Cannabidiol—better known as CBD—has been around for far longer than many assume. Several historical accounts about its applications exist, even if this compound went by different names during those times. It also shows that CBD is neither a laboratory-made substance nor requires modern tools and equipment to be extracted from the cannabis plant.
If you’re curious about its origins, usage, and developments, here is a comprehensive account of the history of CBD, current status, and potential future. We will also highlight how it differs from THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and why those properties pushed CBD into mainstream acceptance worldwide.
What is Hemp?
Let’s begin by tracing the roots of CBD. As we said, this cannabinoid comes from the cannabis plant, a flowering herb with three primary species: Sativa, Indica, and Ruderalis.
The physical appearances of these variations do not vary significantly. Yes, they are genetically distinct, but the most significant differences can be observed in their cannabinoid content and other chemical constituents. This serves as the basis of how the law distinguishes what is legal and what is not.
Most of the CBD extracts we enjoy nowadays come from Cannabis sativa L., more commonly known as industrial hemp. While it also contains the psychoactive THC, the total amount is no more than 1% of its dry weight. In the US, the threshold set by the federal government is even lower at only 0.3% THC content.
That isn’t to say that CBD cannot be obtained from marijuana, another type of cannabis plant. However, because of the legal limitations imposed on this substance’s production, distribution, and usage, the vast majority derive cannabidiol from industrial hemp, and marijuana remains highly restricted in numerous US states and other countries.
What Has Hemp Been Used for Hemp Throughout History?
The hemp we know today has undergone centuries of human cultivation and experimentation. That’s why we have also developed multiple uses for the plant and its compounds, particularly enhancing our body and mind.
Historically, the hemp plant has far simpler but surprising uses for our ancestors. Some people continue such traditions because they are tried and tested, but most companies place greater value on the crop as a dietary supplement and natural alternative to conventional treatments.
To better grasp what the future holds for hemp, let’s go over how it has benefited us for the past millennia. Though objective and more incisive research studies wouldn’t take place until the last century, it’s rather interesting to learn more about the innovative ideas that we had about this unassuming plant throughout history.
Experts believe that hemp cultivation for fiber began thousands of years ago in ancient China. Through the trade between Asia and Europe, the practice spread across Europe. When explorers discovered the New World in the 15th century, they also propagated the farming of hemp for its fibrous materials.
The fiber strands come from the hemp stalks. They are separated from the woody and leafy parts through a series of processes that involve retting and oxidizing the plant. If done correctly, you will obtain long, robust, and durable hemp fibers that are typically yellow or brownish. Some variants also appear greenish or grayish. You will often see hemp fibers in their natural colors because they are difficult to bleach or dye.
Skilled workers can create the following products from this plant:
Hemp fibers have excellent tensile strength and durability. That’s why generations of sailors, builders, and traders have used it as rope, twine, or string. According to the Hemp Foundation, materials made of hemp are about six times stronger than steel because of the fibers’ ability to withstand greater bending force.
Weavers can turn hemp fibers into a coarse fabric suitable for sacks and sail canvas. Finer strands with lighter shades are made into textiles for clothing, shoes, or fashion accessories. Since it has a similar texture to linen, we can also find sheets, towels, and other homewares made of hemp fibers.
Fun Fact: The word “canvas” comes from the Anglo-French word “canevaz.” The latter is based on “cannabis,” the Latin word for hemp.
The pulp from the industrial hemp fibers can be processed into specialty paper. The production costs are higher than the wood pulp commonly used for most paper goods, but you can expect hemp paper to be more tear-resistant and recyclable. Given these properties, this specialty paper is used for wrapping parcels, banknotes, or cigarettes.
Given the exceptional strength and insulating properties of hemp fibers, we have found various uses for them in civil construction. This began as early as the 6th century when Merovingians (now France) reinforced the bridge pillars with mortar containing hemp.
For a more recent invention, we look at hempcrete—a biocomposite material made of hemp, sand, lime, and other sustainable components. It is lightweight but sturdier than traditional concrete. France began using it in the late 20th century, and Canada continues to do so because of its ability to regulate heat and moisture.
The high-fat content of hempseeds makes them suitable for producing word varnishes and finishes. It provides protection from moisture, pest, and molds.
