Who Discovered CBD?

CBD discovery

For such a tiny molecule, CBD has garnered a lot of interest in recent years. CBD is now ubiquitous as a medicine and dietary supplement, and users rely on it to relieve conditions as diverse as anxiety, insomnia, and inflammation.

While it may seem difficult to imagine a world without CBD, its discovery and entry onto the world stage is relatively recent indeed. Tracing the evolution of CBD from its origins to the present day provides a fascinating snapshot of this versatile cannabinoid and its history.

How Was CBD Discovered, and Who Discovered It?

Like many cannabinoids, the genesis of CBD begins in a laboratory. In 1940, Harvard-trained chemist Roger Adams successfully extracted CBD from cannabis. dr Known as the "godfather of cannabis research," Raphael Mechoulam then took the baton from Adams and focused on the cannabinoid. In 1963, Mechoulam described the chemical structure of CBD.

This advance helped lay a foundation for understanding the cannabinoid and its possible therapeutic uses. The discovery of the chemical structure of CBD helped demystify the chemical structure of THC a year later. This finding was significant as it linked the psychoactive and euphoric effects of THC and exposed CBD as an intoxicating substance.

In an interview, Mechoulam explained some of his early motivations for getting into cannabis research. "In the early 1960s, I was surprised to find that while morphine had been isolated from opium 150 years earlier and cocaine 100 years earlier, the chemistry of cannabis was not known," he says. “The active substance or substances had never been isolated in pure form and the structures were not known. Understanding pharmacology and conducting clinical trials requires a solid chemical foundation. This search prompted Mechoulam and his collaborators to delve deeply into cannabinoid chemistry, with a particular focus on CBD.

How Was CBD Oil First Used?

In the 1940s and 1950s, pharmacological experiments with CBD oil, which was derived from cannabis, began. "Raphael Mecholulam did the first experiments with CBD oil when he tested different cannabis extracts, including THC," explains Dr. Tom Ingegno, integrative health specialist and medicinal cannabis expert. "THC proved to be the most pronounced psychoactive compound in primate experiments, but Mechoulam discovered some milder effects in CBD."

Research into the therapeutic benefits of CBD oil gained momentum in the 1980s when Mechoulam and other scientists began conducting groundbreaking research on CBD for epilepsy. "The substance (CBD) turned out to be extremely interesting," Mechoulam said in the interview. "After many preclinical experiments on rats and mice, we found that CBD has anti-epileptic properties."

In a small clinical study conducted by Brazilian researchers in 1977, four epilepsy patients received a daily dose of 200 mg of CBD, while five patients received a placebo. Two of the patients taking CBD showed remarkable improvement and remained seizure-free throughout the three-month treatment. In one patient there was partial improvement, in the other none. None of the patients who received the placebo showed improvement.

How long has CBD oil been in use?

CBD oil as we know it has been on store shelves since the early 21st century. "The mass marketing and widespread use of CBD appeared to coincide closely with the legalization movement and the emergence of reliable studies in 2005," explains Ingegno. "Most studies show that it has a positive effect on mood and sleep because it mimics the naturally occurring endocannabinoids."

Ingegno, who is well versed in Chinese medicine, also points out that the use of CBD dates back to history. “People have been cultivating cannabis sativa for well over 5.000 years,” Ingegno points out. Some of the oldest known Chinese herbal texts come from Shen Nong, the "Divine Farmer". Half of his writings were on agriculture and the other half on the medicinal uses of plants.

What is the endocannabinoid system?

Ultimately, CBD’s popularity stems from the molecule’s purported therapeutic effects on the body. The endocannabinoid system is critical to understanding how and why cannabis might work as a medicine for the human body.

"The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a group of neurotransmitters made by the body and by the receptors on cells," explains Ingegno. “The neurotransmitters are similar to exogenous cannabinoids (the ones we get from cannabis). The cell receptors are activated when we ingest cannabis or when our body produces endocannabinoids”.

The ECS is one of the most influential systems in the human body that contributes to homeostasis or balance. The ECS affects functions as diverse as stress, appetite, energy, reproduction, pain and sleep.

The discovery of the endocannabinoid system is surprisingly recent, dating back to the early 1990s. Again, the discovery of the components of the ECS was a collaborative effort in which Mechoulam was instrumental. "There was no idea [of endocannabinoids]," explains Mechoulam. "We did some work and found that the plant cannabinoids most likely work through a specific mechanism." In the mid-1980s, Allyn Howlett discovered the CB1 receptor, and in 1993 the CB2 receptor was discovered.

Gradually, an image of the endocannabinoid system emerged as a network of cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoids, and enzymes.

“Receptors don't exist because there's a plant out there; Receptors exist because we activate them through compounds made in our body,” Mechoulam points out. In 1992, after Mechoulam and his team searched for endogenous compounds that activate cannabinoid receptors, they discovered anandamide. The endocannabinoid is responsible for generating feelings of joy and happiness, which is why it is also known as the “bliss molecule”.


The development of CBD is likely to continue in the future, and a variety of research is emerging. Mechoulam is currently focusing on cannabidiol acid (CBDA), the precursor that converts to CBD over time or when exposed to heat.

"It turns out that cannabidiolic acid is more potent than cannabidiol itself in the studies we've done so far," Mechoulam explained in a 2019 speech than cannabidiol oil in its activity because it is much more active in many aspects.”

Mechoulam sees cannabidiolic acid slowly replacing CBD as the natural cannabidiol of importance. "We have one paper showing that it's more effective in treating pain and depression, and we've seen some other examples," he explains. “These findings will be published in the next few years or maybe even in the next few months.”

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