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Medical Cannabis Research: The Man Who Started It All – Raphael Mechoulam

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“I sincerely believe that plant cannabinoids are a neglected pharmacological treasure trove.” That is what the father of medical cannabis research, Prof. Raphael Mechoulam said about cannabis and its cannabinoids. 

You might have gotten an idea of how important the herb cannabis is and how its research pervades contemporary medicine. But do you know how it all began? Let us introduce you to the master who started it all.

Who Is Professor Raphael Mechoulam?

Prof. Raphael Mechoulam is a well-known Israeli organic chemist, pharmacologist, and Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. He is prominently regarded for his contributions to the research of the chemistry of cannabinoids and cannabis-based medication, especially:

  • Isolating Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive cannabis constituent
  • Clarifying its structure, chemistry, and activity for further experimentation
  • And completely synthesizing it. 

He is an elected member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and one among the founding members of the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines.

From Small Beginnings to Great Things

In a recent interview with David Gorelick from the Journal of Cannabis Research, Prof. Mechoulam said his journey started from ‘a fateful bus ride in 1964’. He had received 5 kilos of Lebanese Hashish from the Israeli Police, and he brought it to his laboratory in Rehovot, at the Weizmann Institute. With that, he and his research team were able to isolate and recognize THC from cannabis.

Since THC is psychoactive in nature, scientists always evade it. But Prof. Mechoulam’s work would go on to spark their interests in the herb, inspire numerous medical studies, and create history.

His Research and Major Findings

Prof. Mechoulam’s cannabis research began in the 1960s and was majorly done in the pharmacology and chemistry of its cannabinoids. He isolated, elucidated the structure, and synthesized not only THC but also several other major cannabinoids, such as:

  • Cannabidiol (CBD)
  • Cannabigerol
  • Cannabichromene
  • Cannabinoid carboxylic acids, etc.

In the late 1980s, Mechoulam’s discovery and study of THC in 1964 further led to the discovery of the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), the largest and one of the most vital biological receptor systems.

Later, his findings on the chemical properties of certain cannabinoids led him to the discovery of the two major cannabinoid receptors, CB1, between 1988 and 1990, and CB2 in 1993.

He also found the expression of CB1 receptors in mammalian tissues around the same time. This prompted numerous medical searches for a chemical that could activate these receptors. Once again, Mechoulam prevailed in finding those chemicals called ‘endocannabinoids’.

He collaborated with his students and postdocs to identify and isolate the vital endogenous cannabinoids of the ECS that activate the cannabinoid receptors, including:

  • Anandamide from the brain, and
  • 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) from the peripheral organs.

In 1980, he showed CBD’s potential to treat seizures in epileptic patients. After over 30 years, GW Pharmaceuticals from the UK paid attention and developed the first prescription cannabis-based medication, called Epidiolex. 

By the 1990s, due to his contributions, the government-backed cannabis research in Israel, decades ahead of many countries.

Currently, Prof. Mechoulam is studying the acidic precursors of THC and CBD for further developments in his cannabis research. Since those molecules have low stability, very little research has been done on them. But he has found that they are very potent compounds, probably even more active than CBD, and should be studied more.

Influence on the Cannabis Research Community

Prof. Mechoulam’s discoveries have played a vital role in helping today’s medical researchers understand the ECS and the pharmacological action of cannabis and its cannabinoids. 

Because of his studies and findings, modern medicine is capable of conducting further research and development on this herb and implementing cannabis-based medication in the treatment of numerous diseases.

Furthermore, his medical exploration of the herb kick-started cannabis research in Israel and encouraged medical experts to build upon his studies. Because of him, Israel is regarded today as the global leader and the epicenter of medical cannabis innovation and research. 

This has also lead to the generation of worldwide medical interest in Ayurvedic cannabis solutions and encouraged many countries today to lead in cannabis research, such as:

  • Canada
  • Netherlands
  • Spain
  • The Czech Republic, and
  • Uruguay

Cannabis Research in India: Following in the Genius’ Footsteps

India has been leading in the usage of Ayurvedic cannabis solutions since ancient times and aiding the treatment of numerous illnesses through it. 

And today, several medical experts and Ayurveda doctors, inspired by prof. Mechoulam have helped bring it to the forefront for advanced medical research and modern pharmacological implementation.

His genius has motivated ventures like Hempstreet to make their mark in contemporary medical cannabis research and dispensing Ayurvedic cannabis solutions to the people responsibly.

Being India’s first fully integrated research-to-retail venture in Ayurvedic cannabis, Hempstreet has helped modernize cannabis medicine deployment. We work with numerous top-notch scientists to conduct advanced R&D of the herb and its pharmaceutical uses, based upon Prof. Mechoulam’s body of work.

They work in partnership with apex research institutions like the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and the Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (IIIM). Together, they work on:

  • Examining the effects of cannabis on various ailments
  • Isolation of THC and CBD, and 
  • The best medical extraction methods for their drug development. 

Today, they operate through a vast network of over 60,000 medical practitioners and Ayurveda doctors and over 220 clinics across India to provide proper research and evidence-based cannabis prescription. 

Conclusion

Prof. Mechoulam’s work inspired and initiated such cannabis research across the world and gave modern medicine the much-needed medical vocabulary to advance in this field. 

His contributions have helped alleviate the misconceptions and stigma around the herb and paved the way for scientists to leverage its vast treasure for medical use and share it across the world. 

No wonder people regard him as the father of medical cannabis research.

References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raphael_Mechoulam

https://www.forbes.com/sites/javierhasse/2020/07/12/dr-mechoulam/?sh=2272008c6a45

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