Hemp is one of the first crops to be farmed as a food source. Many agricultural lands in Asia and Europe were allocated to its cultivation. We have found multiple uses for seeds, leaves, and flowers as ingredients and dietary supplements.
For example, hemp seeds can be eaten raw or turned into powder for baked goods or beverages. Pressing the seeds will produce an oil extract rich in fatty acids. We can also see how cultures from different ages have used various hemp parts for their recipes, like in the 1475 AD cookbook titled “De Honesta Voluptate Et Valetudine” by Bartolommeo de Sacchi Platina.
This culinary tradition continues in the modern age, as seen in the numerous hempseed oil and CBD recipes. If you want to learn how to cook with this superfood, check out the recipes we have shared here.
How is Hemp a Superfood?
Hemp, especially its seeds, contains plenty of good fatty acids, fiber, and essential vitamins and minerals. The nutritional profile of an ounce has 161 calories and is made of 69% fats, 23% protein, and 8% carbohydrates.
It has minimal cholesterol and sodium but is an excellent source of iron, vitamin E, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc.
Researchers looked into the positive impacts of having hempseeds in our daily diet, and according to their observations, you can reap the following health benefits:
- Lowers blood pressure
- Relieves joint pain and inflammation
- Gets rid of acne and atopic dermatitis
- Improves the immune system
- Reduces the risk of developing heart disease or neurological disorders
Given its wide range of therapeutic effects, many consider hemp a superfood. While you can add it to your diet as shelled or ground hempseeds, most studies on its nutritional value involve hemp seed extracts. We suggest having both regularly because the great fiber content of the seeds can aid your digestion, too.
The stalks and seeds of the hemp plant may be used to produce the so-called “hempoline,” a type of biodiesel that can power up engines. The earliest known application is for the machine designed by the French-German inventor Rudolf Diesel in 1892.
Despite its potential as an alternative fuel, the inefficient procedure of manufacturing large amounts of hempoline has stunted its development and adoption. We’re still optimistic that it will gain traction again soon, given how much the world needs clean and sustainable energy sources.
CBD is one of the active plant compounds naturally found in the cannabis plant. As we explained earlier, the bulk of CBD extracts we have today comes from industrial hemp because of the legal requirements against high-THC strains.
Reliable manufacturers require farmers to submit the cannabinoid profiles of their harvest to ensure the quality of their raw materials. Once accepted, industrial hemp undergoes a series of processes to obtain the extract. Additional steps are required if the application calls for broad spectrum CBD or CBD isolate. Otherwise, the following steps involve purifying the extract to guarantee that its safe for human consumption.
Types of CBD Extract
The majority of CBD products today can be classified according to the three major types of CBD extracts:
Full Spectrum: You may expect more potent and longer-lasting impacts from any full spectrum CBD product. That’s because the extract retains all the beneficial cannabis compounds, including THC, minor cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. Together, these elements enhance the overall experience by activating the “entourage effect.”
If you’re worried about the presence of THC, stick to trusted CBD brands with product COAs to be sure that the product does not exceed the limit. It should be noted that there’s a slight chance that you will enter a psychoactive state after consuming full spectrum CBD, but that depends on your sensitivity towards THC.
Broad Spectrum: People who want to enjoy the benefits of the entourage effect but don’t want to consume THC can go for CBD products with broad spectrum extract. This type contains every cannabinoid and plant compound naturally present in the cannabis plant, except for THC. Most top brands claim that their broad spectrum selections have zero THC, but a handful states that trace amounts of the infamous cannabinoid may still be found in the product.
The main downside of broad spectrum CBD extract is its muted effects compared to the full spectrum variant. Nonetheless, many cannabidiol fans have nothing but good things to say about such products, so we believe it’s a matter of personal preferences and expectations at the end of the day.
Isolate: This is the purest form of CBD since the manufacturing process removes all other chemical compounds and impurities from the final product. It will not trigger the entourage effect, but you can consume it with more peace of mind.
CBD isolates are typically sold in either crystalline or powdered form. Given that it does not contain anything else, figuring out the optimal dosage through gradually increasing the premeasured amount tends to be easier than with the other types of CBD extracts.
