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Cannabis the multipurpose plant

“Cannabis is one of the world’s most useful plant groups. It has been a part of human culture for thousands of years beginning in Eurasia, and today it is associated with people in almost all parts of the world. Although Cannabis is most often thought of as a “drug plant,” its use for a huge number of other purposes including fibre, food, paper, medicine, and so on is almost unparalleled, ranking it with the coconut palm and bamboos. Cannabis is truly a remarkable genus of multipurpose plants with extensive and complicated histories.”

Excerpt from Cannabis Evolution & Ethnobotany - Robert C. Clarke and Mark D. Merlin

University of California Press


A rich history

Cannabis is one of our oldest cultivated plants providing food, seed oil, textile fibre and medicine. Its use as a medicine dates back to antiquity in China, India and the middle east. It was brought to mainstream western medicine in 1841 by the Irish Physician Sir William O’Shaughnessy following his extensive work in British India. He was was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1843.

Physicians throughout Europe and America tried cannabis for a wide variety of illnesses.

Sir J. Russell Reynolds, M.D., personal physician to Queen Victoria, recommended it to his patients for menstrual cramps. Today’s major pharmaceutical companies were the original sellers of medicinal cannabis including Eli Lilly, Parke-Davis (now owned by Pfizer) and Squibb of today’s Bristol-Myers Squibb.

cannabis medicine bottles

Cannabis medicines have been produced for decades around the world. 

Photo by Robert C Clarke from the collection of David Watson

Your body's own "cannabis" system

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a key regulatory system in the physiology of humans and indeed all animals, but until relatively recently, little was known of it in the scientific literature. Interestingly, it was because of cannabis that researchers were able to identify the system at all.

The ECS is an incredibly important neuro-modulatory system that assists the body in maintaining order and balance, or what is biologically known as homeostasis. As such, any disease can be understood as a decreasing ability for the body to return to homeostasis, or being further away from “balance” and therefore operating within parameters that optimize health.

Cannabinoids interact with the ECS, helping regulate homeostasis. To date, over 700 different phytochemicals been identified from various Cannabis varieties, and many are worthy of consideration for specific medical conditions.

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The most therapeutically interesting constituents are those found in the secretions of resin glands distributed across the surface of the Cannabis plant, which are particularly concentrated in the area of the female flowers. Photo by Marc Richardson