The United States currently schedules psychoactive Cannabis as a Schedule I drug, “defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” While the US Government may have buried its’ head in the sand as to the medical applications of Cannabis, we at Fire & Frost Cannabis in Vancouver, WA know the medicinal value of Cannabis and that it has been regarded since the dawn of agriculture as a beneficial crop and medicine. Folk wisdom about Cannabis began to be confirmed by modern science in 1843, with the publication of Dr. William Brooke O’Shaughnessy’s “On the preparations of the Indian hemp, or Gunjah: Cannabis indica their effects on the animal system in health, and their utility in the treatment of tetanus and other convulsive diseases.”
O’Shaughnessy is better known to history as having contributed to telegraph technology and developing the foundation of intravenous replacement therapy, during his tour in India as a doctor for the British Bengal Army, where he also worked in a teaching hospital. In that service he also tested various preparations of Cannabis (as churrus, cannabis resin) on humans and animals, that he dosed in grain sizes and administered orally, diluted in alcohol (because Cannabis is not water-soluble), or injected intravenously. He systematically tested on a wide variety of animals and ascertained that “while carnivorous animals and fish, dogs, cats, swine, vultures, crows… invariably exhibited the intoxicating influence of the drug, the graminivorous, such as the horse, deer, monkey, goat, sheep, and cow, experienced but trivial effects from any dose we administered.”
Once O’Shaughnessy concluded that hemp was safe to use, he began to test it in his practice. In this way he catalogued various uses, that we are just beginning to explore again today.
O’Shaughnessy knew, through his practice in the 1830’s and 1840’s, that Cannabis was good for healing:
In the same paper, O’Shaughnessy specifically discusses four cases of rheumatism that he treated with grain doses of Cannabis resin, but states that the efficacies of Cannabis for rheumatism were confirmed with more samples. One of the cases was unaffected by the resin and was found to be a regular Cannabis user. One case was found to be sleepy from the dose, and awoke hungry but pain-free. Two of the cases O’Shaughnessy describes as very animated, singing songs, telling stories, and complaining of being hungry, the first scientifically documented cases of “the munchies.”
O’Shaughnessy concluded that for rheumatism, Cannabis offers “alleviation of pain in most, remarkable increase of appetite, in all, unequivocal aphrodisia, and great mental cheerfulness.” He continues to say that “In no one case did these effects proceed to delirium, or was there any tendency to quarrelling.” Lastly, he confirms the lack of withdrawal symptoms by stating, “The disposition developed was uniform in all, and in none was headache or sickness of stomach a sequel of excitement.” Modern users of Cannabis know that it offers relief from a wide array of aches and chronic pains.
In O’Shaughnessy’s day, cholera and tetanus, both bacterial infections, were much more common than today, and had high mortality rates. By 1843, cholera had been through several pandemic flare-ups worldwide – John Snow (not THAT Jon Snow) wouldn’t isolate cholera as being from water sources until 1854, so O’Shaughnessy was at the time just treating the symptoms, including cramping, vomiting, and intense diarrhea, which leads to massive fluid and electrolyte loss. This loss can result in death within hours of becoming symptomatic. O’Shaughnessy documented the use of Cannabis for treating early-stage cholera patients by students, a Dr. Goodeve, and himself, with amazing results.
He notes that cholera symptoms can be eased with a single dose of Cannabis, and substantiated that with European cases in his paper. O’Shaughnessy continues to discuss tetanus (which wouldn’t have a vaccine developed until 1924), which he called, “next to hydrophobia (rabies), perhaps the most intractable and agonising of the whole catalogue of human maladies.”
Tetanus gets into the body through cuts and releases toxins that cause convulsions and contractions of skeletal muscles. In O’Shaughnessy’s time, it meant an imminent, painful death, within days of exhibiting symptoms. O’Shaughnessy’s essay reports himself and others treating various cases of tetanus with Cannabis, which seems miraculous and like Victorian-era propaganda for snake oil, until you consider the modern studies as to the antibacterial properties of THC, CBD, and various other cannabinoids against strep and staph infections (in 1976, 2008, and 2012, for instance) and we find that O’Shaughnessy stumbled upon a natural remedy to bacterial infections that induce contractions and convulsions without the problems of antibiotic overuse.
O’Shaughnessy recognized the potential of Cannabis to treat convulsive disorders generally, and when presented with a forty-day old female infant with a convulsive disorder, he convinced the parents to let him try Cannabis. In attempting various preparations and incremental dosing, O’Shaughnessy eventually came to manage her convulsions regularly with the resin suspended in an almond oil emulsion in a relatively low dose. O’Shaughnessy found his alcohol-derived tincture to be less effective – in modernity we know that cannabinoids are fat-soluble, so the suspension in oil makes CBD (the cannabinoid typically indicated as an anticonvulsant) more bioavailable. Modern medical investigation of cannabinoids as antiepileptics includes demonstrating potential remedy for symptoms related to various neurological disorders such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s, MS, and Alzheimer’s.
Even in the 1840’s, doctors were aware of the safety issues of dependence and withdrawal associated with opiods and alcohol. O’Shaughnessy describes using Cannabis to ease discomfort of patients coming off opiods. In 1889, a later doctor also working in Calcutta, Dr. Edward A. Birch, wrote “The use of Indian hemp in the treatment of chronic chloral and chronic opium poisoning,” indicating the potential of Cannabis to help transition patients off opiods without the severe pain and depression associated with withdrawal. Today, with the US experiencing an opioid crisis, we must look to Cannabis to battle addiction. Cannabinoids have also been found to increase the efficacy of opioidsz in smaller (safer) doses.
A compelling case for the use of Cannabis for palliative care comes in O’Shaughnessy’s description of a case of hydrophobia, that he treated with his tincture. While it did not cure the diseased man (rabies is a viral infection), it did offer the affected man the ability to eat and drink and sleep, and to not be overcome with terror, all symptoms associated with the disease. Remember, of all the horrors this doctor witnessed, O’Shaughnessy considered hydrophobia to be the worst.
Despite claims in the media that Cannabis has not had much scientific investigation, cannabinoids have been heavily studied as medicine internationally – more research is necessary into how to target CB1 and CB2 receptors with particular cannabinoids, per modern pharmacological practices. Meanwhile, Fire and Frost Cannabis makes available various RSOs (Rick Simpson Oil – though maybe it should be called “OIL”, O’Shaughnessy’s Indica Liniment) in Indica, Sativa, Hybrid, and CBD strains at the lowest possible prices, because we believe that RSO is medicine and should be available to everyone who needs it, affordably. When 21+ in the Vancouver, WA/Portland, OR area (18+ for medical patients), stop by Fire & Frost Cannabis for all your weed needs.
Author: Ami Axelrod, Budtender for Fire & Frost Cannabis