Humans have cultivated and used the flowering tops of the female cannabis plant, known colloquially as marijuana, since history was recorded. Archaeologists in Central Asia even found over 2 pounds of cannabis in a 2,700 year-old grave of a shaman.
Written and pictorial evidence of cannabis use is scattered throughout numerous cultures indicating a wide acceptance and use of the plant for thousands of years.
Drug Classification Halts Use
Federal prohibitions outlawing the therapeutic and recreational use of cannabis were first imposed by Congress with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937. Later, the plant’s organic compounds (cannabinoids) were classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
This classification puts the plant in the same pool as heroin and states that cannabis possesses “a high potential for abuse … no currently accepted medical use … [and] a lack of accepted safety for the use of the drug … under medical supervision.”
In contrast, cocaine and methamphetamine – illegal for recreational use, may be consumed under a doctors supervision and are classified as Schedule II drugs. Examples of Schedule III and IV drugs include anabolic steroids and Valium. Analgesics that contain codeine are defined by law as Schedule V drugs, the most lenient classification.
In Support of Therapeutic Use
Federal lawmakers continue to use the dated drug classification as a means to defend criminalization of marijuana. However, there appears to be very little scientific basis for the categorization of the plant. As its prohibition has passed 75 years, researchers continue to study the therapeutic properties of cannabis.
There are over 20,000 published reviews and studies in scientific literature that pertain to the cannabis plant and its cannabinoids, almost one-third of these have been published in the last 4 years. A keyword search on PubMed Central (the US government library of peer-reviewed scientific research) shows 2,100 studies alone since 2011.