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The medicinal use of marijuana is by no means a modern idea. Humanity has been taking advantage of the analgesic and psychoactive properties of marijuana for thousands of years.

As far back as 2737 B.C., the Chinese were using cannabis to treat Emperor Shen Neng for gout, rheumatism, and malaria. Marijuana plants were used regularly in the production of textiles as well as a medicinal herb for the bulk of the United States’ history until its use was finally declared a crime in 1914 under the Harrison Act.


So what happened? How did marijuana, a plant used so ubiquitously across centuries and cultures, end up so vilified? Was marijuana being used properly as a medicine, and were its effects understood in the same way they are today? Looking at history, can marijuana even be considered a valid treatment for various conditions? To understand and answer these questions, we have to look at marijuana’s history from the 18th century up to today.

Use in the 18th Century

The marijuana plant has a long history of use in the United States, primarily for the fibrous stems of the plant that make excellent textiles and rope. The plant was versatile, easy to grow, and was incredibly hardy, allowing it to be grown just about anywhere that there was sunlight. While the psychoactive effects of marijuana were relatively well known in the 18th century, the majority of those who wanted to feel deleterious effects stuck with alcohol consumption.


The 18th century saw a massive leap in knowledge pertaining to medical practice. The practice of vaccination was coming into popularity as a way to combat the spread of smallpox, and public education about health and hygiene had finally come about. An increased interest in the causes of diseases and the various ways to treat those same diseases caused a spike in medical education across the globe, ushering in a new generation of inquisitive doctors that continued to push medical science further and further.


For the control of pain, opium was widely available to the masses, leaving marijuana behind as a potential cure. Medicinal cannabis, however, was still widely used elsewhere to treat a variety of different maladies and conditions. Early editions of American medical journals cited marijuana as a useful treatment for inflamed skin, incontinence, and venereal disease. An Irish physician from the East India Company named William O’Shaughnessy popularized the use of marijuana as medicine in England and America. O’Shaughnessy found that marijuana was able to ease the pain from rheumatism, as well as reducing the nausea associated with conditions like rabies, cholera, and tetanus.

Use in the Modern Era

The benefits of medical marijuana are widely understood today, even with a lack of clear, empirical, government-funded studies. For years, cancer patients and those suffering from chronic pain have touted marijuana as a panacea that helps ease pain and spark appetite. Despite a lack of evidence outside of testimony, over half of the United States now have laws in place allowing medical marijuana use. Because of this, medical marijuana is now produced like any other medicine: in controlled clean rooms that have been sanitized and sterilized in order to provide the safest medical marijuana possible.


The practice of using opioids as a tool for pain management never fell out of popularity. Because of the liberal prescription of these painkillers, we are now seeing a huge surge of cases of opioid addiction across the United States. However, recent studies show that legalized medical marijuana actually lowers opioid use, displaying the potential to reverse the worst drug epidemic seen in the US since the 1980’s.


Marijuana’s medical potential is not limited to pain relief or curbing opioid addiction. Marijuana has a long history of helping Parkinson’s patients manage the tremors associated with the condition as well as improving their mood. Glaucoma, a condition that can cause permanent damage to the ocular nerve due to pressure within the eye, can be treated successfully with marijuana as it helps to relieve that pressure. While results from medical marijuana use are promising, we won’t know the true potential — or risks — until proper, unbiased research is conducted.

Problems with Marijuana as Medicine

For all of the potential medical marijuana possesses, it still remains a controlled substance on a federal level in the United States. Those who decide to self-medicate with marijuana in a state where it remains illegal to do so face legal repercussions, as well as a lack of knowledge regarding the production of the marijuana that they use. While it isn’t common, unregulated marijuana may contain other, more harmful drugs, or might have had dangerous pesticides use on them.


Additionally, the marijuana available today both in medical and recreational forms is wildly more potent than what any previous generation had access to. Hashish, a concentrated form of the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, has been around for centuries, but today there are new forms of concentrated hash oils that are much stronger. While most of the lab-tested marijuana today clocks in at 25-35 percent THC, hash oil can contain as high as 99.9 percent THC. If an individual was unfamiliar with the varying strengths of marijuana products, accidental use of these more concentrated forms could potentially be dangerous for an inexperienced user.


Marijuana is not physically addictive, but it has been shown to be mentally addictive. If you’ve found that self-treatment has gone beyond addressing your symptoms and into regularly using for pleasure, consider inpatient treatment for marijuana addiction. As long as you are living in an area where marijuana is still illegal, its use is considered a crime and can have serious and lasting implications if you are found guilty.


While medical marijuana isn’t wholly understood, it’s positive effects on certain ailments cannot be denied. It is important that it be studied so that it can be taken advantage of safely, as certain historical treatments that were once thought safe were discovered to be incredibly harmful as the treatments were better understood. For example, a common treatment for STDs in the 18th century was mercury, a dangerous and poisonous heavy metal that can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system. Understanding these substances is of utmost importance, as it can enlighten the scientific community, producing new and effective treatments.

About the Author:
Frankie Wallace contributes to a wide variety of blogs and writes about many different topics, including politics and the environment. Wallace currently resides in Boise, Idaho and is a recent graduate of the University of Montana.