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Posted by: Marisa Cornacchia


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If you listen to the medical research, you might believe the many uses of cannabis in the medical field are just being discovered. It’s more accurate to say its uses are being rediscovered.

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Human beings have long used cannabis, which grows in the Himalayas, to treat medical ailments. Here’s a brief look at how medical cannabis has been used throughout human history.

The Ancient World

The history of medical cannabis can be traced back to ancient civilizations in China and India. Around 2737 BC, Chinese Emperor Shen Neng prescribed cannabis to treat illnesses. The Chinese used the hemp plant in a medicinal tea at this time. The emperor was one of the first leaders to recognize and accept the usefulness of medicinal cannabis!

In India, Hindus have long viewed the hemp plant as holy. There’s evidence of the plant’s use, particularly for religious ritual, from about 2000 BC to around 1400 BC. There’s less evidence the plant was deployed in medicine, but it’s likely some people believed it was useful in treating illness.

In 1550 BC, a Chinese surgeon named Hua Tuo became the first physician to use cannabis as an anesthetic for surgery patients.

The Middle Ages

Although the Middle Ages are sometimes known as the “Dark Ages,” Europeans were actually rather enlightened when it came to their herbal knowledge! Cannabis was a popular folk medicine throughout the continent, where it was imported from the east.

Medieval Europeans used it to treat coughs, jaundice, and tumours from the 2nd century AD to around the 11th century AD.

The Modern Period

Cannabis has had a much more troubled history in recent times, but it wasn’t always so. In the early modern period, cannabis was still very much an important part of European culture and industry. Spanish explorers actually brought the plant with them to North America as early as 1545! During this time, the hemp plant was used for a number of different products. Clothing, paper, and shipping ropes were all manufactured from it.

In the 1700s, American medical journals reported on the medicinal benefits of various parts of the hemp plant. They suggested hemp seeds and roots could be used to treat everything from skin inflammation to rheumatism and nausea.

Into the 20th Century

Going against history, the 20th century made cannabis a problem. In 1906, Mexican immigrants to the US reintroduced cannabis and popularized its recreational use. By the 1920s, this had caused a moral panic. North American lawmakers cracked down on the plant. Cannabis was criminalized in Canada in 1923.

Cannabis remained illegal throughout the 20th century in North America, where it was (and still is) considered a Class I narcotic. This has made it difficult for researchers to study the medicinal benefits of the plant.

Toward the end of the 20th century, some European countries made cannabis legal again. Activists in Canada and the US continued to argue against the criminalization of cannabis in their respective countries.

The New Millennium

In 2001, after pressure from medical professionals and activists alike, Canada introduced its Medical Marihuana Access Regulations (MMAR). These rules legalized the medicinal use of cannabis. Doctors could now authorize their patients’ use, and authorized patients could use and grow cannabis themselves.

The MMAR were replaced by the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) in 2013. Patients seeking medical cannabis needed to obtain it from a selection of authorized, licensed producers.

In 2016, the MMPR was replaced by the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), which allowed patients to grow their own again.

Canada plans to legalize cannabis across the board in the near future. What this means for patients seeking medical cannabis remains to be seen. One thing is for sure: People will continue using this incredibly versatile plant to treat a wide range of ailments, just as they always have.


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Marisa Cornacchia

Marisa Cornacchia

Marisa Is a Registered Nurse with over two decades of experience in both Critical Care and Occupational Health nursing. She is also an Osteopathic Manual Practitioner. Marisa also holds an MBA with a concentration in Project Management and a Certification in Risk Management from The University of Toronto. Marisa has experience with clinic management and program design, having lead a successful growth strategy for a national leader in primary care and chronic pain clinics. Marisa brings her expertise to the team with the highly desirable experience in the business of managing health clinics and benefit programs. Marisa is the recipient of the Robert Saulter Humanitarian Award for the Hospital. Previously Marisa sat on the Board of Directors for the Canadian Institute for the Relief of Pain and Disability.