Utah Law Review, Vol 2009, No 1

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Peter J. Cohen


Cannabis, more commonly referred to as marijuana, has a long history of medical use in this country and worldwide. Accounts dating back as far as 2700 B.C. describe the Chinese using marijuana for maladies ranging from rheumatism to constipation. There are similar reports of Indians, Africans, ancient Greeks and medieval Europeans using the substance to treat fevers, dysentery and malaria. In the United States, physicians documented the therapeutic properties of the drug as early as 1840, and the drug was included in the United States Pharmacopoeia, the official list of recognized medical drugs, from 1850 through 1942. During this period, lack of appetite was one of the indications for marijuana prescription.

The earliest available references to the cultivation of poppies and preparation of opium date back to about 5000 BC as seen in clay tablets left by the Sumerians . . . [and was] used in Egypt as far back as 2000 BC as a children’s sedative and teething remedy. . . . Galen [who] was the leading most physician in Rome from about AD 169–192 . . . so enthusiastically lauded the virtues of opium that its popularity grew to new heights by the end of the second century. . . . Opium was also used extensively by Arab physicians, the most celebrated of whom was Avicenna (AD 980–1037). Avicenna recommended opium especially for diarrhoea and eye problems . . . . A form of opium known as “laudanum” (from the Latin word Laudare, meaning “to praise”) became very popular in the seventeenth century for treating dysentery. The British physician, Thomas Sydenham (1624–89), sometimes known as “the English Hippocrates,” virtually put an official stamp of approval by advocating its use in dysentery and other such conditions.

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