The world’s most important cannabis researcher has been studying medical marijuana long before many of us ever had our first puff.
And, yet, the good doctor has yet to have his.
Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, born in Bulgaria in 1930 from whence his family fled the Nazis and emigrated to Israel, has been studying weed since the 1960s and still does not partake.
He told Culture magazine that he approached cannabis with the curiosity of an organic chemist studying something new, especially as his work evolved over the years as a researcher and professor of medicinal chemistry at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
But, he’s never smoked it.
“I have never used it,” he explained. “First of all, I am still interested, but as I did research and we had an official supply of cannabis, obviously if we had used it for non-scientific reasons, if people had come to know about it, that would have stopped our work. Basically, neither I nor my students were interested.”
Thank goodness for that because where would we be today without Mechoulam’s groundbreaking research?
It’s not to say Mechoulam has never had a misstep in that area, but he quickly apologized.
As the story goes: Mechoulam unknowingly broke the law when a high-ranking policeman (!) gave him five pounds of hash to use in his early experiments. Marijuana was not available back then, 1964, in Israel.
Per Culture Magazine: “It broke the laws. It turned out I was not allowed to have it, and he was not allowed to give it to me. It was the Ministry of Health that should have permitted it, but in a small country, I went to the Ministry of Health, and I apologized, and any time I needed more hashish I went to the Ministry of Health and had no problems.”
According to a documentary about Mechoulam, The Scientist (available on YouTube), he carried his five kilos of premium Lebanese hashish in a plastic bag from the police station to his lab, on a public bus.
That bus ride, which must have been left with a conspicuously pungent odor in the air, turned out to be a fateful one, Mechoulam says. He used his haul to discover the psychoactive component in weed—THC.
As his work continued, Mechoulam went on to discover, two decades later, that THC interacts with the human body’s largest receptor system: the endocannabinoid system (ECS), the reason cannabis medications work so efficiently in humans and many animals as well.
In other words, the human brain produces its very own cannabis—a chemical called anandamide after the Sanskrit word ananda, or bliss—the body’s very own version of weed.
No one disputes that Israel’s current position as a global leader in cannabis research is a direct result of Mechoulam’s work.
Mechoulam, now officially retired, has been provided with the necessary facilities to continue working at Hebrew University, if he chooses.
He is also a consultant for the Israeli Ministry of Health, which has a Medical Cannabis Unit.
In Israel MMJ is approved and regulated for some 27,000 patients and was recently decriminalized for everyone else.