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William O’Shaughnessy and the beginning of Cannabis Medicine

The idea of medicinal marijuana has blossomed in the last several years, opening up new markets, changing regulatory restrictions and legal mandates, and showing that public opinion can easily change over time. How it started in the first place isn't a story known to all or any. In fact, most people haven't heard any concept if it had been an Irishman named William O’Shaughnessy who brought cannabis medicine to the Western world.

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Cannabis in history
Before stepping into recent history, let’s return to the past. The history of cannabis use as a drug goes back thousands of years with plenty of natural medicine traditions using the plant everywhere on the planet for various purposes. In Ayurveda it had been wont to increase appetite and digestion; to decrease diarrhea, also as other gastrointestinal issues; as an anti-spasmodic and anti-convulsant; for systema nervosum issues; skin infections; as an aphrodisiac, or to calm sexual feelings (in later stages of the application); issues with genital and tract function; respiratory issues; infectious diseases; and a number of other problems. If you check out what’s being covered here, it includes ailments of nearly all kinds that were being treated by cannabis.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, cannabis seeds were used as laxatives – although they were simultaneously known to help stop diarrhea, alleviate thirst, and relieve flux. If it seems weird that cannabis was employed for opposing issues (constipation and diarrhea), this might be explained by a normalization effect on a person’s liver. Repeated vomiting was also treated with cannabis seeds, and regular use of those seeds was said to “render the flesh firm, and stop adulthood .”

The Chinese also supposedly used cannabis as an antidiabetic by boiling the seeds in water to form a paste. Cannabis was used for skin ailments, ulcers, wounds, hair loss, and diseases of the lymph nodes including degenerative, incurable, and intractable illnesses. These are just a few samples of how Traditional Chinese Medicine used cannabis. Though many texts haven't been made available to the English-speaking world, it's known that cannabis was utilized in medical applications for a minimum of 1,800 years, and possibly as long as 4,000 years.

Cannabis use was seen in Egyptian times. Called Shemshemet, it had been used to treat insomnia, nausea, internal hemorrhoids (by way of suppositories), and even eye conditions like glaucoma due to its strong anti-inflammatory properties, which help bring down eye pressures. This anti-inflammatory effect made it good for all types of ailments that involve inflammation. Cannabis plant residue has been found on Egyptian artifacts dating back over 4,000 years, and medical marijuana is mentioned in several ancient Egyptian texts including:

The Ramesseum III Papyrus (1,700 BC)
Eber’s Papyrus (1,600 BC) (This is that the oldest known complete text, and thought by many to be a reprint of a text from as long as 1,500 years before this one was made.)
The Berlin Papyrus (1,300 BC)

The Chester Beatty VI Papyrus (1,300 BC)
By 1,000 years ago, medicinal marijuana use was so widespread in Egypt, that texts found from that point actually encourage citizens to plant their own medicinal cannabis for his or her own personal use or to use for trade.

Cannabis history & the Anglo-Saxons
I feel it might be remiss to not mention the history of cannabis within the location that William O’Shaughnessy specifically came from since this sheds some light on the cannabis culture that existed in his part of the planet. It's not one among the more popular or documented cannabis stories, but it's certainly relevant here.

It is thought by many that a nomadic Indo-European tribe – called the Scythians – brought the plant to Eastern Europe around 500 BC. From there it seems likely that Germanic tribes brought it over to Germany, and when the Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain during the 5th century, it's thought that the plant at this point entered the British region. Cannabis features a mention within the ‘Anglo-Saxon Herbal’, also referred to as the ‘Old English Herbal’, which is an illustrated book of phytotherapy attributed to 4th-century writers, and which has many similarities to Ayurveda.

This indicates that it had been getting used for medical treatments, however, what it really became known for during this region, was its fiber. Hemp fiber was used for all kinds of things, particularly by the military. Supplies like rope and sails were made up of hemp, that Russia had been the most supplier. In fact, very similar to the US grow laws that were enacted in colonial America, and which forced farm owners to grow cannabis for hemp, so too was the case in Britain when in 1533 King Henry VIII also forced landlords to use a minimum of a part of their land to grow hemp.

This was made more intense by Elizabeth who actually started leveraging fines on landlords who didn't comply. one among the problems with growing hemp therein a part of the planet is that it’s not the simplest climate for it, and this eventually led to Britain importing most of its hemp from Canada and other British colonies. It seems that as time went on, the medical value of the plant was practically lost to its industrial uses. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that William O’Shaughnessy re-discovered cannabis medicine, and brought it into focus in Western medicine.

