Medicinal Marijuana in Latin America: A Bit of History

By 03 September, 2020

Many people seem to think that medicinal marijuana is a relatively recent thing. We hear about it being newly legalized in a different place every few months and so it gives the impression that it hasn’t been around for that long. 

And while the use of marijuana in a medical capacity is certainly more widespread and we certainly have more information about it these days, marijuana has actually been used in a medical capacity for thousands of years. 

Though sources on the earliest recorded usage of it vary, it was likely being applied in a medical capacity 5,000 years ago and when you consider the progression of it as the years went by, this is not that hard to believe.

And it’s entirely understandable that people would have discovered the benefits of the plant in those early days. Though modern medicine is significantly advanced and is constantly getting better at a dramatic rate, it all has its origins in early discoveries.

When you think about what the actual medical uses of marijuana are, you can see how there’s no reason why it couldn’t also be applied to similar conditions way back in time too. Consider it’s presence in ancient China for example.

The evidence suggests that it was used against afflictions such as malaria, gout and menstruation but also was common in recipes to help alleviate general pain. Early Chinese painkillers would usually have relied heavily on cannabis.

And the earliest form of anesthesia that was used in China was a mixture of cannabis resin and wine. These applications in China were probably similar in nature to how the rest of the world would have used cannabis too.

So let’s consider Latin America. The situation in Latin American is somewhat complicated right now and arguably a bit more complicated than it should be. It’s only within the last decade that certain countries have passed legislation allowing for medicinal use of cannabis.

Uruguay became the first country in South America to pass a law which allowed for a legal market for medicinal marijuana and a few years later Argentina would follow suit with a law passed legalizing the research and usage of marijuana from a medical and scientific approach.

Ecuador has also reformed it’s criminal code to allow for some therapeutic use of marijuana and Mexico appears to be on track to follow suit in the not too distant future. Overall, the landscape is optimistic right now but it hasn’t gotten there without a journey of hardships.

The earliest records of cannabis in Latin America appear to date back to around the 16th Century, and came to those countries by way of the Columbian exchange with West Africa and the Old World.

It also travelled with slaves sold from Angola to Brazil and when it came to the attention of the native tribes of the Amazon, they began growing it in the rainforest and it was more readily available even to the less wealthy.

This increased the popularity of the plant in Latin America because opium was already well-used but the majority of people weren’t able to afford it and marijuana proved to be a safer and cheaper alternative.

Over the next few hundred years it became more popular and more widespread until the early 19th Century when things started to change. And like with many other countries, restrictions were put in place.

And these restrictions had nothing to do with the fact that there was any counter-evidence to the medicinal or recreational properties of cannabis, and entirely to do with pressure from the church.

This originally started in Brazil in 1830 but over time it spread to the rest of Latin America. The reasons why things are now going back in the other direction are not entirely clear but there might be a few factors.

First and foremost, religious pressure is becoming less and less prevalent across the world. Of crosue there are still places like Iran and Saudi Arabia where Islamic law is heavily enforced, but the Catholic church retains very little political control.

In addition to that, the advancement of pharmaceutical technology and research has allowed for us to have a better understanding of the effects of cannabis and how they can be controlled and manipulated.

In the case of most medicinal marijuana, the effect is not intentionally psychoactive. In recreational use that is of course the intention, it’s essentially a sedative which can relax you, make you giddy or make you hallucinate in some cases.

This is a consequence of THC, medically marijuana is developed to have a higher concentration of CBD, which has all of the medicinal benefits without any of the psychoactive effects. It’s useful for Alzheimer’s patients, it can reduce seizures in epilepsy patients and it’s effective in restoring the appetite and fighting off the nausea of cancer patients.

In effect, it is a different drug and the more research we’ve been able to do has exposed that fact, allowing for the health organizations of most countries to look at cannabis in a different light.

And the more research we do, the clearer the effectiveness of cannabis becomes. It stands to reason that before too long, we could very well see it’s availability increasing in a medical capacity to when it can be used to treat far more ailments than it is now.

In some places it already is. Take a look at your own medicare supplement plan and see if you might actually be entitled to it yourself. It’s mostly reserved for the likes of cancer and epilepsy but things are changing on the fly and you never know.

Overall, cannabis has had a long journey to any form of legality in Latin America and it still has a long way to go. But I think that it’s safe to say we’re on the right track. 

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