Medically Reviewed by
Jason Crawford

Article Last Updated on January 7, 2023

CBD has been a buzzword for quite some time now as more and more people are starting to learn of its health benefits. It has a special place in the cannabis industry as a versatile chemical compound, which is why some believe that it has only recently been discovered. However, CBD has been used for treating a variety of conditions for almost half a century.

The cannabis plant itself may be as old as human history, but if you’ve ever wondered how CBD was first discovered and how CBD products were developed, this article will cover just that.

A Brief Guide: The History of CBD

The first recorded use of cannabis for medicinal purposes dates back to 2734 BC when the Chinese Emperor Sheng Nung had a habit of using cannabis-infused tea to treat a variety of ailments, like rheumatism and gout.

However, cannabis remained under the radar for centuries, until 1839 when William B. O’Shaughnessy, an Irish physician, finally researched it and wrote a study that discussed its therapeutic potential. However, his claims gained little traction.

It wasn’t until the 20th century when advancements in technology and science opened up the way for further investigation of this chemical composition of the cannabis plant. In 1940, after several years of studying the marijuana plant, Roger Adams, an esteemed American organic chemist, succeeded in isolating CBD from the rest of the compounds.

But Adams wasn’t aware that he had made such an important discovery until years later when other scientists realized that he did, in fact, extract CBD from marijuana.

Not too long after this discovery, in 1946, Dr. Walter S. Loewe began running animal-based trials using extracted cannabinoids, most likely THC, CBD, and CBN (cannabinol). However, he couldn’t clearly identify which cannabinoids were causing which effects, as the chemical structure of cannabis had not been clearly identified yet.

The Most Significant Discovery and Onwards

Two decades later, in 1964 an Israeli scientist, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, finally succeeded to identify the exact stereochemistry of CBD as well as THC, something that Adams didn’t do in the past. Mechoulam’s discovery is significant because he drew a line between CBD and THC by identifying the differences between their molecular structures.

Fast forward to the 1970s and 1980s when these discoveries of Dr. Mecholaum propelled more studies on cannabis and CBD, in particular, with a focus on epilepsy. In the mid to late 1970s, cannabis was legally acknowledged as medicine in New Mexico and the British Pharmacopoeia launched a licensed and approved tincture to be used as medical cannabis that likely contained CBD.

Some years later, in 1996, marijuana became legal in California, encouraging support from the public and leading to its legalization in other states as well, like Oregon, Alaska, and Washington and Maine in the late 1990s, and Hawaii, Nevada, and Colorado in 2000.

Following this, many other states gradually started to legalize CBD which opened up the CBD industry for medical use, and in 2018, the first CBD-derived FDA-approved drug was developed.

The Farm Bill on Hemp Production and CBD Oil

CBD is most abundant in the industrial hemp variety of the Cannabis sativa plant. This variety of cannabis naturally contains larger amounts of CBD and a very small amount of THC, less than 0.3%.

This is one of the reasons for the well-known 2018 Farm Bill that removed hemp from the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) list of controlled substances, making the use of CBD products legal under federal law. Being low in THC and high in CBD, the hemp plant is not psychoactive and CBD hemp extract can be used for medicinal purposes.

CBD as One of the Primary Cannabinoids

The cannabis plant has a complex chemical structure as it contains hundreds of compounds, like many terpenes, flavonols, and cannabinoids. CBD (cannabidiol), together with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), is one of the primary cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant. These cannabis compounds have a very similar molecular structure but are vastly different in their effects.

CBD is known to be non-psychoactive, or in other words, it doesn’t cause mind-altering effects, also known as “getting high.” That is THC’s job. CBD delivers different effects – it mainly makes you feel calm and it reduces pain, and it also works together with THC to regulate its psychoactive effects and bring some balance, which is why it’s so popular for treating some conditions.

How CBD Works in the Body

Cannabis and the human body interact through the endocannabinoid system, which is a network of endogenous cannabinoid receptors located throughout the body. The endocannabinoid system has an important part in maintaining homeostasis in the body and participates in processes such as cognition, immunity, mood, memory, and others.

While THC is known to interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors, the same cannot be said about CBD. In fact, in addition to regulating the psychoactive effects of THC, CBD is believed to interact with different types of receptors in the human body. These receptors are involved in processes related to the immune system and the production of neurotransmitters responsible for regulating the nervous system.

Health Effects and Uses of CBD Oil

The therapeutic use of CBD offers many options. Numerous people use CBD oil to treat a variety of different medical conditions related to both their physical and mental health. CBD oil is known for its anti-inflammatory effects, and many use it for chronic pain relief related to different conditions. Others also use it to manage their depression and anxiety symptoms.

CBD is known to be generally well-tolerated, unlike THC that can often cause unpleasant side effects. The side effects of CBD come at larger doses or if the individual is sensitive to the compound, and they include fatigue, diarrhea, and changes in appetite.

The First FDA Approved CBD Medication

No cannabis product has been yet approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be used as medical marijuana. However, after years of research into CBD’s anticonvulsant properties, and pre-clinical and clinical trials, in 2018, the FDA approved the first cannabinoid-derived drug.

It’s an oral solution that contains pharmaceutical-grade CBD oil, sold under the name of Epidiolex. It was developed by a British pharmaceutical company GW Pharmaceuticals specifically for the treatment of two rare and severe forms of pediatric epilepsy – Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome.

Other CBD Products on the Market

CBD oil is by far the most popular CBD product at the moment, but there are many other great ways to use CBD as the market is very versatile. There are tinctures and sprays that are taken orally, or edibles (chocolate, candies, gummies) and CBD pills that need to be digested first. You can also vape CBD or use topicals (lotions, ointments, creams) for localized inflammation. Whatever your needs are, the variety of CBD products on the market caters to many different uses.

Additional Sources

Commissioner, Office of the. “FDA Approves First Drug Comprised of an Active Ingredient Derived from Marijuana to Treat Rare, Severe Forms of Epilepsy.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/fda-approves-first-drug-comprised-active-ingredient-derived-marijuana-treat-rare-severe-forms.

Pertwee RG. Cannabinoid pharmacology: the first 66 years. Br J Pharmacol. 2006;147 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S163-S171. doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0706406

A passionate advocate for the benefits of cannabis. Fraser Horton, who has a background in botany and a strong love of nature, has spent years researching how cannabis affects the body and mind. He established Leaf Nation in 2020, where he has devoted himself to educating people about the legalisation of marijuana and its safe and responsible use. Fraser is committed to highlighting cannabis’ potential for improving wellness and working to dispel the stigma associated with its use.


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