There’s no denying CBD has gone mainstream. Where virtually no one had heard of CBD less than a decade ago, the non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis is now the most popular wellness trend that’s possibly ever been seen. Celebs swear by CBD, it’s promoted by pro athletes and everyone from children to their grandparents are finding some kind of relief from the popular cannabinoid.
It’s easy to assume the use of CBD is something new. Until a few years ago, most of us didn’t even know what it was. Cannabis use, be it recreational or medicinal, was typically associated with THC-laden strains that produced a psychoactive effect. If you were using cannabis, you were undoubtedly getting high.
Early History of CBD
Here’s the thing, though. CBD actually has a rich history that stems back thousands of years. Records indicate that cannabis was a primary crop of the ancient Chinese that dates back some 4,000–5,000 years ago and that “ancient Chinese techniques of hemp sowing, cultivation, and processing developed rapidly and became fairly advanced.”
The study of the medicinal benefits of cannabis by physicians and scientists began in the 1500s, but CBD itself wouldn’t be discovered until 1940 when the cannabinoid was isolated by Roger Adams, an American organic chemist. The only problem? He couldn’t identify what it was.
It was in 1946 that some of the first pharmacological observations were made with different cannabinoids, namely CBD and THC. In one study, it was discovered by research scientist Dr. Walter S. Lowe that THC, but not CBD, induced an altered state of consciousness in lab mice.
In 1963, a paper was published by Raphael Mechoulam and Y. Shvo that “aimed to clarify some of the remaining problems connected to the chemical constituents of hashish.” The paper, according to the authors, “deals with structure and stereochemistry of cannabidiol, one of the major components of hashish.” In this study, the chemical structure of CBD was defined for the first time, almost 20 years after its initial discovery.
In the few decades that followed there was quite a bit of research that led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system and a better understanding of how cannabinoid receptors found throughout the body worked harmoniously with cannabinoids like THC and CBD. It wouldn’t, however, be until 2013 that CBD would make its mainstream debut.
This is the year that CNN ran a story about Charlotte Figi. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Charlotte Figi: The Little Girl Who Brought the Awareness of CBD to the World
When Charlotte Figi was three months old, she had her first seizure. It was 30 minutes long. Not only did these seizures continue as the little girl got older…they got worse. At the age of two, Charlotte started to show signs of cognitive decline and autism. By the age of 3, she had stopped talking, couldn’t eat and was bound to a wheelchair. She was diagnosed with Dravet’s syndrome, a rare and intractable form of epilepsy that didn’t respond to any of the medications she was prescribed.
By the time the girl was five, she was experiencing up to 300 grand mal seizures each week. With her health all but destroyed, Charlotte’s parents, Matt and Paige Figi, became desperate. At one point their daughter was put in a medically induced coma so her body could recover. It was at this point the doctors informed the Figis there was little more they could do.
Charlotte’s grandfather had other ideas, however. He’d read numerous stories about other children suffering from these seizures whose parents were successfully using medical marijuana to reduce them. With nothing else to lose, the Figis managed to get themselves a low-THC, high-CBD cannabis oil deliberately cultivated for medical use only, with THC levels so low that it wouldn’t get an individual high.
The results with the CBD oil were almost instant. Charlotte went from having 300 seizures a week to zero seizures the first week she was using the oil. Word of this spread like wildfire, and the strain once humorously dubbed the “Hippie’s Disappointment” was renamed “Charlotte’s Web” after the little girl whose story changed the history of CBD forever.
On August 11, 2013, Charlotte’s story debuted on the CNN documentary “Weed,” hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta. It wasn’t long after that people began to take notice. Cannabis could be used medically…without getting you high. In 2014, Time ran a story called “Pot Kids” that noted the Stanley brothers (who created the strain “Charlotte’s Web”) had a waiting list of “more than 12,000 families.”
And as it turned out, it wasn’t just epilepsy the “newly discovered” non-psychoactive cannabinoid was beneficial for. CBD, it seemed, had numerous therapeutic benefits that people were suddenly very, very interested in.
The Rapid Progression of the Popularity of CBD
By 2014, there were 10 state-level laws that had legalized CBD. Much of this headway was backed by the epilepsy community. CBD, it seemed, was the only thing that was helping with intractable forms of epilepsy.
In the same year, the 2014 Farm Bill was passed. This gave states the go-ahead to start hemp production for research and education. From this year forward, the CBD movement gained serious momentum.
In 2014, annual CBD sales in the U.S. were $108 million. By 2018, this number reached over $500 million. CBD sales are expected to break $1 billion by 2020, with the market projection for 2022 to be worth some $3 billion.
As if the CBD market wasn’t yet big enough, the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill is set to change the market as we currently know it in a major way. As much as CBD has become the hottest wellness supplement pretty much ever seen, there’s still a ton of misinformation and confusion surrounding the non-psychoactive cannabinoid. The 2018 Farm Bill should clear up some of this confusion while adding a new layer of legitimacy to the entire industry.
Saying that CBD has come a long way in the past five years is a bit of an understatement. It has surpassed any expectations anyone could have ever projected when it first gained mainstream attention. The story of Charlotte Figi helped shift public misconception about cannabis, but this isn’t to say there still isn’t a stigma attached to it.
Why Is There (Still) a Stigma Around Cannabis?
As legitimate as the industry has become as a whole, there’s still a bit of a stigma that surrounds the use of cannabis, even if it is a compound from hemp that won’t get you high. The stoner stereotype associated with cannabis is slowly fading, but it’s not completely gone yet.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, stigma is defined as a strong feeling of disapproval that most people in society have about something, especially when it is unfair.
The stigma surrounding cannabis is largely centered around the criminalization of the plant that took place almost 100 years ago. In the 1930s, there was an all-out war against the use of marijuana that started with Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics.
This is the man who claimed marijuana to be “the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind,” which led to the criminalization of marijuana with the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.
Fast forward a few decades when the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 was signed into law by Richard Nixon as part of the “War on Drugs.” This repealed the Marihuana Tax Act and took things a step further. Not only did it make marijuana full-blown illegal, but it also classified the plant as a Schedule I substance, essentially placing it in the same category as heroin with no medical use and high potential for abuse.
And since hemp and marijuana are from the same plant species (Cannabis sativa), the whole plant genus got a bad rap and carried with it an extremely negative stigma for years. This is a stigma backed by a century of prohibition, as well as of an era of U.S. leaders that told us to “Just Say No.”
“A lot of it,” says Diana Houenou of the ACLU, “has to do with a long-standing fight of having to undo decades of successful messaging of the War on Drugs and the stigma we have assigned to people who have been entangled in the criminal justice system.”
So successful was this messaging that it has kept cannabis from being studied in earnest for years. Dr. Mark Ware, CEO of Canopy Growth Corp. (one of Canada’s largest cannabis companies), said that throughout the past 20 years he’s devoted to studying cannabis that there are definitely some “dark” periods.
“There were times,” Ware says, “when I was told you couldn’t even use ‘cannabis’ and ‘research’ in the same sentence.”
While times definitely are changing, the residual stigma surrounding cannabis from years of negative conditioning still remains. Will we soon see things shift? Haven’t they drastically already?
After all, only ten years ago CBD was virtually unheard of. Now everyone and their mother (and likely their grandmother) has caught on to the benefits the non-psychoactive cannabinoid contains. In the next decade will the stigma fade into something of the past? We’d like to think yes.