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The History of the Cannabis Plant

Cannabis is a popular medicine for centuries common among our ancestors. The history of the cannabis plant goes as far as 2800 BC. During this period, our ancestors were primary users of cannabis for its medicinal properties. One renown part of cannabis history is the use of cannabis as medicine in Emperor Shen Nung’s pharmacopoeia.

The history of the cannabis plant is long and colorful. Cannabis was originally seen in central Asia or western China. Its use as a medicine is something that goes on for millennials. The first documented case of cannabis usage dates to 2800 BC. It was on Emperor Shen Nung’s list of medicines. The medicinal properties of cannabis are in different languages including the Indian Hindus, Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans. In all these texts, cannabis is a noteworthy treatment for a wide array of ailments including arthritis, depression, amenorrhea, inflammation, pain, lack of appetite, and asthma.

According to the Hindu, Shiva, the supreme Godhead of many sects, was known as the ‘The Lord of Bhang’. This is because he was a big user of cannabis for different purposes. The ancient Hindus note that the medicinal benefits of cannabis were common amongst the gods such as Shiva. Reading ancient Hindu texts also showcases fever with the ‘hot breath of the gods’ who become angry. The use of cannabis in religious rites made the gods happy by reducing the fever.

Recent studies offer a different explanation of the medical use of cannabis. In science, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) acts on the hypothalamus, therefore, lowering body temperature.

A brief timeline of the history of the cannabis plant

2800 BC

Cannabis becomes one of Emperor Shen Nung’s list medicines in his pharmacopoeia.


Hindu legend holds that Shiva was given the title ‘The Lord of Bhang’ since he usually consumes cannabis all the time.

129-200 AD

Galen uses cannabis therapeutically for mood enhancement.


William Brooke O’Shaughnessy carries cannabis from India to the West and introduces it as a medicine. He was the author of many therapeutic uses of cannabis, which includes a case where cannabis inhibited convulsions in a child.


Dunstan and Henry isolated cannabinol (CBN).


The film Reefer Madness became a major title. This movie was out to demonize cannabis making it look like a wildly addictive drug. According to the movie, cannabis leads to mental disorders and violence.


The Marijuana Tax Act became effective and was out to remove cannabis. Both recreational and medicinal cannabis was effectively out of existence in the USA.

The 1940s

Adams and Todd became the first people to independently isolate cannabidiol (CBD) from marijuana.


Mechoulam (pictured with Dave Allsop) isolated THC from the cannabis plant.


The US introduces the Controlled Substance Act which lists cannabis as having as bad for the health.


Howlett saw CB1 receptors in the rat brain.


The discovery of anandamide by Devane and Mechoulam


Discovery of CB2 receptors.


The discovery of 2 AG by Mechoulam and Sugiura.


California becomes the first state to legalize medical cannabis after introducing the Compassionate Use Act.


Endocannabinoids show their effectiveness to activate TRPV1 receptors (these are the receptors activated by the spicy compound in chilli that can activate these receptors)


The discovery of Endocannabinoids to activate GPR55.


The discovery of CBD’s potential to alleviate schizophrenia symptoms more than conventional antipsychotic drugs.


The legalization of medical cannabis consumption and cultivation in Australia.


CBD found to lessen seizures in childhood epilepsy in a placebo-controlled trial.

Bottom line

While the history of the cannabis plant is vast, there are some important points where cannabis turns into a revolutionary plant. Cannabis will keep on making history due to its wide array of benefits.

To understand more about cannabis and its unique characteristics, such as why some marijuana plants have three leaves, check out our guide on marijuana with three leaves.