The discovery of cannabinoids and subsequent research on them led to the discovery of cannabinoid receptors and phytocannabinoids in human beings. The advancement in technology allowed researchers to dig deeper and investigate not only the chemical characteristics of cannabinoids but also the mode of action on the human body. At first, the suggestions of the existence of cannabinoid receptors in the human body were met with criticism and the studies were largely disregarded. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that conclusive evidence of their existence was found by researchers Allyn Howlett's laboratory at St Louis University.
It was noted that the body has the capability to produce its own phytocannabinoids. The body also has two receptors, CB1 and CB2, in the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The CB1 receptors are mainly distributed throughout the central nervous system, including the brain, and influence cognitive functions such as emotions, movement, and appetite. On the other hand, CB2 receptors are more prevalent in the immune system and influence bodily functions such as pain and inflammation.
Research revealed that cannabinoids, including CBD, acted on the human body and produced effects upon interaction with either the CB1 or CB2 receptors. It was discovered that THC interacted with CB1 receptors to produce psychoactive effects. CBD, on the other hand, tends to interact with CB2 receptors to produce its therapeutic effects such as potentially helping to alleviate pain. However, there are contradicting studies that oppose the claim that CBD interacts with CB2 receptors, and instead suggest that CBD only stimulates the body to produce and use more of its own phytocannabinoids. Scientists are still investigating exactly how CBD works in the human body and there is no conclusive data yet.
The discovery of the endocannabinoid system and the cannabinoid receptors had a major impact on the research on CBD. Researchers now had to expand their scope of investigations to also include the pharmacology of phytocannabinoids, their roles in the body, events (both pathological and physiological) that trigger their release, and how they are metabolized and uptaken by the body cells.
Official research to investigate the medicinal benefits of CBD started in 1998. It was headlined by GW Pharmaceuticals, a British pharmaceutical group. As they made headway, it was also discovered that CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids could be isolated from the cannabis plant. This further expanded research into CBD. The studies looked promising and the researchers started to understand how CBD interacted with the human endocannabinoid system. In 2018, the federal government passed the Farm Bill which legalized industrial hemp. Marijuana (which has high levels of THC) still remains illegal, though some states have legalized the use of medical marijuana.
The history of CBD doesn’t start in 1940 when Dr. Adams discovered the cannabinoid. The story of CBD can be traced back thousands of years. The use of cannabis for medicinal purposes was first documented in China. It is said that Emperor Sheng Nung would attempt to treat a number of ailments such as malaria, gout, rheumatism, and memory loss using cannabis-infused tea. Chinese healthcare providers were also said to administer patients with wine containing powdered cannabis as an anesthetic before doing surgery.
The use of CBD, and cannabis in general, can be traced back to more than 5000 years ago. Ancient societies cultivated the plant believing that it had healing capabilities for various conditions. It was also used for recreational purposes, in addition to being a part of religious ceremonies in some communities.
William Osler, regarded as one of the fathers of modern medicine, pushed for the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes in the 19th century. He argued that the plant could be very effective in the treatment of migraines. From 1937 until 1969—when the act was ruled unconstitutional—the US government implemented the Marijuana Tax Act. The act was aimed at regulating and taxing the production of hemp and marijuana, whether they were meant for medicinal or industrial purposes. After the Act was struck down, cannabis was declared illegal and criminalized. This hugely affected research on the plant. The passage of the Controlled Substances Act in the 1970s and the subsequent war on drugs made it difficult to obtain cannabis even for research purposes.
Since the discovery of CBD towards the end of the 19th century, important milestones have been made with regards to research on how the compound could be beneficial to human beings. This has been possible because of the contributions of the early chemists, interdisciplinary collaborations between researchers such as medicinal chemists and pharmacologists, and developments in other areas of research like receptor signaling. It is important to understand the origins of CBD and the journey it has made to modern research. Past studies still have an impact on any future breakthroughs that will be made with regards to research on CBD and the other cannabinoids, and you can appreciate CBD more when you know the story behind it.
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