The CBD Movement Podcast Episode 2 | History of Cannabis


History of Cannabis

Today's guest is Dr. Bradley Borougerdi author of Commidifying Cannabis and college history professor in Arlington Texas. Dr. Borougerdi takes us through the history of cannabis going back 100 years and how it was leveraged for many different purposes from medicinal to political as well as a commodity.

In his book, Bradley J. Borougerdi offers a sweeping history that examines the greatly varying meanings cannabis has had in the Atlantic World. The plant has been a vital naval store, an economic staple, an exotic intoxicant, and a narcotic scourge. Borougerdi traces the social and economic processes that produced these meanings through his study of a wide range of historic documents. Cannabis has for centuries shaped societies around the Atlantic; this book argues that very old ideas still shape present attitudes about the plant.

Speaker 1: Welcome to The CBD Movement Podcast, where CBD experts Emily and Majid interview scientists, cultivators, government officials, and CBD pioneers to separate fact from fiction. They'll tackle the tough questions around the health benefits of CBD, how it's different from marijuana and regulations governing the fast-growing multimillion dollar industry. From its seemingly overnight boom to future trends, The CBD Movement Podcast is your place to know what's happening first.

Majid: Dr. Bradley Borougerdi, author of Commodifying Cannabis and college history professor in Arlington, Texas, is here today to educate us on the history of CBD from over a hundred years ago and how it was leveraged for many different purposes from medicinal to political, as well as a commodity. We hope you'll enjoy this fascinating conversation.

Emily: Hello and welcome Dr. Borougerdi, to The CBD Movement Podcast. We are so excited to have you today, and we thank you so much for taking the time to speak to Majid and I. We would love to give our listeners a little intro into who you are and what you're up to. So, thanks for being with us.

Dr. Bradley Bor...: Sure, thanks for having me.

Emily: So could you tell us a little bit about how you got involved in the CBD space? What you're up to in this industry and in your day-to-day life?

Dr. Bradley Bor...: Sure, yeah. So I'm a historian, so I mainly focus on the past. I have a PhD in transatlantic history, which deals with the cross-cultural interactions and ramifications of those interactions between people in the Atlantic world. That's how I actually came across the study of cannabis more broadly. I would consider myself a cannabis historian, as a field of study as a historian. So I published a book, Commodifying Cannabis, I've written some articles about it. I teach courses on it. So I'm fairly familiar with it from a historical perspective, but that also requires me to look a little bit into obviously modern day uses as well, at the campus that I worked for, I'm a history professor at Tarrant County College, where I also help grow food through aquaponics. So I'm trying to combine a lot of these interests with modern day agriculture and just the understanding of the cannabis plant in general.

Majid: Got it. Well, thank you so much for your time as a historian of cannabis and hemp, I'd love to get your quick perspective on how did society get here with CBD now being legal? I mean, it became illegal, how long ago was it?

Dr. Bradley Bor...: Well, it's a complex question. Before people actually identified CBD, the main understanding of the plant chemical was cannabinol, which was not quite legal. It was in a gray area until 1937, when the Marijuana Tax Act basically made the entire plant illegal and the debate started to emerge at that point, people began using what we call today CBD more frequently in the 1980s a little bit, by the 1990s it started to become a little bit more popular, but it's still in this gray area, or it was in that gray area.

Majid: Got it. What were the primary uses over a century ago?

Dr. Bradley Bor...: So over a century ago, nobody would have known what you're talking about if you said CBD, but they would have basically referred to what they would call hemp or Indian hemp. Indian hemp was a term that people would oftentimes use to describe the type of cannabis that people used medicinally. People in Europe and the Western world who brought cannabis over across the Atlantic during the age of exploration, they brought cannabis that was used primarily for industrial purposes, like rope, oil, fabric, various industrial uses. Nobody really used it for intoxicating purposes until the British started encountering this, what they would call Indian hemp in India. They started experimenting with it in about the 1840s, that transferred across the Atlantic in the 1840s to become part of the American medicine and it was illegally prescribed medicine at a time when nobody knew very much about it, where there was not really much regulations on medicine anyway. Then it was about the 1930s that the whole entire plant became illegal. So it's a really long story that has a lot of these ups and downs of people talking about it.

