Humankind has relied on cannabis for more than 6,000 years.
Throughout Asia, it was revered for its healing powers. In ancient China, cannabis was used medicinally, and its stems were used to make strings, ropes, fabrics, and even paper. In India, cannabis was used spiritually, medicinally, and recreationally—the source of happiness, donator of joy, and bringer of freedom. Likely from India, it made its way to Africa, and from Africa to the Americas.
In the 19th century, cannabis found favor with Western physicians, introduced by Irish physician William B. O’Shaughnessy, based on his observation of the uses of cannabis throughout India. In the decades that followed, more than 100 articles were published in the United States and Europe. By the late 1800s, cannabis extracts and tinctures were sold across the country for therapeutic use.
As modern medicine progressed in the early 20th century, the medical use of cannabis declined, likely due to the rise of new alternative pharmaceutical treatments—such as aspirin for pain. By 1941, cannabis had been removed from the American pharmacopoeia.
But in the late 20th century, spurred on by an increased understanding of therapeutic possibilities the cannabis plant offers—and advances in science that make possible the isolation of active ingredients and precise dosing required to use cannabis effectively—medical cannabis has flourished.
Of the hundreds of compounds found in cannabis, at least 133 are “cannabinoids,” or naturally occurring chemicals within the plant that interact with receptors across the central nervous system to give cannabis its varying effects.
You might recognize cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but there are many more with varying effects. Some, such as THC, CBN, and CBDL, have been shown to have psychological effect, while others, like CBG, CBC, and CBD, have not.
With so many cannabinoids, each with their own unique effects, cannabis can be used for a wide range of therapeutic and recreational applications.
Terpenes are a class of chemicals found in aromatic oils which occur naturally in cannabis, as well as in various other fruits, plants, and grains. In nature, terpenes help to protect the plant from pests and other bacteria, but their therapeutic use by mankind dates back nearly 10,000 years (although they may not have known them as terpenes then). Think of the smell of lavender, for example, and the feeling of relaxation it inspires.
Like cannabinoids, the terpenes found in cannabis play a large part in the effects of each strain. Pinene, for example—a terpene you’ll find in pine needles and sage, as well as cannabis—can improve alertness and memory retention and has anti-inflammatory and bronchodilatory properties. Humulene, a terpene which you’ll find in hops and coriander in addition to cannabis, may be used as an appetite suppressant in addition to its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial uses. And that’s just the beginning. Today, we’ve still just begun to uncover the potential terpenes—but already they show remarkable promise.