O’Shaughnessy concludes that these clinical studies have “led me to the belief that in Hemp the profession has gained an anti-convulsive remedy of the greatest value.”
How many of today’s medical marijuana patients know that Dr. William Brooke O’Shaughnessy was responsible for the introduction of cannabis to modern Western medicine – in 1838?
Some may…all should.
While the cannabis/hemp plant was occasionally referenced by turn-of-the-century botanists and other world travelers – describing their newest discoveries. Next to nothing was understood about the potential benefits of cannabis therapy in England or Europe until Dr. O’Shaughnessy gave a lecture at the Medical and Physical Society of Calcutta, to a group of students and scholars in 1839. The 40-page dissertation displayed his new and systematical approach to modern pharmaceutical research.
Thorough in every way, Dr. O’Shaughnessy’s report included an analysis of the known history of medicinal cannabis uses by physicians in India and the Middle East.
The original Dr. “Feel Good” performed the first scientific trials of medicinal cannabis; first with safety experiments on lab mice, dogs, rabbits and cats. Later by administering cannabis extracts and tinctures to some of the world’s first medical marijuana patients. Dr. O’Shaughnessy demonstrated through his well-documented case studies, many patients suffering from rheumatism, hydrophobia, cholera, and tetanus, responded well to cannabis therapy. Making dramatic recoveries and quantum leaps in quality of life, returning “the enjoyment of robust health” within only a few short days.
O’Shaughnessy attached a paper by his cousin Richard on a case of tetanus cured by a cannabis preparation. He also warned that a peculiar form of delirium may be “occasioned by continual Hemp inebriation,” and cautioned doctors to start with low doses. O’Shaughnessy concludes that these clinical studies have “led me to the belief that in Hemp [cannabis] the profession has gained an anti-convulsive remedy of the greatest value.” (O’Shaughnessy 1839a).
Drained from his tireless research…his never-ending obligations as an educator and chemical examiner – Dr. “O” took “sick leave” and headed back to England in 1841. Bringing back sacks of cannabis seeds and a fair amount of hemp, Dr. O’Shaughnessy presented the Pharmaceutical Society with specimens of Cannabis indica and the Nux vomica back to the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. While his chemists compatriots competed with each other to make potent cannabis-based tinctures and extracts with O’Shaughnessy’s recipes…many struggled to identify and isolate the active cannabinoids hidden within marijuana.
After fellow Englishman, Sir J. Russell Reynolds M.D., the personal physician to Queen Victoria recommended O’Shaughnessy cannabis extracts to the Queen for relieving her menstrual cramps, the good doctor was rewarded with a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1843.
O’Shaughnessy’s cannabis dissertation caught fire when first distributed in England. His insights into the potential medicinal application of cannabis provided a new wonder drug for the world, capable of treating some of the ugliest ailments of the 19th century.
As 19th century pharmacology was rather bleak – doctors across Europe and the fast-growing United States tried the new wonder drug on a variety of ailments.