From humans to pets – a history of medical cannabis

Medical Cannabis_history

At CBD Vets Australia we are always advocating for you to make informed decisions on the health choices for your favourite furry companion and where better to start than from the beginning!

Given the media hype surrounding CBD and hemp products for pets in recent years, you’d think cannabis has only just bounded into the scene like an agile Aussie cattle dog. Yet cannabis medicines and foods, for humans or pets, have probably been around longer than you think.

We’ve compiled a history of cannabis, from ancient humans to modern furry friends, for you to learn about the origins of this incredible medicine. Read on to learn about the history of medicinal cannabis for animals!


Medicinal cannabis for pets: Ancient Eastern origins

The domestication of dogs and cultivation of cannabis may have existed side by side in ancient China. Archaeological evidence shows dogs may have begun to be domesticated as long as 10,000 years ago – more likely for utilitarian use than for companionship at that stage. Hemp fibres from cannabis have also been dated within a similar range.

In terms of tangible documentation, it wasn’t until the 27th century BCE that cannabis was first recorded for its medicinal benefits by Emperor Shen Neng of ancient China. Although this is the first physical recording, we can assume much of the use of cannabis was passed through oral tellings at this time. 

Fast forward 700 hundred years or so and we find records of the medical benefits of cannabis in ancient Vedic texts and Egyptian papyrus, where it was used to treat anxiety, digestive and sleep issues, as well as pain and inflammation of many kinds.

Reflecting on the ancient use of cannabis, many correlations can be found with the modern application of medicinal cannabis and CBD oil for pets and humans.


Early medicinal cannabis in the cradle of civilisation

The use of cannabis as medicine in the ancient region of Mesopotamia was colourful and varied. The seed is widely believed to have been used as a nutritious food source and the plant material fashioned into fibres.

Through recovering writings on clay tablets, we believe the ancient Assyrians used cannabis for things like depression and spasticity – which modern interpretation might assume to be conditions like Multiple Sclerosis or cerebral palsy.

Despite the proximity to ancient Mesopotamian cities, as we venture further west we don’t find many records of the ancient Greeks or Romans using cannabis-derived products with any regularity until around 400BCE.

Dioscorides and Galen are among those who recorded the effects of various types of cannabis preparations, mostly for pain. While it is believed cannabis may have been used in ritual and was definitely utilised for its fibre, it seems the Greco-Romans didn’t give as much attention to the plant as other regions.

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Cannabis in Arabic pharmacology

Arabic doctors developed a sophisticated understanding of cannabis during the 9th and 10th century CE, while Europe was diving into the dark ages, Arabian medicine was uncovering some of the tenets of medical cannabis and CBD we know to be true today. 

Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD are known to have a biphasic effect therapeutically, where a low dose initiates one action and a higher dose triggers a different or opposite response. Arabic documentation from this time shows doctors observed this in humans and may have used it to therapeutic effect. 

Records show Arabic doctors treating patients with cannabis for similar conditions we would prescribe CBD oil for pets or humans in the modern age. Among them, using CBD oil for epilepsy, pain and skin conditions.


How did Europeans use cannabis?

Cannabis plants are not endemic to the European continent and so we don’t find cannabis medicines to be used as frequently by Europeans as elsewhere around the world. Rather, we find hemp fibre used in ship sails, rope, clothing and even for animal bedding.

Some texts refer to cannabis medicine being used by herbalists or physicians for pain and sleep problems, though it seems from the time of the renaissance Europe focused more on the industrial uses of the cannabis plant.


Medical cannabis in North and South America

There are differing views around whether cannabis arrived in the America’s via the Spanish conquest or if there were cannabis strains already being cultivated by native South Americans for ritual and potentially medicine. 

In terms of North America, British and French colonies avidly grew hemp for its industrial uses. The government even implored farmers to grow hemp for its wide and varied uses.


The beginnings of modern medical cannabis

From the 18th century as scientific thought and botanical knowledge grew, cannabis began to be increasingly used as medicine throughout the world. The launching pad for recreational cannabis use is associated with Napoleon’s army bringing the idea of smoking cannabis for enjoyment with them from deployments to Egypt and north Africa.

Botanist Carl Linnaeus classified Cannabis sativa in 1753, noting its use for inflammation and pain, which could be correlated with its modern potential for osteoarthritis

Around 100 years later Queen Victoria’s physician, Dr William O’Shaughnessy, returned from India reporting the benefits of medical cannabis for treating painful menses, muscle spasm, epilepsy, sleep and more. 

It was his investigations, using early scientific research methods that first brought cannabis to the fore of medical science.

Hundreds of pharmaceutical products containing medical cannabis have been identified prior to the early 20th century. It was prescribed primarily for pain, sedation and as an antispasmodic.

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The dark ages for medical cannabis research

Despite the abundance of products and widespread use of cannabis medicines, the early 20th century brought about a “dark age” for medical cannabis use and research.

Reports of the psychotropic effects of cannabis began to filter through to government bodies. In the USA, the 1910 Mexican revolution brought an influx of immigrants and along with them, the term marijuana.

At this time the medical use of cannabis was thriving, but so too the recreational ingestion. Officials began to divert away from the botanical name of Cannabis sativa, using the term marijuana and blatant racist overtones to dissuade the population against cannabis. 

Despite seemingly equal use amongst white people and people of colour, cannabis-related crimes of the 1900s up were still primarily a burden upon people of colour, a legacy of the war on drugs still present to this day.


Cannabis research inhibited by regulation

The end of alcohol prohibition in North America in the 1930s brought with it increasing restrictions on medical cannabis use and cultivation. Despite the American Medical Association strongly recommending against imposing restrictions due to its potential therapeutic benefits, cannabis medicines fell out of use.

A snowballing effect occurred through the mid-1900s with the international body, the United Nations, ushering in regulations that initiated firm global restrictions on cannabis.

Classified as a Schedule I and IV drug, cannabis was put into a category deemed most likely to cause harm, be abused and have little to no medical or therapeutic value. This set off an epoch of medical cannabis research being inhibited by international and local regulations around the world.


Where are we now with medicinal cannabis use for humans and pets?

Today, clinic research is refuting the long-held stigma associated with the medical application of cannabis, with regulations rapidly changing around the world in light of its enormous therapeutic benefits

Particularly the discovery of the endocannabinoid system in all vertebrate animals, including our pets, has brought forth a new age in cannabis research. Beyond the infamous psychoactivity of cannabis, we now know other cannabinoids such as CBD, first isolated in 1943, have medicinal benefits for humans and our closest companion.

Pets experience many similar conditions and symptoms as their humans do, including epilepsy, aching pains, arthritic joints and even anxiety. Given the growing body of evidence showing the efficacy of medical cannabis and particularly CBD oil for human seizures, chronic pain, sleep and anxiety it’s no wonder pet owners and vets want to know more about how CBD oil can help our furry friends. 

Research has shown us CBD oil can reduce seizure frequency by as much as 33% in dogs with epilepsy. Additionally, it is believed CBD’s anti-inflammatory action is responsible for positive results in trials for dogs with arthritis, improving their mobility, owner described pain scores and quality of life.


The future of medical cannabis for pets

In the arena of veterinary medicine, CBD oil research is gaining some serious momentum. More pet owners are enquiring with vets about the potential for CBD treating their pet’s ailment with research projects being expanded into cannabinoid medicines for skin conditions, joint health, lameness and palliative care in dogs, cats and horses.

Evidence does not support the use of THC for pets however if you’re looking for more information on how evidence-based CBD treatment could help your beloved pet, contact 
CBD Vets Australia on (02) 8294 9303 for more information.

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