijuana is legal in 30 states and the District of Columbia.