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For thousands of years, cultures across the world have used cannabis as a remedy to treat a range of ailments. By the first century, cannabis was listed in the Chinese pharmacopeia as being able to help with over 100 medical conditions. Chinese emperor Shen Nung cited the plant as an herbal supplement of significance to the health of his people, alongside ginseng and ephedra.1 

In recent decades, as cannabis therapy has moved out of society’s shadows and into the spotlight of the medical community, the plant has come to serve as a beacon of light, and hope. Because of its versatility, medical cannabis has travelled globally, treating symptoms associated with a cross-section of illnesses and diseases, from chronic pain to cancer.

Slowly, but surely, medical cannabis has gained acceptance – and even reverence – among patients, healthcare professionals and, most recently, government leaders. While the notion of treating medical conditions with cannabis remains strictly taboo in most countries, some have for years regulated the plant for medical purposes. Others, still, are moving quickly to follow suit.

North America

Medical cannabis laws in North America stand as some of the most liberal, this world over. In Canada, medical cannabis has been legal since 2001, and the regulations have evolved – through a series of constitutional challenges – to better meet the needs of patients. South of the Canadian border, medical cannabis is legal in 33 American states. In some American districts, however, patients continue to be persecuted, and prosecuted, for their choice of medicine.

South America

Similar to the landscape in the U.S, South America is something of a patchwork to progress in the context of the acceptance of medical cannabis. In recent years, cannabis treatment has been legalized in a number of countries, including Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, Columbia, Chile and Argentina. In Uruguay, the plant is legal for medical and recreational use, while possession of small amounts of cannabis is also decriminalized in Paraguay, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Brazil.


While many European countries continue to lag behind the advancements of neighboring nations, others, particularly The Netherlands, have for years embraced cannabis. Medical cannabis is legal in Turkey, Greece, Finland, Poland, Italy, Norway, Macedonia, Germany, Luxembourg and San Marino. Cannabis is also decriminalized in a number of countries, including Portugal, Spain, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Malta, the Czech Republic and Croatia.


A global leader in the medical cannabis space, Israel has pioneered much clinical interest in cannabis sativa over the years; it was an Israeli scientist that first isolated the plant’s main psychotropic compound, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In the Philippines, where a bloody drug war has defined the government’s drug policy, medical cannabis treatment is, ironically, legal. Outlawed outright, at all but one time of the year in Nepal, cannabis is a celebrated part of Maha Shivaratri, a yearly ceremony thrown in honour of the Hindu god Shiva.


Government administrations in Australia have proven particularly amendable to the concept of cannabis treatment. Australia has borrowed, in part, from the Canadian regulatory model, and seems poised to become a global player on the clinical and commercial ends of the cannabis industry. While medical cannabis has also been endorsed in New Zealand, treatment remains at an arm’s length from patients in the country.


The medical cannabis landscape in Africa is somewhat bleak, particularly when set to the backdrop of advancements made in countries across other continents. There is, however, movement being made in a small number of nations on the African continent. Notably, Zambia and Lesotho have legalized cannabis for medical use, while South Africa looks to be, like many other countries, on the brink of legislating the herb for therapeutic use.

  1. "Cannabis Pharmacy." (Backes, 2014)

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