Emily: So when do you think that the shift happened, when people started to take health into their own hands and use it as an alternative to medicine that they may have been prescribed, people at their wit's end, we see this kind of thing all the time today, but I'm curious to know when this really started to ramp up?

Dr. Bradley Bor...: You know, I found a couple of documents in the National Archives at College Park that suggests ... and I think they're online now a lot of these. There was research for example, done in 1929, is when people started really focusing on epilepsy, trying to try to develop cures for epilepsy. There's a couple of articles from the 1940s that show people at the University of Utah who were doing studies with what they called cannabinol. But at that time, that was just the name of what people thought was the isolated principle from the cannabis plant and they were using that to help people with epilepsy. There were articles from the 1940s, late 1940s and 1950s, that show there was scientific research done using these properties of cannabis to help epilepsy. But what I like to say is the negative associations with cannabis outweighed or overshadowed these medicinal uses to create a wave of the war on drugs and a wave of criminalization in the '60s and '70s, that put that epilepsy research on the back burner.

Then with the decriminalization movement of cannabis that started popping up in some of the times in the 1970s, as well as the medical marijuana revolution, so to speak in the 1990s, starting in California, people were now allowed to start doing more research with CBD and they started maybe showing how it has various different benefits, not just with epilepsy, but perhaps with other things as well.

Emily: That's so, so interesting. So epilepsy was really the first condition considered to be treated by this. I wonder, do you have any idea what came next after that? Not to get too medical, but were there other things that people started to wonder, "Oh, could it help with this as well?"

Dr. Bradley Bor...: There's been all kinds of suggestions about cannabis even before again, we identified CBD. I mean, technically CBD as a cannabinoid was identified, I think in 1940, but it wasn't really until 1963 or '64, I think it was, that people really started to understand it a little bit more. But again, it was during this whole phase of a war on drugs, THC was finally isolated in 1969 as well. So, both of these were in the same ballpark and it suppressed a lot of the research. Now people say a lot of things about CBD that people used to say about marijuana, I think. So you got to be a little bit careful, sometimes people want to exaggerate things. You hear people say that it helps cure coronavirus, sometimes. People have been saying things about marijuana, about cannabis more broadly like this for a very long time, it's either a wonder drug or a horrific banned intoxicant.

As a historian. I focused on how and why those transformations have taken place. Meaning, I make the argument that CBD is oftentimes not recognized as a valuable medicine because of its association with marijuana and marijuana became something that people thought of as not a very viable medicine because of its association with the Orient and these negative perceptions of what Asian intoxicants do to the Western mind, so to speak.

Emily: Wow.

Majid: Can you share just a little bit about how cannabis was utilized as a way to depict a certain perception of people of color over a century ago?

Dr. Bradley Bor...: Certainly, I mean the very first officially, so to speak, scientific study on what the doctor called Indian hemp or gunjah, is what he also referred to it as, he was a British doctor. His name is William Brooke O'Shaughnessy, He was working for the East India Company in India at the Medical College of Calcutta, which was a college that the British created there to try to civilize people in the subcontinent in their mind. These are brown, exotic people and if you read his first study in 1839, he talks about it being a great medicinal wonder drug, but he also describes the sinister ways in which the coolies, he would refer to them as, or the degenerates, and the way they would participate in what he called the debauchery of hemp smoking. So he was looking at what Eastern uses of cannabis, projecting them in negative ways and he developed, it was sort of like this mindset, "Well, here I am, as a Westerner, I'm coming in, I'm taking these sinister Asiatic intoxicants I'm tinkering with it a little bit and turning it into a civilized medicine."

