Now she studies how CBD could help opioid addicts kick the habit. Jacobson and Nussenbaum knew many other families struggling with epilepsy.

Everyone should have access to the drug that had so helped Sam, they thought. But that meant the F.D.A. would have to approve CBD for epilepsy.

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In 1930, Harry Anslinger, a former official at the Bureau of Prohibition, assumed a new job running the Bureau of Narcotics. The CBD gummies Mexican Revolution that began in 1910 had led to waves of immigrants crossing into the United States. Cannabis has been used medicinally for thousands of years in Asia, where it was probably first domesticated before traveling to, among other places, Africa. It was almost certainly introduced multiple times to the Americas, first from Africa to South America through the slave trade — in Brazil it’s still known by an African name, diamba — but also to the Caribbean. Indian indentured laborers probably brought it to Jamaica, where it’s called by an ancient Indian name, ganja.

And given the fraught political history of cannabis in the United States and the skepticism they would most likely face, Jacobson knew she would need top epilepsy experts to conduct those trials. After he returned to the United States, it was six months before Sam could take Guy’s extract again. It helped, Jacobson thought, particularly with the most severe fits, which caused him to lose consciousness. Across the Atlantic, Geoffrey Guy, the founder of a company called GW Pharmaceuticals, had successfully brought one cannabis-derived medicine, called Sativex, to market in Britain and other European countries.

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CBD is generally considered safe, even at the high doses tested so far — and the quantities in chocolates, teas and other edibles tend to be far below the concentrations tested experimentally. But given that cannabis regulations vary from state to state, scientists and patient advocates worry that consumers may not be getting what they think they’re getting. And three months later the D.E.A. rescheduled this first CBD drug to Schedule 5, meaning it was now considered to have low potential for abuse. What followed the meeting surpassed Jacobson’s expectations.

The F.D.A. first expanded the ability of doctors to prescribe CBD and then fast-tracked the approval process. There are other examples of a single drug being able to help meliorate a variety of conditions. Aspirin has its own downsides — an elevated risk of bleeding, for instance — but like CBD, its broad utility may be partly explained by its anti-inflammatory effects. The active ingredient in aspirin, salicylate, was first extracted from willow bark and was a folk remedy for thousands of years before scientists finally made a pill from it in the late 19th century. Folk medicine, for all its associations with old wives’ tales, has yielded important medical discoveries in the past, and it may well do so again.

The first such medication permitted by a government, it was approved to treat the symptoms of spasticity caused by multiple sclerosis, a progressive autoimmune disease of the central nervous system. Guy was intrigued when, through a mutual acquaintance, a California family seeking CBD to treat epilepsy reached out to him — Evelyn Nussenbaum and her son Sam. But in the late 19th century, our ancient relationship with this plant began to fray.

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They were aware of the suffering and desperation of those who belonged to this “club that no one wanted to join,” as Nussenbaum puts it. Many parents lacked the resources and connections they had.

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