Unless you were around in 1833 – 1900 you wouldn’t be able to answer the question above. You will however, gain some understanding about the confusion as to why cannabis is not looked at in the same light as it once was. It’s no secret. Before prohibition, cannabis WAS medicine and had been commonly available in pharmacies as such. At one point in time, a Sears & Roebuck catalog had advertisements for Heroin, which was provided by Bayer (yeah, the ‘aspirin’ company). Tinctures and other mixtures were made available to treat a variety of ailments. But what many do not know is this. The origin of the research that first led scientists to publicly vouch for cannabis as a useful medicine. This research was conducted by Irish born doctor Sir William Brooke O’Shaughnessy.
During that time, there were quite a few impressive minds that had also been studying the effects of cannabis. O’Shaughnessy notably set himself apart in the way in which he conducted his research. He would collect information from well-defined local knowledge networks while relentlessly documenting them. He would also credit all of his sources, human or bibliographic. O’Shaughnessy first studied medicine at Trinity before transferring to the University of Edinburgh which was considered to be one of the best medical schools in the world. In 1833 O’Shaughnessy took a job with the East India Company to work in Calcutta as an assistant surgeon. This is where the most of his cannabis research was conducted. Here, he began noting the effects through his interactions with the indigenous people of the area. However, the medicinal benefits of cannabis had been known in India for thousands of years prior.
O’Shaughnessy was the first ‘Westerner’ to claim that cannabis could be used as a medicinal drug. The papers on his experiments with cannabis were published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal in late 1839. O’Shaughnessy conducted experiments on everything from animals to children, by delivering small doses of Cannabis Indica and documenting the effects. Sir Russell Reynolds, the personal physician to Queen Victoria, was among those who promoted cannabis’ medical use after reading O’Shaughnessy’s research. It is claimed that Sir Reynolds subsequently prescribed cannabis to Queen Victoria for menstrual pains. O’Shaughnessy’s papers have also inspired researchers like Dr. Tod Mikuriya, considered to be the Grandfather of all medical cannabis research. Dr. Mikuriya reportedly reprinted O’Shaughnessy’s paper as the lead article in Marijuana: Medical Papers 1839–1972 (published in 1973). This alone helped reinvigorate the modern day medical interest in cannabis.
O’Shaughnessy’s scientific prowess in cannabis research was so profound that James Mills, the author of the Cannabis Britannica, wrote about it. Mills said it was no surprise that O’Shaughnessy was perhaps the first doctor “to find out for himself exactly what the impact of cannabis substances was rather than to rely on hearsay or on recycled versions of other writers’ compilations.”Sir O’Shaughnessy has largely been forgotten but his impact on cannabis research lives on almost 130 years after his death. When he died, he left a legacy that would inspire generations of ongoing research in the field. His contribution continues to grow.
Today, we have an uphill battle in re-educating and reminding the public of cannabis’ numerous health benefits. All the while de-stigmatizing it from being a dangerous ‘drug’ that should be feared. Negative propaganda of the past and present still clouds the minds of many who could instead potentially benefit from cannabis. The positive is that through today’s technology we are able to research and share information on cannabis studies and gain a proper understanding rather than merely accepting what is told to us through the FDA and/or pill industry paid doctors. One day, hopefully soon, when we visit our physician’s office, the benefits of cannabis will be discussed and offered just as much, if not more than Big Pharma pills!
By Tracy Jerome Chisley (@PoeticPanther)
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