Most people give Raphael Mechoulam credit for the discovery of CBD (see below), but few people know it was actually first isolated from the Cannabis sativa L. plant by Roger Adams back in 1940. Adams was a Harvard alumnus and a prominent organic chemist at the University of Illinois, and he spent several years of his career researching the chemistry of marijuana. However, when he separated CBD as an isolated chemical compound from the rest of the plant, he didn’t exactly describe its chemical structure; it wasn’t until years later that other researchers went back and recognized Roger Adam’s original work with CBD.
1946 | Dr. Walter S. Loewe conducts the first CBD tests on lab animals
Shortly after Dr. Adams isolated the first cannabinoids from marijuana, scientists began testing them on lab animals – even though they had yet to determine the exact type of chemical structures they were working with. The most well-documented of these initial experiments were conducted in 1946 by a man named Walter S. Loewe, who ran trials on rabbits and mice with the cannabinoid’s THC, CBD, and CBN. His results showed that while THC caused catalepsy (a type of induced trance) in mice, CBD appeared to produce no observable effects on behavior. The observations also showed that THC caused a “central excitant action” in rabbits, while CBD did not. Of course, these were the first laboratory indications that CBD lacks any sort of psychotropic activity.
1964 | Raphael Mechoulam isolates and describes the chemical structure of CBD
Even though Dr. Adams was technically the first to isolate CBD as a chemical compound, it’s tough to give him full credit for its discovery because he didn’t describe the compound’s chemical structure – that distinction belongs to Israeli scientist Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, who identified CBD’s stereochemistry in his laboratory at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem back in 1963. Mechoulam also was the first to identify the structure of THC (1964), and is more or less considered the godfather of modern cannabis.
Late-1960’s | Mechoulam and his lab begin testing their isolated cannabinoids on primates
Some of the first laboratory subjects that Mechoulam tested his newly-found cannabis compounds on were primates – and it didn’t take long to realize that THC, not CBD, was the one that was responsible for causing the sedated, intoxicating cerebral effects of the herb.
Mid-1970’s | A cannabis tincture is released for medicinal use by the British Pharmacopoeia
As soon as Dr. Mechoulam identified the specific structures of the active cannabinoids in marijuana, interest in – and use of – the plant as a potential medicine began to skyrocket. In the early to mid-1970’s, in fact, the British Pharmacopoeia (which is a publication of quality standards for medicinal substances in the UK) released a licensed cannabis tincture that (likely) contained CBD in a full-spectrum oil for therapeutic use.
1978 | New Mexico becomes the first U.S. state to legally acknowledge cannabis as a medicine
While the state law (which was referred to as the Controlled Substances Therapeutic Research Act) did not specifically mention CBD as an isolated therapy, the legislation was a landmark approval in the United States because it represented the first instance of cannabis compounds being legally recognized for the medicinal potential.
February 1980 | Mechoulam teams up with South American researchers to publish a study on cannabis and epilepsy
In what is believed to be one of the first double-blind trials of CBD on clinical subjects, Dr. Mechoulam and a team of research scientists from Brazil’s Sao Paulo Medicine Faculty of Santa Casa conducted a study on 16 individuals (many of them children) that suffered from severe epilepsy. Results of the trials showed that every one of the subjects who received CBD experienced an improved condition, with little to no side effects. This would prove to be one of the most significant breakthroughs in the history of clinical marijuana research.
1980’s | Mechoulam’s publication on CBD for epilepsy goes largely unnoticed in the medical and pharmaceutical industries
While Dr. Mechoulam and his colleague’s research should have sparked worldwide advocacy and support for the medicinal use of CBD, it in fact went virtually unnoticed. This was likely due to the stigma surrounding cannabis that had been growing immensely since the “psychedelic,” marijuana-based counter-culture movements of the 1960’s and 70’s. When speaking about the lack of interest in his team’s breakthrough discovery, Mechoulam is quoted as saying, “Who cared about our findings? No one! …And that’s despite many of the epilepsy patients being kids who have 20, 30, 40 seizures a day. And what did they do? Nothing!”
