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Cannabis and Cannabinoids (PDQ®): Complementary and alternative medicine - Health Professional Information [NCI]

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History

Cannabis use for medicinal purposes dates back at least 3,000 years.[1,2,3,4,5] It was introduced into Western medicine in the 1840s by W.B. O'Shaughnessy, a surgeon who learned of its medicinal properties while working in India for the British East Indies Company. Its use was promoted for reported analgesic, sedative, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and anticonvulsant effects.

In 1937, the U.S. Treasury Department introduced the Marihuana Tax Act. This Act imposed a levy of one dollar an ounce for medicinal use of Cannabis and one hundred dollars an ounce for recreational use. Physicians in the United States were the principal opponents of the Act. The American Medical Association (AMA) opposed the Act because physicians were required to pay a special tax for prescribing Cannabis, use special order forms to procure it, and keep special records concerning its professional use. In addition, the AMA believed that objective evidence that Cannabis was harmful was lacking and that passage of the Act would impede further research into its medicinal worth.[6] In 1942, Cannabis was removed from the U.S. Pharmacopoeia because of persistent concerns about its potential to cause harm.[2,3]

In 1951, Congress passed the Boggs Act, which for the first time, included Cannabis with narcotic drugs. In 1970, with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana was classified as a Schedule I drug. Drugs in this category are distinguished as having no accepted medicinal use. Other Schedule I substances include heroin, LSD, mescaline, methaqualone, and gamma-hydroxybutyrate.

Despite its designation as having no medicinal use, Cannabis was distributed to patients by the U.S. government on a case-by-case basis under the Compassionate Use Investigational New Drug program established in 1978. Distribution of Cannabis through this program was discontinued in 1992.[1,2,3,4] Although federal law prohibits the use of Cannabis, the table below lists the localities that permit its use for certain medical conditions.

List of Localities That Permit Use ofCannabisfor Certain Medical Conditions

Alaska (AK)
Arizona (AZ)
California (CA)
Colorado (CO)
Connecticut (CT)
District of Columbia (DC)
Delaware (DE)
Hawaii (HI)
Maine (ME)
Montana (MT)
Michigan (MI)
Nevada (NV)
New Jersey (NJ)
New Mexico (NM)
Oregon (OR)
Rhode Island (RI)
Vermont (VT)
Washington (WA)

The main psychoactive constituent of Cannabis was identified as delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In 1986, synthetic delta-9-THC in sesame oil was licensed and approved for the treatment of chemotherapy -associated nausea and vomiting under the generic name dronabinol. Clinical trials determined that dronabinol was as effective as or better than other antiemetic agents available at the time.[7] Dronabinol was also studied for its ability to stimulate weight gain in patients with AIDS in the late 1980s. Thus, the indications were expanded to include treatment of anorexia associated with human immunodeficiency virus infection in 1992. Clinical trial results showed no statistically significant weight gain, although patients reported an improvement in appetite.[8,9]

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WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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