This paper from 1977 is one of the preliminary review of the modern science of cannabis-based medicine. It talks briefly about the history of cannabis use, including the treatment of epilepsy in 1464 of a prominent Baghdadi. Further examination of the historical record reveals Chinese use of cannabis in surgery, in Ayurvedic medicine, and in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries, including Napoleon’s armies bringing hashish back from Egypt, and the Irish (it says here British) surgeon O’Shoughnessy, who is responsible for the scientific introduction of the drug to the West.
Here is the full scientific article if you wish to download it.
Discussion of the mistaken link between opium and cannabis leading to both its prohibition and falling out of use in medicine. By the 1960’s, THC had been isolated, along with around 40 other cannabinoids [there are now known to be over 60]. The paper then discusses the therapeutic use of THC as an antiemetic in chemotherapy, for hypertension, asthma, glaucoma, and as an anti-inflammatory. The authors bemoan the lack of high quality data but are excited about the potential benefits of this drug.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is also explored as an antiepileptic drug, citing small studies that demonstrated this effect. The properties of cannabis and cannabinoids as an analgesic are also explored. Later in the paper, the role of cannabinoids in so many different conditions is discussed and the conclusion that there must be specific receptors is made. This has since been found to be true.
Although 1977 was one of the high points of the “war on drugs”, the therapeutic potentials of the drug that literally millions of people were being incarcerated or killed for was already clear. The dislocation of policy and evidence was clear even then, and the frustration of the authors is clear.
Evidence of the drug’s safety, non-existent toxicity, and tolerability was made clear. Already, there was evidence of it being a drug that was “highly effective in preventing or significantly reducing emesis”, something other drugs failed to achieve at the time. The authors hope that it will “quite possibly will become a standard treatment in the near future.” It took at least another decade for this to happen.
The authors do point to “CNS effects and the tachycardia”, as well as “potentially dangerous cellular, immunological, and enzymatic effects” with THC. They advise caution in using the drug as a therapy without further investigation.
As an anti-epilepsy drug, CBD was already comparable to other drugs available at the time. Its lack of psychoactivity and its tolerability were noted. The authors state that cannabis was clearly an effective analgesic, particularly notable because of its tolerability.
Even though the paper is quite conclusive that cannabis was in fact an effective medicine and was worthy of intensive and extensive study, this was not to be. The continued prohibition of cannabis continues to this day in most of the world. Recently, research across multiple areas has picked up, investigating the applications of cannabis and cannabinoids in the treatment of multiple conditions.
With hindsight, the conclusion that there must be specific cannabinoid receptors was an astute observation. They were discovered some 20 years later. The authors speak of “minor withdrawal effects”, something that has only recently been proven. They also talk of “maximal structural economy” in the evolution of what we now call the endocannabinoid system. They were right. The “possible development of nonaddicting potent analgesics” is highlighted, and this has also come to pass.
An interesting snippet of the history of cannabis research, the authors are clearly hopeful for cannabis to be recognized as a medicine and the continuing illegality to cease, though they do not express such a politically dangerous opinion in the paper. The bases for many subsequent discoveries, including the endocannabinoid receptors, are either laid down or quoted here, and much of what the authors believed cannabinoids to be capable of turned out to be true.