This was an age when Europeans were doing this. They isolated morphine in 1806. Opium is but morphine is good. It's like you isolate what they think of as this property, probably to make money in an age of increased demand in medicine. But the V but the point is, is that that very first study, as it comes across the Atlantic and people all over the United States are publishing discussions about that study in their medical journals, they also described these exotic descriptions. Over time, literary figures took it like Bayard [Rudson] or Fitz Hugh Ludlow and they wrote books about exotic descriptions of themselves on cannabis and that helped infuse this negative meaning. So, the moment cannabis came into the American pharmacopeia as a medicine, it was also considered a sinister intoxicant.

Majid: Got it, super interesting.

Dr. Bradley Bor...: That duality, I would say, has continued and it was a, it was a struggle, and they talked about it. O'Shaughnessy talked about various different cures that he could have. We don't know if he was saying that, because it was legitimate or if he was just trying to sell a drug, he did have some pretty interesting scientific data that he had collected on his studies with the plant saying that it cured what he called rheumatism or pregnancy pains and things of this nature. But as it traveled across the Atlantic, the manner in which they were creating that medicine from the cannabis plant made it very volatile. Sometimes it didn't work. Sometimes it was too potent. Sometimes it wasn't potent enough, and it just led a bad reputation for the plant at the same time in which this sinister reputation is still there to infuse it by the 20th century, with all types of a negatively charged associations, particularly when African American jazz musicians and Mexican migrant workers become associated with its consumption as well in the 1920s and '30s.

Majid: Fascinating.

Emily: Yeah and it's something that we still struggle with to this day is de-stigmatizing this plant. One of the biggest questions that we constantly get asked is will CBD get me high? There's just still so much education that needs to go on around differentiating THC and CBD. So I think that we'd be curious to hear what are the most significant trends in academia that you see with CBD today, and maybe even some of your predictions?

Dr. Bradley Bor...: Sure. I think I can speak more towards the academic literature for historians, but I've read a few medical, obviously for research purposes. I would say I think more broadly over the past 50 years, academic trends and research have become more stronger because NIDA's monopoly, the National Institute of Drug Abuse's monopoly over research on cannabis has slowly been losing its grip since the 1996 medical marijuana laws starting in California, then obviously spreading. More people that have conducted more research to show things other than the negative effects of cannabis, which is what has been the primary form of research that NIDA has funded. You don't get research funding unless you're trying to prove that the plant's bad. So just that simple fact, that more research is being done from different perspectives is beneficial, I think, and it's opening up the door to show some of these benefits.

For historians, I think just like other areas of society, our problems with the stigma and the association with the plant, I think is still very prevalent. Even the whole phrase, getting high, is a very culturally constructed phrase that we have to be weary of because it evokes a lot of meaning when we think of these words and when we think of marijuana or reefer. If by getting high, we simply mean altering your state of consciousness, there's a lot of things that do that, but by getting high, people obviously mean, well, doing to you what marijuana does to you. But even that is something that's very complex because depending on the society and culture that you grow up in will have an on how marijuana affects you.

We call this, in academic studies, they would call it the cult of pharmacology or the psychoactive riddle. It's not just the pharmacological substance that affects you when you take it at your cultural state, when you take something and it's your mindset and the culture that you live in that tells you what happens to you when you take these things that work on your mind to influence what we call a high.

So if you think of CBD or you think of THC in negative ways, then there could be placebo effects acting on you to make you feel like things are bad, but there's been a lot of research that shows a significant pharmacological difference between CBD and THC, a significant pharmacological difference.

Majid: How about from a student ... so I know you're you teach frequently now. So from your students, are you seeing any interest or, if so, what type of interest are you seeing from them?

Dr. Bradley Bor...: Yeah I am. There's still a lot of confusion, I think behind it. When we talk about CBD in my world civilization class and cannabis is one of our units. We have a unit for each plant or commodity. When we talk about CBD, most people's mind immediately goes to marijuana. We have to talk quite a bit about the differences between these cannabinoids and how they affect you and why, and all these other types of things. When we talk about it, I see a lot of interest and I wonder if that interest is connected to their association with it, with marijuana. But I can tell you here, where I live there are all these different CBD shoe stores popping up. There's a lot of interest. I've heard quite a bit of students who are familiar with it, describe how it helps cure anxiety. Particularly amongst my veteran students, I see a lot of use and a lot of advocacy of its use for them in terms of alleviating stress or anxiety connected to PTSD, for sure. I've heard several anecdotal, I guess, because I haven't done research on it, but I get a lot more of these claims as we discuss this stuff in class.

