History of Cannabis

The medicinal properties of the cannabis plant have been known for millennia.

The medicinal properties of the cannabis plant have been known for millennia. As far back as 2800 BC, Cannabis was used to treat many health problems and was listed in Emperor Shen Nung’s pharmacopeia.

Cannabis has a long and colorful history. The use of Cannabis originated in central Asia or western China, and Cannabis has been used for its alleged healing properties for millennia. The first documented case of its use dates back to 2800 BC when it was listed in Emperor Shen Nung’s (regarded as the father of Chinese medicine) pharmacopeia. Therapeutic indications of Cannabis are mentioned in the Indian Hindus, Assyrians, Greeks, and Romans texts. These texts reported Cannabis treats various health problems, including arthritis, depression, amenorrhea, inflammation, pain, lack of appetite, and asthma.

Hindu legend holds that Shiva, the supreme Godhead of many sects, was given the title ‘The Lord of Bhang’ because the cannabis plant was his favorite food. The ancient Hindus thought the medicinal benefits of Cannabis were explained by pleasing the gods such as Shiva. Ancient Hindu texts attribute the onset of fever to the ‘hot breath of the gods’ who were angered by the afflicted person’s behavior. Using Cannabis in religious rites appeased the gods and hence reduced the fever.

Recent scientific evidence provides an alternative explanation, of course. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) acts on the hypothalamus to reduce body temperature.

Timeline of Cannabis and Cannabinoid research

2800 BC

  • Cannabis was listed in Emperor Shen Nung’s pharmacopeia.


  • Hindu legend holds that Shiva was named ‘The Lord of Bhang’ because the cannabis plant was his favorite food.

129–200 AD

  • Galen used Cannabis for its therapeutic properties and mood enhancement.


  • William Brooke O’Shaughnessy introduced Cannabis to Western medicine after living in India. He wrote of many therapeutic uses of Cannabis, including a case where Cannabis stopped convulsions in a child.


  • Dunstan and Henry isolated cannabinol (CBN).


  • The film Reefer Madness was released, demonizing Cannabis as a highly addictive drug that caused mental disorders and violence.


  • The uses of Cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes were effectively taxed out of existence in the USA by the Marijuana Tax Act.

The 1940s

  • Adams and Todd independently isolated cannabidiol (CBD).


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


  • The US introduced the Controlled Substance Act that lists Cannabis as having ‘no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.


  • Howlett discovered CB1 receptors in the rat brain.


  • Devane and Mechoulam discovered anandamide.


  • Discovery of CB2 receptors.


  • Mechoulam and Sugiura independently discovered 2-AG.


  • California legalized medical Cannabis by introducing the Compassionate Use Act.


  • Endocannabinoids were discovered to activate TRPV1 receptors.


  • Endocannabinoids showed to activate GPR55.


  • CBD was shown to alleviate schizophrenia symptoms in patients compared to a conventional antipsychotic drug.


  • Australia legalized medical Cannabis and its cultivation for medical purposes.


  • CBD has been demonstrated to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy in a placebo-controlled trial.