Professor Raphael Mechoulam, father of Israeli cannabis research, dies at 92

Prof Rafael Meshoulam

The Bulgarian-born scientist will be remembered for his many contributions to the field of medicinal cannabis

The scientist Raphael Mechoulam, father of medical marijuana, died this Friday, at the age of 92, the Bulgarian-Israeli chemist Raphael Mechoulam, known as the “father of medical marijuana”. It was he who identified, between 1963 and 1964, two of the main cannabinoids in marijuana: THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main psychoactive ingredient of the drug, and CBD (cannabidiol), the most important component of most medicinal products produced industrially from plants of the cannabis family .

When Professor Raphael Mechoulam, an organic chemist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, began studying cannabis in the 1960s, it was considered a psychoactive drug for getting high, but with no medical benefits.

Yet the Bulgarian-born researcher was so intrigued that he spent his academic life studying it and became a leading expert on medical cannabis.

Asher Cohen, President of HU, said that most human and scientific knowledge about cannabis has been accumulated thanks to Professor Mechoulam.

"He paved the way for groundbreaking studies and initiated scientific cooperation between researchers around the world," he said. " Mechoulam was a charismatic pioneer quick-witted.

With his research team, he isolated Δ 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana, an active ingredient that provides various medicinal benefits, including pain relief.

Today, medical cannabis is grown to relieve different symptoms, it is sold in pharmacies across the country, with more than 110000 license holders according to the Israel Medical Cannabis Agency (IMCA), which operates under the control of the ministry. of health.

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Cannabis is not only smoked, it is also available in the form of oil, powder, dried leaves. The medicine is administered to relieve not only severe and chronic pain, but also Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis and muscle spasms, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), HIV/AIDS, Crohn's disease, epilepsy and seizures, glaucoma, severe nausea or vomiting caused by cancer treatment.

It was even prescribed in a cocktail of low dose THC and high dose cannabidiol (CBD) as effective treatment option to manage the symptoms associated with autism, leading to a better quality of life for both the patient and caregivers.

After his aliyah, he obtained a master's degree in biochemistry at the University of Israel, then wrote a thesis on the chemistry of steroids to obtain a doctorate at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. After two years of postdoctoral studies at the Rockefeller Institute in Manhattan, he returned to the Weizmann Institute for five years, then returned to Manhattan University, where he became a professor in 1972, then professor of medicinal chemistry Lionel Jacobson three years later.

When Mechoulam sought to obtain samples in the 60s, he carried five kilos of “superb Lebanese contraband hashish” on a bus from Tel Aviv to Rehovot, hoping not to be apprehended. Nevertheless, it was easier to conduct cannabis research in Israel than in the more restrictive United States.
His life

“My interest has always been the chemistry of natural products. And millions were consuming cannabis without knowing in detail its chemical and pharmacological structure or its physiological and biological effects. So in the 1960s I decided to study marijuana and got the raw material with the police, which was surprisingly open,” the scientist said. in Folha during an interview last year.

He was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, in November 1930, to a doctor and hospital director father and a mother from a wealthy Jewish family. His father was taken by the Nazis to a concentration camp and, after parts of Bulgaria were taken over by the Communists, he emigrated with his family to Israel in 1949, when Mr Mechoulam obtained a degree in chemical engineering.

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In 1994 he was elected a Fellow of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Letters and was one of the founding members of the International Cannabinoid Research Society and the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines.

His 90th birthday was celebrated at a four-day symposium held as part of the 31st International Cannabinoid Research Symposium, which Mechoulam helped create. This symposium was held for the first time in Jerusalem.

Mechoulam received a large number of Nobel. Twenty-three years ago, he received the Israeli Prize for Exact Sciences, Chemistry and, more recently, the Harvey Prize from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.

His research has led to the production of pharmaceuticals used in the treatment and relief of symptoms of diseases such as Alzheimer's disease, glaucoma, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, cancer and depression, and have won honors and awards over the years.

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