The 21st century is a golden period because medical doctors are now willing to prescribe and administer hemp related drugs, such as tinctures, pills and ointments as an alternative remedy for some diseases. Which many refer to as medical marijuana.
Dr William Brooke O’Shaughnessy
The question remains, who is the pioneer behind medical marijuana?
History holds is that the first references of marijuana as an alternative medicine started in 2900 BC. Follow this link to learn more.
However, the health benefits of the cannabis plant wouldn’t be well known in the 19th to 21st century had it not been for Dr William Brooke O’Shaughnessy. It is worth mentioning that he is still considered a pioneer in the field of cannabis introduction to western medicine. After graduating from the University of Edinburgh, O’Shaughnessy went to Calcutta, where he worked as a surgeon’s assistant and at the same time was a professor of chemistry at the local school.
He was fascinated by the life of the indigenous people of Calcutta, so he spent a lot of free time with them. It was from them that he acquired his knowledge about cannabis. The marijuana plant was used as a medicine and for recreational purposes for thousands of years in Calcutta.
Medical Marijuana Research
O’Shaughnessy also critically looked at the available medical literature at that time for the purpose of cannabis research. He was mainly researching the intoxicating effects of cannabis. As research models, he used animals (rabbits, mice, rats, dogs, cats). He studied the effectiveness and safety of using self-made cannabis drugs on them, which he later gave to patients. During his preliminary research, O’Shaughnessy noticed that individual animal species reacted differently to cannabis. For example, carnivorous animals (fish, dogs, cats, pigs, vultures) “invariably and quickly demonstrated the intoxicating influence of the drugs”. However, thick grazed animals, such as horses, cows, sheep, goats “experienced only trivial effects of the administered dose”.
In 1839 he published a scientific paper on the use of cannabis in patients suffering from rheumatism, cholera, tetanus, and also in infants affected by epilepsy. In the case of the latter, he stated that the use of cannabis was extremely effective. Epileptic children who were near death were returned to full health after the administration of cannabis. In the summary of his research, he wrote that the conducted experiments strengthened his belief in the use of cannabis as valuable agents in the treatment of childhood epilepsy.
Certainly, O’Shaughnessy was a reliable scientist because he also revealed the failure of hemp therapy. He admitted that he had little success in treating rheumatism or cholera, but noted the beneficial effects of calming and analgesic cannabis. The doctor also managed to suppress muscle spasms associated with diseases such as tetanus and rabies (many modern patients use medicinal marijuana to relieve muscle spasticity associated with certain conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and motor nerve dysfunctions).
Interestingly, Dr O’Shaughnessy also warned that hemp therapy should start with the smallest doses. At the same time, he warned about “cannabis delirium” in case of abuse or overdose. The doctor had an exceptional way of treating patients who had consumed too much marijuana. Such people were given strong laxatives.
As you can see, his methods were a bit drastic, at least according to modern toxicological standards. Nevertheless, his innovations and actions have brought about good results. In the wake of O’Shaughnessy, other scientists investigating the therapeutic properties of cannabis followed. Between 1839 and 1900, more than 100 articles about the medical use of marijuana appeared in scientific journals.
What happened to O’Shaughnessy?
O’Shaughnessy returned to England in 1841 and brought with him not only scientific work and valuable experience but also several specimens of cannabis and their seeds, which he donated to Royal Pharmaceutical Society for research purposes.
It is worth mentioning that the use of cannabis as a drug in the second half of the 19th and early 20th century became popular in Europe and America. Marijuana tinctures or hemp extracts are now widely used to relieve chronic pain and other ailments.