1996 | California becomes the first U.S. state to legalize medical marijuana
Again, while the first medical legalization of marijuana did not provide any specific hallmarks for CBD specifically, California’s decision to legalize weed in 1996 was revolutionary in that it paved the way for the barrage of public support and research that was to come. Fairfax’s Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana became the first medical marijuana dispensary to open on U.S. soil, and it quickly paved the way for other states to follow, including Oregon, Alaska, and Washington in 1998, Maine in 1999, and Hawaii, Nevada, and Colorado in 2000.
October 7, 2003 | The United States government patents CBD as a neuroprotectant under U.S. Patent #6,630,507
In what was likely one of the most confounding gestures in the history of federal legislation on cannabis, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was issued a patent on CBD – along with other active cannabinoids – for its use as a neuroprotectant therapy. While excellent news in terms of the government’s acknowledgment of CBD as an effective medicine, it was hypocritical in that it did not remove cannabis – or CBD – from its list of Scheduled narcotics.
2013 | The story of Charlotte Figi surfaces
Charlotte Figi was born with an extremely severe and rare form of chronic epilepsy called myoclonic epilepsy of infancy, or Dravet’s Syndrome. The disorder is unique among child epileptic conditions in that it is intractable – meaning it doesn’t respond to medication. From the age of 3 months up until five years old, young Charlotte would routinely suffer from over 300 grand mal seizures a week, with no medication able to prevent the episodes, or reduce their intensity. However, when a national news story on CNN surfaced back in 2013, it was revealed that Charlotte’s seizures were all but eliminated when she started using a high-CBD strain of medical cannabis as a last resort. The story gained widespread national attention, and almost certainly galvanized legislation in support of CBD as a recognized medical therapy.
2014 | The Agriculture Act of 2014 (aka: 2014 Farm Bill) passed the Senate with an overwhelming bipartisan majority of 68-32 on February 4th, 2014. The Farm Bill was signed into law on February 7th, 2014.
Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill created a framework for the legal cultivation by states of “industrial hemp” without a permit from the Drug Enforcement Administration (the “Hemp Pilot Programs”). Broadly speaking, the 2014 Farm Bill only protected cultivators registered under a state’s hemp research pilot program, who cultivated cannabis containing no more than 0.3% of THC, and who met the requirements imposed by their state department of agriculture.
2014 | Several states pass legislation for the legalization of CBD
The 2014 legalization of medical CBD in Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin represented a landmark moment in the history of the cannabinoid, as it marked the first instance that CBD was legally recognized in a state where medical marijuana was not legal.
2017 | Steps initiated for potential FDA approval of CBD as a medicine
At the time of this writing (January 2018), no form of cannabis (including CBD) has yet to be recognized or approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, important steps were taken in 2016 for CBD to potentially become the first cannabis substance to obtain federal acknowledgment. Approval by the FDA would be nothing short of revelatory, as it would allow physicians across the country to prescribe the drug. (And of course, it would also open up a wealth of federally-backed CBD research to be initiated).
2018 | Farm Bill passed to legalize hemp and hemp-derived products nationally
On May 18, 2018, the $867 billion farm bill failed in the House of Representatives with a vote of 198 yea to 213 nay. All Democrats and 30 Republicans voted against the measure. Republican opposition came largely from the Freedom Caucus who disagreed with its provisions that would liberalize immigration policy. On September 30, some provisions of the 2014 farm bill expired without a replacement. Other provisions are funded through end of calendar year 2018. In late November, a compromise had been reached, removing SNAP work requirements, and the legislation was voted on and passed by the end of the year.
Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (aka: 2018 Farm Bill)
On December 12, 2018, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which was signed into law by President Trump the following week. Importantly, the bill includes key text regarding hemp that was championed by Senate Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) with strong bi-partisan backing: Amo