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The History of CBD: A Timeline of Cannabidiol’s Journey

The CBD oil in your fridge, the CBD gummy in your mouth, and the CBD cream hydrating your skin might be a new and exciting part of your wellness routine. However, cannabidiol took an epic journey before finding its way into your life.

What did it take for cannabidiol to end up on the shelves? Join us on a journey through CBD’s long and fascinating history through the lens of major milestones!

1. 2737 BC: First Recorded Medical Cannabis Use

People have been using Cannabis sativa for millennia and historically valued the versatile crop for its fibre (and potential to make textile and paper) as well as its nutritional and medicinal properties. 

The first recorded use of medical cannabis dates back to 2737 BC, when the Chinese emperor Shen Nung drank a tea made with marijuana. 

The people of Ancient China wouldn’t have known about cannabidiol, of course, but CBD would nonetheless have been a part of the emperor’s experience. As one of over 100 cannabinoids in Cannabis sativa, CBD joined a complex medley of active compounds.

2. 1940: Roger Adams and Colleagues Isolate Cannabidiol

Marijuana (a word widely believed to have originated in Mexico) had become a popular recreational drug in the United States by the 1920s. That resulted in major efforts to ban the plant, which succeeded when the Marihuana Tax Act was passed in 1937. 

The American chemist Roger Adams, from Boston, researched the organic structure of cannabis in this context. He and his colleagues, working at the University of Illinois, first isolated two cannabinoids in 1940.

One was the lesser-known compound Cannabinol (CBN), but the other was CBD. That means the first CBD extract was produced over the course of Adams’ research! 

Its full structure wasn’t understood until later, but Adams and his colleagues conducted ground-breaking research without which modern CBD products wouldn’t exist. 

3. 1963: Raphael Mechoulam Discovers THC

The Israeli organic chemist Raphael Mechoulam is now widely considered the “father of cannabis research”. Mechoulam and his colleague Yechiel Gaoni first isolated THC at the University of Jerusalem in 1963, promptly declaring it the intoxicating compound in cannabis.

From there, he continued his research, discovering other cannabinoids — both endogenous (made by the human body) and in cannabis.

4. 1988: CB1 Discovered

Scientists had a pretty good grasp on cannabinoids by the time the 1980s rolled around. They hadn’t yet figured out how cannabinoids interacted with the human body, though. 

That all changed in 1988 when the first cannabinoid receptor (later called CB1) was discovered. A second receptor, CB2, was found in 1993. 

These revolutionary discoveries led to everything we know about the endocannabinoid system today. We now know the endocannabinoid system to be a vast network of receptors and signals in the brain, spinal cord, nerve endings, and immune cells. 

The research carried out in the ‘80s and ‘90s also made it clear that the endocannabinoid system and its two receptors play vital roles in regulating pain management, movement, behaviour, mood, memory, bone growth, and inflammation. 

In short, humanity finally started to understand why the cannabinoids in marijuana and industrial hemp plants have effects. Research into the medicinal potential of cannabis started picking up steam at the same time.

5. 1990s: A Powerful Movement Leads to Important Legal Changes 

While scientists continued to explore the medicinal power of cannabis, legislators across the world also had their hands full in the 1990s. California became the first US state to allow medical marijuana in 1996 under the Compassionate Use Act. 

The European Union passed the Novel Food Regulation a year later. These regulations subjected all foods that weren’t widely used before 1997 to undergo strict assessments. Cannabidiol wasn’t added to the list until 2019. The UK’s Food Standards Agency established similar regulations declaring CBD a novel food at the same time.

6. 2013: CNN Airs the Documentary ‘Weed’

CNN aired a controversial documentary simply called “Weed” in 2013. It followed the story of Matt and Paige Figi and their twins. Young Charlotte, diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome, suffered from terrifying seizures that were successfully treated with CBD oil. 

The US Food and Drug Agency approved the CBD-based prescription medication Epidiolex just a few years later, in 2018. The move offered hope to people suffering from rare seizure disorders. 

7. 2018: The United States Passes the Farm Bill

The US Farm Bill made it into US law in 2018, legalising the cultivation of industrial hemp. Industrial hemp is defined as Cannabis sativa plants with a THC content of 0.03 per cent or less in the United States, and hemp is also naturally high in CBD. This low THC content doesn’t result in a high, and the new legislation made CBD products available on the open market.

The World Health Organisation published a critical review on cannabidiol in the same year, discussing its potential medicinal benefits and noting that CBD products do not appear to have an abusive potential. 

CBD’s Long and Exciting Journey: A Final Word

The story of cannabidiol began thousands of years ago when the first people started using cannabis as a source of nutrition and medicine. Our ancient forebears knew nothing about chemistry, of course, but they relied on a primitive form of herbal medicine. 

Cannabidiol wasn’t discovered and isolated until the 1940s, by which time cannabis was already illegal in many jurisdictions. However, further research slowly helped cannabis “out of the naughty corner” and into the limelight. 

As CBB’s role as a non-psychoactive cannabinoid became clearer, commercial CBD products started appearing across the globe in the 2010s. That process continues to this day, along with questions about CBD’s regulation. 

Still, CBD has made its way into the lives of many Britons, who can now freely enjoy cannabidiol as a novel food product and an integral part of their wellness routines. 

Where will CBD go from here? Only time will tell! If history is a good judge, though, cannabidiol’s story may only just be beginning. 



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