In the early twentieth century, the Flexner Report, funded by billionaires and created by a businessman, permanently changed the face of American medicine. Commissioned by the Carnegie Foundation and funded by oil tycoon J.D. Rockefeller, this report resulted in the elevation of bio-medical science to become the standard of medical education and practice in America, while marginalizing all non-physician providers, including naturopathic, and homeopathic doctors. 

The principles of the report seem commonsense today: medical schools must be university-based, and educational programs must be science-based. During this time, however, the situation of medical schools in the US was  chaotic. There were no standardized guidelines for operating medical schools, nor was there any admissions criteria for those wanting to practice medicine. Although the report’s author, Abraham Flexner, was neither an educator nor a physician, he was chosen to evaluate Canadian and American Medical Schools to create a release offering suggestions for improvement.

Unsurprisingly, his report called on American medical schools to enact higher admission and graduation standards. He believed medical schools should strictly adhere to the protocols of mainstream science in their teaching and research. He aligned medical education under a set of norms that emphasized laboratory research and the patenting of medicine.

While Flexner’s report brought many needed improvements to medical  students’ practical field experience through hands-on learning, it also builtin a strong bias in favor of empirical science (i.e., pharmaceutical drugs) to the exclusion of whole-patient care or any of the more natural treatment options. As a result, one-third of all American medical schools were closed, including a large number of, what we would consider today, “alternative” forms of medicine. Flexner doubted the scientific validity of this type of approach, deeming any treatment that did not advocate the use of vaccines to prevent and cure illness as tantamount to quackery. Schools that supported Flexner’s vision received funding from the Carnegie Institution.

Some accuse the report’s backers, John Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, of having ulterior motives in backing the report. They accuse the two of wanting to eliminate the competition and peddle pharmaceuticals, many of which began as byproducts of oil refinement. Medical professionals who leaned heavily toward natural healing posed the greatest threat to this standardization because they continued to demonstrate that nature has provided what’s necessary to treat or prevent just about any illness. After all, you can’t patent a plant or essential oil, but you can patent a lab-created molecule that strongly resembles what can already be found in nature. Therefore, while you were able to find cannabis on the shelves of many pharmacies during the 1930s, it’s impossible to do so today.

Many have argued that it is time for a re-evaluation of medical principles that have become standardized in our society. A growing interest in alternative and natural medicines have begun to shift the conversation, and we look forward to seeing where this shift will go especially as cannabis legalization continues to sweep the nation.