Raphael Mechoulam, the first person to synthesize THC, earning him the moniker the “Father of Cannabis Science,” has died, Analytical Cannabis reports. He was 92 years old, and his legacy will most certainly live on for centuries to come. The esteemed chemist is also called the father of cannabis research. Some of his additional game-changing contributions to drug science include isolating and synthesizing other cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), and cannabichromene (CBC).
While THC, CBD, and CBG are basically household names today, that would not be the case if it weren’t for Dr. Mechoulam, so smoke one out for him in remembrance. A medicinal chemistry professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, his work laid the groundwork and got the ball (or blunt) rolling to prompt future breakthroughs, such as illumination into the human body’s internal cannabinoid receptors in the 1980s and ’90s, as detailed in the 1993 academic paper titled Molecular characterization of a peripheral receptor for cannabinoids.
Make sure to pay your respects today, as Dr. Mechoulam’s friends and fellow scientists are, as you pass the peace pipe around with your buddies. “This is a very sad day for me, for the science community and for the cannabis community. Professor Raphael Mechoulam or as we called him Raphi, was one of the greatest scientist[s] I ever met and was my teacher and mentor in many aspects. I truly believe he [deserved] a Nobel prize!” wrote David “Dedi” Meiri, an associate professor at Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, and one Mechoulam’s colleagues, in a touching online statement. “Thank you Raphi for all the great things you did and discover[ed] in your life and thanks for all the help and support you gave me. Rest in peace my dear friend,” he continues.
Born in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1930, Mechoulam and his family relocated to Israel, where he began studying chemistry. His inspiration to start his successful hunt for THC began after wise observance of other drugs’ mechanisms. In an interview with CNN in 2014, Mechoulam pointed out that: “Morphine had been isolated from opium in the nineteenth century, early nineteenth century, cocaine had been isolated from coca leaves [in the] mid-nineteenth century. And here we were, mid-twentieth century, and yet the chemistry of cannabis was not known. So it looked like [an] interesting project.” According to the National Library of Medicine, in 1964, he succeeded. And the story behind how Mechoulam obtained the cannabis he studied may surprise you.
While working as a chemist in the early 1960s at the Weizmann Institute, Mechoulam got some weed from the Israeli police with his goal already in place: to discover and isolate what makes pot psychoactive. Once THC and other cannabinoids, such as the aforementioned CBD and CBG, were identified, in 1992, Mechoulam and his team discovered the chemical arachidonoyl ethanolamine, which you know as anandamide (derived from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means bliss). Anandamide is something our body’s endocannabinoid system produces on its own (as if we are built to use cannabis) and activates the CB1 receptor.
Deeply passionate and hardworking, Mechoulam continued his research right up to his death. At the age of 88, at the cannabis conference CannMed in California in 2019, he announced another breakthrough, synthetically stable cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), the main phytocannabinoid in fiber and seed-oil hemp, which contains anti-inflammatory, anti-convulsant, and anti-cancerogenic properties, and that’s likely just the tip of the iceberg. “We have taken the unstable acid molecules of the cannabis plant and synthesized them to provide a stable, consistent basis for researching new therapies across a wide range of medical needs,” Mechoulam explained at the conference. He also used his stage time to encourage the scientific community to invest more into cannabis research, as enough time has already been lost, citing the many people from the past who would have vastly benefited from medicinal cannabis should it have been available. “Did we have to wait 30 years? No,” he said. “We could have helped thousands of children, and we didn’t.”
Rest in Power, Dr. Mechoulam, and may everyone lucky enough to have access to the results of his work enjoy the power of plant medicine today.