CBD exhibits a high potential to be a natural solution to many health and wellness issues. However, more research is needed to discover and understand CBD’s positive impacts and adverse effects. The federal government considers CBD oil and other similar products as dietary supplements. The only cannabidiol-based drug is Epidiolex, which FDA approved in June 2018. We’ll discuss further in the next section how our perception and usage of CBD have changed over the years.
History of CBD
The recent legalization of hemp-derived CBD was a cause for celebration for millions of Americans. After decades of the so-called “War on Drugs” all over the world, we have finally agreed that there are ways to consume cannabis safely. Many hope that this wide acceptance will be given to the recreational use of marijuana, too.
We can better analyze if we can get to that point by learning about the journey CBD has taken to become one of the most popular natural wellness alternatives. Let’s go through the early days, wherein people freely consumed CBD, and then to the dark times when it was outlawed. Finally, we shall take you through the developments that paved the way for CBD’s comeback.
CBD’s Potential Roots
The earliest record of cannabis-infused concoction takes us back to China during the 28th century BCE. The country was ruled by Emperor Shen Nung, the Father of Chinese Medicine. As a product of his inquisitive mind, he discovered that tea made of the cannabis plant could alleviate various health conditions, such as gout and rheumatism, and enhance the memory and immune system.
Promise, Potential, Then Prohibition
Cannabis pops up at different points in history, demonstrating how cultures from other parts of the world found it beneficial for their health and wellness. However, there was a severe lack of objective study documenting and proving these supposed positive effects until 1809, when Sir Willian Brooke O’Shaughnessy performed clinical trials to determine the potency of cannabis against specific ailments like rheumatism, convulsions, and cholera.
His studies served as a basis for Sir J. Russell Reynolds in prescribing cannabis extract to Queen Victoria of the British Empire. The monarch had long suffered from severe menstrual cramps. Giving birth to her nine children had also taken a toll on her. Fortunately, the pain-relieving properties of cannabis proved to be a powerful solution for her suffering. The usage of medical cannabis lasted for a few years after that. However, it started to die down when the concept of a syringe for administering treatments was introduced.
In the US, hemp and marijuana faced opposition from the paper and petroleum industries. The two feel threatened by the attention that cannabis received for its versatility. By 1911, a few states began banning its distribution, while others required consumers to present a prescription first.
Everything came crashing down for cannabis during the 1928 international drug conference held in Geneva. At the time, there was an allegation that marijuana poses the same dangers as opium does to our health and society. As a result, the British Parliament banned all cannabis products, regardless of the lack of substantial evidence.
Further prohibitions on cannabis were implemented until 1953, wherein countries tried to find ways to control it as an illegal drug. For example, the US Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which imposed relatively heavy restrictions on the sale of cannabis. By 1969, in Leary v. United States, it was declared unconstitutional because a part of it violated the Fifth Amendment. Congress responded the following year by repealing the act and replacing it with the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
In 1961, the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of the United Nations formalized the prohibitions from various governments and organizations. The UN declared that cannabis has “strong addictive properties” like cocaine and opioids and should therefore be considered “a threat to public health.” They classified marijuana under Schedule I drugs. While they did not outright ban its medical applications, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated in 1969 that there was no more need for medical cannabis.
Isolating the Cannabinoid
While the world pushed back against hemp and marijuana, researchers were making progress in understanding further the cannabis plant through advancements in the field of organic chemistry. British chemist Robert was the first to identify the partial structure of a minor cannabinoid called cannabinol (CBN).
However, it was the team led by American chemist Roger Adams that discovered the first-ever full cannabinoid: cannabidiol (CBD). Their 1942 study at Illinois University also suggested the existence of other similar chemical compounds, including THC. This historic milestone spurred other scientists to continue despite the instability in the hemp and marijuana industry at the time.
In 1964, Israeli chemist Raphael Mechoulam and his team made groundbreaking discoveries when they isolated and defined CBD and THC. Aside from the cannabinoids’ molecular structures, they analyzed their key differences through animal testing. The results demonstrated that THC is a psychoactive compound, while CBD is not. Nevertheless, both cannabinoids promise similar therapeutic effects.
