CBD was only discovered in itself during the 20th century when huge developments were made into cannabidiol, what it is and its effects benefits and applications. However, people were using CBD for millennia before in the form of cannabis, which contains CBD (among other phytocannabinoids). Discover more about the history of CBD.

CBD history

What is CBD?

CBD is an abbreviation of cannabidiol. Today, we know it’s one of many cannabinoids that is found in the hemp plant, which is the same plant that is used to produce cannabis. Cannabis also contains a cannabinoid called THC, which causes the effect of becoming high, while CBD does not. You can read more about CBD in our Guide To CBD.

CBD in History

Before the 20th century, people didn’t have a way to extract CBD from the hemp plant. In fact, they didn’t even know that the hemp plant could be broken down into different compounds such as CBD. People therefore consumed CBD as part of cannabis.

Cannabis historically contained more CBD than it does today. Because CBD can counteract the psychoactive effects of THC, selective breeding has reduced the amount of CBD found in the hemp plants used to make cannabis.


There are records from before 0 AD that show cannabis being used in societies around the world for medicinal and recreational purposes. There’s evidence of hemp being prescribed as a remedy in India during 1000 BC, but the very earliest known case is in in Chinese medicine from around 2737 BC. Chinese Emperor Sheng Nung used a cannabis-infused tea to help with memory, malaria, rheumatism and gout.

Medical Cannabis in The West

As international trade increased in the West, the hemp plant began to be grown in the UK. A document from 1533 published a law from King Henry VIII that required farmers to set aside a quarter acre for hemp cultivation per 60 acres of land. However, it was during the Victorian period that new leaps were made into medical cannabis research, which in turn lead to uncovering CBD centuries later.


1833 - 1860: Sir William B. O’Shaughnessy researched the medical benefits of a number of plants, including the hemp plant. He even had success treating convulsive seizures in a four month old infant -- which hints at the research done centuries later into the use of CBD to treat epilepsy.

He is considered by many to be the man who helped people understand the medical benefits of cannabis. O’Shaughnessy didn’t know the difference between CBD, THC and other compounds within cannabis, but he wrote some of the first scientific reports on the medicinal benefits of cannabis which paved the way for further research in decades and centuries to come.

O’Shaughnessy was knighted by Queen Victoria for his research and a lot of people believe that she took medical cannabis herself to ease her period pains. Read more about CBD for pain on our other blog!

William B. O’Shaughnessy researched medical cannabis

While cannabis was legal around the world for a long time, it was made illegal in the UK and in Mexico during the 1920s (and many other countries around the same period) -- largely as part of an international effort to restrict the non-medical use of opiates, cocaine, and other dangerous drugs. While cannabis was not considered the same as the opiates causing problems during this time, banning its use was part of an overall scheme to tackle addiction and drug problems.

Discovery of CBD & Cannabinoids

While CBD itself was being used in the form of cannabis for thousands of years, it wasn’t until the 1940s that people began to separate cannabidiol (CBD) from cannabis and CBD’s history officially began.

1940 - Robert S. Cahn, a British chemist, made a report which included the partial structure of cannabinol (CBN), which he later completed in 1940. People began to realise that the compounds in the hemp plant were more wide ranging and complex than previously realised.

1942 - Roger Adams successfully isolated CBD from the hemp plant. It was the first cannabinoid to ever be isolated and his research then led to the discovery of another cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol -- better known as THC.


In 1963, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam successfully identified the stereochemistry of CBD -- the three-dimensional arrangements of the atoms that make up the compound, and therefore the way it behaves in chemical reactions.

In 1964, he managed to do the same with THC. This discovery was ground-breaking as, for the first time, people realised that THC was responsible for the mind-altering effects of cannabis and CBD was not.

1978 - While cannabis had been illegal in many countries for decades, New Mexico was the first to pass a new controlled substances act which legalised the medical use of cannabis. It marks a development in the way that cannabis, THC and CBD were being researched into and thought about around the world.


Dr. Mechoulam continued his research into CBD and his team studied the potential for CBD to be used as a treatment for epilepsy. They gave a small study group 300mg of CBD every day and, after four months of treatment, half the subjects had stopped having seizures and the rest had experienced a decrease in their seizures.

In 1988, the first endocannabinoid receptor was discovered in the brain of a rat. It was the first indication of how our bodies responded to cannabinoids. This receptor interacted with THC.


In 1993, five years after discovering the first cannabinoid receptor, a second was discovered, again in a rat. This receptor interacted with CBD and was distributed throughout the organs associated within the immune system and peripheral tissues. This was extremely exciting as it suggested that CBD could have a huge impact upon biological systems.

It wasn’t until 1995 that scientists discovered these two receptors in the brains of humans. This was a breakthrough. We were closer than ever to understanding the way CBD works in the body and proving that it could have a huge positive impact upon the way our systems work.

In the late 1990s, the endocannabinoid system was discovered and named. It was clearer than ever that CBD could have a huge benefit on the body and research continues to examine the way it works and what it could achieve.

CBD in the 21st Century


Charlotte Figi was born in 2006 with a form of epilepsy called Dravet Syndrome which hospitalised her. She was experiencing 600 seizures a week before her family decided to try CBD oil. During the first week, she didn’t have a single seizure. While the CBD oil didn’t cure her epilepsy, Charlotte now experienced only 2-3 seizures a month and she can walk, talk and eat again.

Charlotte’s experience was a huge turning point in awareness of CBD and the impact it could have on a wide range of medical conditions.

Throughout the 2000s and 2010s, more and more people have been sharing their experiences with CBD oil. The popularity of social media has made it easier than ever for different voices to be heard.

In 2018, the first CBD-based drug was approved by the FDA. It’s called Epidolex and is used to treat and manage epilepsy.

Today, hemp plants are legally allowed to be grown in the UK with a license, provided that the hemp plants contain less than 0.3% THC. CBD oil is a common health supplement that continues to grow in popularity and fame and is readily available to buy online (like from The Natural Hemp Company Ltd!).

We, for one, are excited to see what discoveries will be made into CBD over the next decade and can’t wait to hear the next step in CBD history!

Read more of our blog posts about CBD such as our guide to CBD creams or explore our CBD products.