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Last December 2020, the UN corrected the act recognising the therapeutic applications of derivatives of the Cannabis sativa plant.

However, Cannabis Sativa is one of the oldest cultivated plants in human history - there is evidence of likely use by humans as early as 12.000 years ago - . It has been used for thousand of years for medical, spiritual and social purposes, and the fibre from the plant has been used to make clothing and rope. The seeds were eaten as a highly nutritious food long before hemp hearts could be found in the aisles at whole-food shop. It’s one of the most widely utilised cultivated medicinal plants in human history across the globe.

According to the archeological answer, the origins of the plant seems to be in the Tibetan plateau in central Asia. Its closest plant relative is hops, used to make beer, and the two of them share some of the same plant chemicals, but it’s likely that cannabis as a distant species is at least 38 million years old. Humans evolved in places where the cannabis plant grew too - essentially, we evolved together. So much so that our own body has an endocannabinoid system.

History highlights timeline

Cannabis was used in ancient Japan and China, Mesopotamia, ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, Rome and ancient India as part of medicine and spiritual tradition. The only ancient civilisations not to use it were the Incas and the Aztecs, as Cannabis sativa was not native to the Americas, and was only bought there by colonialism from the 1600s onwards.

Although one of the first knowledge about the use of the plant is identified with an important ancient culture in China, appears in 1st century Chinese medical treatises, without a doubt, it is in India where we find more information regarding the use of the plant. Cannabis, or bhang, is mentioned in religious texts of Hinduism, the Vedas, as one of the five sacred plants to release us from anxiety. Cannabis has also been used for thousands of years in the traditional Indian herbal system, Ayurveda, and without this ingredient, many of the recipes just didn’t work as well.

From the 19th century onwards, cannabis came back to the consume in Europe thanks to the Napoleonic troops who were in Egypt. Writers, poets and artist were the first hash consumers who thought that hemp could improve their creativity. In this way, the painter Boissard and Moreau de Tours founded Club des Hashischins in Paris, with the purpose to make some psychologist investigations and with the hope to use cannabis for some mental diseases treatments. Baudelaire, Dumas, Gaultier, Merimeé, Delacroix, Daumier or Flaubert were some of the members.

From second half of the 19th century the cannabis goes in without any reticence on the part of the sanitary authorities in all the European pharmacopoeias. But to the end of the 19th century and with the development of synthetic substances like the aspirins, the chloral hydrate and barbiturates, it sped up the decay of the cannabis as a pharmaceutical product. The international control of the cannabis began in the Geneva Protocol of 1925.

The age of prohibition

By the beginning of the 20th century, the United States’ society thought that cannabis was the reason of black and Mexican people “depravity”. The media mogul, William Randolph Hearst used all his mass media to publish articles discrediting minorities. Hearst started to use the world “marihuana” and not “hemp” or “cannabis” to confuse the audience. His tabloid campaigns were influencing the ban on hemp.

In 1936, as a Federal Bureau of Narcotics campaign, Louis Gasnier directed the movie Reefer Madness which showed what happened to a group of boys who, after trying marihuana, committed murders, turned to prostitution, rapes, terrorism and suicide.

One year after, the United States banned cannabis for any purpose. There were many factors that caused cannabis to be removed from the market. The prohibition of cannabis was an excuse to continue keeping active police officers who had lost their jobs after legalising alcohol in 1933. The production of industrial hemp was stopped and replaced by others (cotton, wood or oil).

Worldwide prohibition was achieved during 1961 in the UN Single Convention on Drugs. It was legislated to totally eliminate the world-wide use of the cannabis in 25 years. The Conference had a note from WHO stating that there was no justification for the medical use of cannabis. Four year laters, Raphael Mechoulam and Gaoni, from Jerusalem University, were able to isolate the active ingredient of cannabis. Since this year, it is estimated that there are more than 1,000 compounds in cannabis, more than 400 different compounds have been isolated and at least 60 of them are therapeutic.

Uruguay has become the first country to legalise the sale, distribution and cultivation of this plant in 2013. Canada has become the second country in the world to legalise recreational cannabis in 2018.

Now, the new resolution of the UN leaves a hopeful scenario, where scientists, chemists and healthcare workers expect the socio-political and economic support to continue investigating the different components of cannabis and provide solutions to some of the autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases, as well as other mental illnesses and cancers.

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