Who is William O’Shaughnessy?
Born in Limerick, Ireland in 1808, William Brooke O’Shaughnessy studied chemistry and forensic toxicology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, graduating in 1829. At the age of twenty-two, in 1931, while working with cholera patients, O’Shaughnessy helped create the idea for IV replacement therapy. This was done through analyzing the blood of cholera patients and finding a requirement for more oxygen, also as finding that they had deficiencies in water, salt, and free alkali, which was improved through infusions of salt.

A couple of years later, in 1933, O’Shaughnessy moved to Calcutta, India, as a part of the British East India Company, after being rejected for Professor of Medical Jurisprudence at the University of London.  That's when O’Shaughnessy began his inquest into medical cannabis.

O’Shaughnessy had not begun specifically on the course of cannabis medicine, and actually, focused on several subjects like chemistry, galvanic electricity, underwater conduction, and botanical pharmacology – which spawned his work on medical marijuana. O’Shaughnessy published his first papers on the utilization of cannabis medicine and its applications while in Calcutta. In his research he examined traditional uses of the plant to validate the knowledge coming from natural medicine traditions, he also found new applications for the plant, and encouraged the use of it by his readers for several different purposes including acute rheumatism, as a sleep aid, digestive problems, as a treatment for pain, and a number of other ailments.

Simply writing about this stuff isn’t what got him recognized, however. He gained popularity instead through world applications. one among his first big breakthroughs publicly was in having the ability to quell the rheumatic pain and convulsions of an infant by using cannabis. A 40 days old infant, the kid was unable to eat and was very sick, as no standard treatment was helping. The parents’ were so distressed that they agreed to the treatment, and a cannabis tincture was placed on the baby’s tongue. It eased the convulsions, but greater doses had to be used consequent to tolerance. The infant, however, made a full recovery.

When he later returned to England, he found even greater public success when he was ready to treat acute muscle spasms caused by tetanus and rabies, which he did employ a cannabis resin. In terms of tetanus, it didn’t rid the sufferer of the disease, but it did greatly reduce symptoms. About tetanus, O’Shaughnessy stated that it was: “next to hydrophobia (rabies), perhaps the foremost intractable and agonizing of the entire catalog of human maladies.” At that point, having tetanus meant violent convulsions and eventually death, making O’Shaughnessy’s cannabis treatment a godsend to sufferers.

In 1842 he published Bengal Dispensatory and Pharmacopoeia which dedicated 25 pages to the utilization of cannabis in medicine. This stands together with the foremost comprehensive research outputs associated with cannabis for that point period.

What about now?

I think it’s fair to mention that O’Shaughnessy would are double face-palming if he knew just how sideways all his findings went within the upcoming century. While O’Shaughnessy departs a flurry of the latest research into cannabis medicine and therefore the advent of plenty of medical products, all of this was suppressed then forgotten in light of adjusting global cannabis laws.

It started with the US 1937 Marihuana Tax Act and led to the only Convention on Narcotic Substances treaty, and an important global ban on both medical and recreational cannabis, also as hemp production. Over time, the thought of cannabis medicine became non-existent. In fact, not only did it become non-existent in Western medicine and illegal in Eastern medicine, but it became disliked – even hated – with all that accumulated medical evidence being either completely forgotten, or not believed.

It took till the 1900s and researchers like Raphael Mechoulam to re-discover cannabis medicine (which was still suppressed for several decades), then the eventual easing of laws in several global locations because the expressed danger of cannabis was seen more and more to be unrealistic, while its useful properties were once more delivered to light.

Right now in Ireland, O’Shaughnessy’s home country, it is against the law to possess or use with no decriminalization or personal use laws present. Punishments include involuntary community service, fines, and jail time counting on the circumstances of the case. Selling and buying crimes are predictably illegal with prison sentences of up to 10 years for offenders. Cultivation is against the law.

Even when it involves medical cannabis, Ireland only finally updated its laws in 2019, and only to allow a 5-year long research program that permits very limited access to medical cannabis, and just for a really small number of issues. William O’Shaughnessy established a number of the very applications of cannabis medicine being researched now, and his house country still does not pay attention to.

It is now getting on the brink of 200 years after William O’Shaughnessy published his Bengal Dispensatory and Pharmacopoeia, and around 4,000 years since the utilization of cannabis was decided in some locations. Yet now, in 2021, we’re still arguing the legalities and uses of it. Yes, William O’Shaughnessy may need been the daddy of recent cannabis medicine, but only now's the Western world really taking notice.

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