Majid: Interesting. You're in Texas, which I think has a very different general perception or view of CBD and marijuana relative to Colorado. I'm just curious, you just mentioned how yet there's a bunch of CBD shops out in Texas. Culturally speaking, are folks out there pretty receptive to this shift or are you seeing a different perspective there?

Dr. Bradley Bor...: Yeah, within the walls of academia, I see more acceptance, but in law enforcement institutions of the state and perhaps outside of the walls of academia, I think there's still a disconnect there, mean we still have, just a couple of months ago, I think it was where in Duncanville, which is a city just outside where I live in DFW area, the police rated CBD shops. There's still all these discussions about how technically it's not ... I mean, hemp has now become defined as cannabis that has less than 0.3% THC when it's tested at it's later stages of life. But even then, it's still not legal to grow hemp in Texas because they haven't began to roll out the licenses, which they were supposed to do this month but it seems the coronavirus stuff may have changed that, but technically it's still not legal to grow even hemp in Texas.

CBD is still in a gray area. I mean, the 2018 Farm Bill, which legally identified hemp basically makes it legal to sell hemp-derived CBD, is what they say. It's an interesting language that they use because, there can be cannabis plants that test high for THC, as well as CBD and the law basically makes it illegal still to take CBD from those plants that also test for THC, even though there's no way to tell because that CBD, when it's isolated is completely separate from the THC. I think the point is, is that they're still very confused about what's going on. A lot of people still are, and that confusion has been around for well over a century in this country.

Emily: So to jump to a more personal level then, I think that we're curious and other people would be curious, with all of this knowledge that you've gathered around cannabis and CBD, do you personally use CBD and how do you use it and what have been your personal findings with CBD usage?

Dr. Bradley Bor...: Yeah, I have. I've experimented with a lot of different products. It's interesting because what about hemp cereal, granola cereal that has hemp seed in it and things like that? That wouldn't obviously count as CBD, but it would count as something that's hemp derived and one of the things as a hip historian that I've tried to do is get involved as much as I can with commodities that stem from the hemp plant, because it's very multipurpose plants. It can produce quite a bit of different things. So I've smoked CBD flower, I vaporized CBD, I've used it as lotion. I had some gummies and things of that nature. It's hard for me to tell the effects and describe them. I would say smoking the flower is probably what I can feel the effects the most usually, because inhalation of the cannabinoids and hits the body, endocannabinoid system, a bit quicker.

But I can feel, I don't know a sense of calm, maybe, clearness maybe, I want to say anxiety relief maybe. It's hard to explain. I definitely feel something. I haven't used it on a regular day-to-day basis to be able to determine whether or not it's helped me. It certainly hasn't negatively affected me by any means that I can see. But I certainly think it's out there, it's becoming more popular. I think it's something that people should try to use. There's been a lot of good research, particularly that Charlotte Web's cannabis stuff that was so popular. You can't just chalk all this stuff up to a bunch of people lying to try to get marijuana legalized. I think that's where the problem is. A lot of these politicians feel that that is the case and it's not.

Emily: Well, I mean, you heard it here first everybody, Dr. Borougerdi has been researching this in-depth. This plant has been around for a very, very long time. So we welcome your insight and your perspective so greatly, and this has been so interesting, so thank you for joining our show.

Majid: Thank you.

Dr. Bradley Bor...: Thank you, appreciate it.

Emily: Yeah, we appreciate Your time so much and enjoy the rest of your day.

Dr. Bradley Bor...: Yeah, you too. Take care.

Emily: Thank you.

Majid: Thank you.


This transcript was exported on Aug 11, 2020 - view latest version here