William Brooke O’Shaughnessy

William Brooke O’Shaughnessy was an Irish physician famous for his work in pharmacology and inventions related to telegraphy.(1)  His medical research led to the development of intravenous therapy and introduced the therapeutic use of Cannabis to Western medicine. O’Shaughnessy was born in October 1809 and died on January 8, 1889 in Southsea, England.

O’Shaughnessy began studying forensic toxicology and chemistry in Scotland, and graduated in 1829 with an MD from the University of Edinburgh Medical School.(2)  It is interesting to note that early medico-legal records reveal that physicians had to be acquainted with the the toxicological aspects of arsenic, mercury, lead and copper and plant poisons such as opium and hemlock.(3)  Two years later O’Shaughnessy would help pave the way for intravenous fluid and electrolyte-replacement therapy in the treatment of cholera with Thomas Latta. This breakthrough would be caused by an outbreak of Asiatic cholera that broke out in England in 1831 and O’Shaughnessy would be persuaded to study the chemical pathology of the blood in cholera.(4)

O’Shaghnessy eventually began his research and discovery of the benefits of cannabis in India.  While in Calcutta, he was a member of the Medical and Physical Society of Calcutta, where he read his first paper on the history of cannabis as a source of medical relief.   It included a thorough review of the history of cannabis medical uses by Ayurvedic and Persian physicians in India and the Middle East-some of whom (his local sources) were doubtless in the room.(5)  O’Shaughnessy would present case of patients suffering from rheumatism, hydrophobia, cholera, and tetanus, as well as a 40-day-old baby with convulsions, who responded well to cannabis therapy, leaping from near death to “the enjoyment of robust health” in a few days.(6)

O’Shaghnessy would go on to different endeavors such as electric motor engineering, pharmacology and telegraphy but remains famous for his groundbreaking research in the use of cannabis even though he was knighted by Queen Victoria due to his work on the telegraph in India.



Ghose, Saroj (1994). “William O’Shaughnessy – an innovator and entrepreneur”PDF. Indian Journal of History of Science. 29 (1): 9–22.


Sir William Brooke O’ Shaughnessy, F. R. S. (1809-1889) Anglo-Indian forensic chemist, http://rsnr.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/39/1/51




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