Hemp is one of the most versatile and ancient crops and medicinal plants and is originally from Central Asia. From there the plant spread across the entire globe, with the exception of its polar, tropical and desert regions. In China, hemp fiber was used for making paper as early as 2000 BC, and until 1883 between 75 and 90 percent of all maps, papers and books were made of hemp paper. Artists used hemp canvasses for their paintings, and hemp oil was a common ingredient in varnishes and paints. Furthermore, hemp was a raw material in textiles, sails and ropes. Hemp is also well-known for its use in medical treatments. The earliest written mention of hemp as a medicinal plant was found in China, in a 4700-year-old textbook. Shen Nung (2700 BC) treated rheumatism, gout and woman-specific complaints, among other conditions. Of course, we have to consider that back then, the understanding of diseases was completely different from what it is today.
During the industrial revolution, the demand for hemp material for ropes and sails decreased drastically, and over time, hemp was replaced by yarn and plastic. For the production of paints and oils, manufacturers resorted more and more frequently to mineral oil-based products. In the seventies of the 20th century, hemp became infamous as a “light” narcotic, consumed in particular by American hippies, which led to many controversial discussions and strictly controlled cultivation. Many independent studies, however, have shown that cannabinoids can be used to treat nutrient deficiencies, as painkillers and to loosen cramps, prevent vomiting during chemotherapy, as well as for neurological complaints.
Known hemp types
In the course of the ancient hemp cultivation tradition, breeders have always strived to find ideal crossings and to develop them further. In the 20th century in particular, the crossbreeding activity increased enormously, mainly due to technical innovations. The result is an incredible variety of different hemp strains, each of which has its own qualities. When systematizing the existing strains, the first distinction is made between the two known types of cannabis - cannabis indica and cannabis sativa - followed by an orientation concerning the characteristics that the breeders want to promote or suppress.
Cannabis indica is native to South Asia. This plant is relatively small, with dark green leaves and a high THC content. Cannabis sativa is mainly native to more Western regions, its THC content is low, and it is used to breed hemp varieties, today used as crops, of which a total of 52 hemp varieties are approved in the EU. In addition, many varieties have emerged by crossing cannabis indica and cannabis sativa. These are referred to as hybrid varieties.
The main cannabinoids
Over time, researchers have identified around 400 different substances in the hemp plant, including more than 100 cannabinoids and essential oils. Cannabinoids are a group of active substances only found in hemp plants. However, all higher organisms have a cannabinoid system that can use these substances. The known cannabinoids include, for example, the psychoactive tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Both substances have great therapeutic potential, which has been scientifically and to a certain extent also clinically proven. For example, CBD can be used to treat tension, inflammation, chronic pain, epilepsy and spasticity, anxiety, depression, MS, Parkinson`s and other neurological disorders. In addition, preclinical studies indicate that CBD is anti-tumoral, anti-viral and anti-bacterial, inhibits the development of diabetes and has a stimulating effect on the immune system. Unlike THC, the 100 percent legal NON-psychoactive CBD will not make you "high".
In Austria, only the Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES/www.ages.at) has permission to cultivate cannabis containing THC. Excluded from this regulation are 52 approved EU hemp varieties (as of 2017) with a low non-relevant THC content. According to the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES), cannabinoid-containing oils and extracts are not considered as dietary supplements according to §3Z4 of the Austrian Food Safety and Consumer Protection Act (LMSVG, BGBI I no. 13/2006 idgF). For this reason, they are not encompassed by Austrian food regulation laws and may therefore not be marketed either as foods or as dietary supplements. In the medical field, a drug with active ingredients deriving from cannabis is currently approved for use in Austria (see AGES). This drug contains a combination of two extracts: One derived from a THC-rich cannabis strain, the other from a cannabidiol-rich strain. The drug is used to treat spasmodic symptoms in multiple sclerosis patients, to relieve chronic pain (nervous system diseases, cancer), and as a treatment against vomiting, nausea or loss of appetite in AIDS and cancer patients. In addition, pure THC can be dispensed though pharmacies within the scope of a magistral preparation. This magistral preparation can be prescribed by a physician in the presence of certain indications. These include treatment of side effects due to a cytostatics therapy (chemotherapy), treatment of loss of appetite in cancer patients, treatment of chronic pain and treatment of multiple sclerosis with therapy-resistant spasticity. Furthermore, a solution of CBD oil can be prescribed as a magistral preparation. In this case, you can pick up the CBD solution in the pharmacy with a prescription from your physician.
All worldwide clinical trials are available in English at www.clinicaltrials.gov. Using the search function, it is relatively easy to access a wide range of studies and thus to investigate where and in the presence of which indications studies are carried out. On one hand, the numerous ongoing clinical trials show the potential for cannabinoids in medical treatments. On the other hand, these clinical trials are very expensive, with a cost ranging between 5 and 200 million euros per trial, depending on various factors. Another point that clearly shows the real or potential therapeutic benefits of medical drugs containing cannabis.
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