Because of his significant contributions, many consider Raphael Mechoulam the “Godfather of Cannabis Research.”
Halted by the CSA
Back in the US, negative perceptions of hemp and marijuana raged on despite the progress made by the scientific community. As we mentioned earlier, the legislators passed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in response to the threats posed by drugs to public health and safety.
The CSA classifies drugs into different categories, wherein Schedule I substances are considered highly addictive and have no medical benefits. Some examples of drugs belonging to this category include ecstasy (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine), magic mushrooms (Psilocybin), quaalude (Methaqualone), and heroin (diacetylmorphine). Inexplicably, all forms of cannabis—hemp or marijuana—were also added to the list.
The federal law forbade prescriptions for any schedule I substances. Anyone who violates this would be subjected to criminal charges. So, while researchers in other countries pushed forward with their cannabis-related studies, American scientists were shackled by the CSA.
Decriminalization Starts a New Path
Around the same time, some US states did not follow the path laid out by the federal government. For example, in 1973, Oregon was the first state to decriminalize the possession of marijuana. Twenty-eight other states and Washington D.C. followed suit over the following years. Some opted to remove the criminal sanctions and impose fines only. Others stopped considering possession a felony and treated it as a misdemeanor.
While decriminalizing cannabis still meant that it was prohibited, this decision reduced the number of arrests, and there was no significant evidence that it increased marijuana usage.
Potential Properties Uncovered
For the next two decades, different groups of scientists worked hard to uncover the dynamics between cannabinoids and the human body. Mechoulam planted the seeds, but the team led by Allyn Howlett first discovered the CB1 receptors in 1985 and the CB2 receptors in 1993. They also observed how the body produces endocannabinoids, chemicals that influence various bodily functions. Because of how extensive the network of receptors is within the human body, the researchers named it the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The interactions between cannabinoids and ECS directed the succeeding goals of these objective studies. Scientists focused their efforts on identifying and proving the therapeutic benefits of cannabis, particularly CBD.
Slowly, the stigma started to shift as we learned that CBD could help manage certain health conditions, such as seizures, inflammations, and anxiety. The final push occurred in the mid-2000s when the nation learned of the success story of Charlotte Figi, an infant from Colorado who suffered from a rare form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome.
Due to the lack of significant results from conventional and experimental treatments, Charlotte’s parents turned to cannabis oil rich in CBD but low in THC. They administered it to the baby, and within a month, her seizures dropped from 300 each week to only 5 in a month.
GW Pharmaceuticals, a British company, grabbed this opportunity to develop drugs made of high-CBD strains. In 2018, they gained approval from FDA for their oral drug Epidiolex.
US legislators also paid attention to this story. More states decriminalized marijuana, while others made steps to legalize cannabis. The 2014 Farm Bill released the legal definition of hemp. The bill also allowed hemp to be grown and studied for programs that aimed to find out how it could improve the economy, public health, and the environment.
When those programs yielded positive results, the federal government passed the 2018 Farm Bill that fully legalized hemp with 0.3% THC and products derived from it.
Present Day for CBD
The legalization of hemp resulted in a boom in the CBD market. Brands specializing in this cannabinoid began developing more innovative ways of delivering it to our system. According to a recent Forbes Health survey, about 60% of their respondents have used a CBD product and reported experiencing its health benefits. The most preferred types are edibles, oils, capsules, and lotions.
Despite the widening acceptance of CBD, many misconceptions about its effects and risks persist today. For example, in the same survey, 46% believed consuming it may lead to a failed drug test result. This is technically impossible because pure CBD is no longer an illegal substance. Unfortunately, we cannot guarantee it because the popularity of this cannabinoid also opened the doors for some shady companies to push sub-standard products that do not observe the legal limits.
That’s one of the significant challenges the CBD industry faces now. Experts suggest different ways to ensure the quality and safety of CBD products, and consumers have become more selective as a result.
Nonetheless, we believe hemp and CBD are heading toward a bright future. The market is expected to expand to almost $50 billion by 2028. The community continues to grow as awareness and social acceptance improve. There’s undoubtedly more work to be done. Still, as you have learned in this complete historical account, the massive potential most of us recognize in this plant can overcome the obstacles thrown in our way.