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HISTORY

Cannabis, called má 麻 (meaning "hemp; cannabis; numbness") or dàmá 大麻 (with "big; great") in Chinese, was used in Taiwan for fiber starting about 10,000 years ago. The botanist Li Hui-Lin wrote that in China, "The use of Cannabis in medicine was probably a very early development. Since ancient humans used hemp seed as food, it was quite natural for them to also discover the medicinal properties of the plant."Emperor Shen-Nung, who was also a pharmacologist, wrote a book on treatment methods in 2737 BCE that included the medical benefits of cannabis. He recommended the substance for many ailments, including constipation, gout, rheumatism, and absent-mindedness. Cannabis is one of the 50 "fundamental" herbs intraditional Chinese medicine.

Throughout the past several decades the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes has received increasingly more attention.  The active ingredient in marijuana belongs to a class of compounds called cannabinoids, which have been used to treat numerous conditions ranging from insomnia and PMS tochemotherapy-induced nausea and appetite loss associated with AIDS therapy.  More recently, cannabinoids have been shown to be effective against motor disturbances in patients with multiple sclerosis.  This latter finding points to a potential use of medicinal marijuana to treat movement problems in Huntington’s Disease.

 

While the biochemical and physiological effects of marijuana have been examined in ever more precise ways through scientific research, discussions over the appropriate role of the drug in society have long been mired in social and political controversy. Medical marijuana is currently legal or soon-to-be legal in eighteen states, although these policies conflict with the federal government’s drug laws. The current federal stance on marijuana also places strict limitations on its use in biomedical research. This article will give an overview of marijuana’s use and regulation in United States history, and then address some of the contradictions and controversies over medical marijuana policy today.