The American chemist Roger Adams isolated the CBD 75 years ago

In 1942, Roger Adams (left) was granted a patent for his CBD isolation method and was the first researcher to identify THC.

This scientist has greatly contributed to the study of cannabis and the discovery of its active ingredients

The name most associated with the science of cannabis is usually the Israeli chemist Raphael Mechoulam. He is credited with the isolation and identification of THC. But because of the current craze for the CBD, another name deserves to be remembered, that of the American chemist Roger Adams, who isolated cannabidiol first. Moreover, according to some testimonies, he was the first to identify his psychoactive cousin, THC.

Roger Adams in his laboratory
Roger Adams in his laboratory

Adams is also known for his commitment to the role of science and its misuses in war and totalitarianism, especially during the great political upheavals of the early twentieth century.

Direct descendant of American President John Adams, he entered Harvard early in 1905 at the age of 16 years. In 1913, he traveled to Germany, a world leader in chemistry at the time, and studied at the prestigious Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin. He returned to the United States to take a position at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign just as the First World War broke out. For the first time, but not the last, events on the world stage had an impact on her life, career and research.

In 1917, Adams holds a position at the National Research Council of Canada in Washington, DC and the associated Chemical Warfare Service. Germany was then notoriously using toxic gases in Europe's trench warfare. Adams has studied the issue with the aim of developing prophylactic products against gas attacks - and possibly deterrents to retaliation. Ironically, the expertise he had gained in Germany was now being used for the war effort against Germany. Even after the war, Adams remained close to the national security establishment in formation at the time, which also had an impact on what would be the most important scientific work of his life.

Adams starts studying cannabis

In 1939, just two years after Congress banned marijuana, Adams received a license from the Treasury Department to work on cannabis oil in his laboratory at Urbana-Champaign and presented an article to the National Academy of Sciences. science on "Chemistry of marijuana".

World War II also broke out that year, although the United States would only intervene after the Pearl Harbor attack on 1941. National security was very interested in Adams' work. In 1942, the new Bureau of Strategic Services, the wartime predecessor of the CIA, drew on Adams' research in his search for a "serum of truth". Cannabis was administered to American soldiers as well as to scientists working on the Manhattan project (an ultra-secret project aimed at developing the atomic bomb), but gave only negligible results.

The newly illegal status of marijuana made this research controversial. In his portrait of Adams in No Boundaries: The University of Illinois Vignettes (2004), Ronald Doel tells how the famous chemist was publicly accused by Harry J. Anslinger, a fervent anti-cannabis activist.

As commissioner of the "Federal Bureau of Narcotics", Anslinger was the first "tsar" of the country's anti-drug struggle. And since Adams' research was supervised by the office, Anslinger felt Adams was showing a little too much enthusiasm for his work. After Adams admitted to several people the "pleasurable effects of using this drug," Anslinger publicly reprimanded him. "In my opinion, this drug is bad for human consumption and should be described in this way," he said.

In 1940, Adams was appointed to the National Defense Research Committee to help with the war effort, but FBI director J. Edgar Hoover suspected him of being a communist sympathizer and blocked his appointment for several months in because of his membership in the Lincoln Birthday Committee for Democracy and Intellectual Freedom, a group of academics opposed to pseudoscience and "racial" theories of the Nazis. Adams was later called an "anti-fascist before the hour".

The United States and the USSR were allied during the Second World War, anticommunism was (for a time) relegated to the background and Adams finally obtained his authorization. In 1942, he founded the Illinois Section of Russian War Relief, an organization created to support the Soviet ally during the war.

Adams synthesizes the CBD and then identifies the THC

From a scientific point of view, Adams' most important work was his cannabis research in the early 1940 years when he identified and synthesized cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN). In 1942, he obtained a patent for his method of CBD isolation. Adams was also the first researcher to identify tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and published 27 studies on cannabis in the American Journal of Chemistry.

But Adams never isolated THC directly from the plant; instead, he synthesized it in the laboratory by modifying the molecular structure of other cannabinoids, mainly CBD. Adams apparently sought to isolate the psychoactive cannabinoid; he knew he had to exist and had a good idea of ​​its molecular composition, but never identified it in the plant, apparently because the technology used later by Mechoulam did not exist in the 1940 years.

While Mechulam is generally recognized as having isolated THC at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1964 and given his name to the compound, Adams produced molecules similar to THC in his laboratory about 20 years earlier and would have " deduce "the existence of the molecule in the cannabis plant. Mechoulam confirmed Adams' discovery using a nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer.

According to, "The isolation of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol as the primary psychoactive component of cannabis was first performed by Wollner, Levine and Lowe in 1942. This followed the work of Roger Adams. Since then, (THC) has become the most studied cannabinoid. "

In 1944, "The Guardia Report on the Marihuana Problem" paid tribute to Adams' work: "We are indebted to Dr. Roger Adams of the University of Illinois and Dr. HJ Wollner, consulting chemist of the US Treasury, who provided us with some of the active ingredients of marijuana used in the study. "

The post-war period saw the heyday of Adams' adherence to the foreign policy of the authorities. In 1945, he returned to Germany as advisor to General Lucius Clay, administrator of the US presence. Adams' special mission was to oversee the reconstitution and denazification of the German scientific community. In 1947, he was sent to Japan occupied by the United States on a similar mission.

Adams then returned to Illinois, where he remained until his death in 1971. In 1958, the year after his retirement, the American Chemical Society created the prestigious Roger Adams Award in honor of his work.

He also developed the Adams scale to measure the potency of cannabinoids; it is still used by researchers today. Although the multiple applications of CBD did not appear until decades later, Adams noted its analgesic effects as early as the 40 years.

Roger Adams has repeatedly risked his career and his position to defend research on cannabis and his political views, resisting intolerance in an era particularly prone to paranoia.

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