Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, the scientific giant and pioneer who first studied the effects of the cannabis plant and synthesized THC, has died at the age of 92 in his home in Israel, according to an announcement by American Friends of the Hebrew University. His passing is as monumental as it was unexpected and the reaction has been swift from all corners of the cannabis industry, an industry his unprecedented scientific findings made possible in the first place.
The Bulgarian-born scientist was arrested early in his career for carrying five kilos of what he called “superb smuggled Lebanese hashish” while on a bus in Tel Aviv. Dr. Mechoulam had the hash in his possession to analyze, not to smoke. Though the epic journey of this scientific giant began rather auspiciously, the soon-to-be icon wouldn’t be interrupted by anything else on his determined quest for answers surrounding the powerful plant.
Dr. Mechoulam’s twin historic findings he led with his research team at Hebrew University School of Pharmacy included isolating THC, the psychoactive component found in all cannabis plants, as well as CBD or cannabidiol, the prevalent and active ingredient in cannabis with a wide array of medicinal and curative benefits.
Dr. Mechoulam’s findings cannot be understated for their undeniable significance, thus his well-earned moniker as the “Father of Cannabis.”
Immigrating with his family to Israel from Bulgaria in 1949, Dr. Mechoulam joined the scientific staff of the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel (after graduating with a PhD from said institution) eventually becoming a professor at Hebrew University in 1972.
A fierce advocate of legalized cannabis, Dr. Mechoulam often voiced his dismay at the strict drug laws in the US and throughout the world. As the scientist and his team discovered more about the healing powers found in the magical plant—particularly in the areas of cancer and epilepsy—he voiced his frustration to The New York Times in 2017. “Israel has more clinical trials than the United States at the moment, which is ridiculous,” Dr. Mechoulam said.
In the 1990s, Dr. Mechoulam discovered the endocannabinoid system which does nothing less than regulate homeostasis in human beings (and how, all of us, in turn, deal with cannabinoids).
As the fable grows of this massively important figure in the history of cannabis, it’s said Dr. Mechoulam started studying cannabis—something he has done his entire adult life—simply because he wanted to go into a scientific area not yet overly crowded. Also, the fact that he resided in the relatively small country of Israel, the single most famous cannabis researcher in the world figured, “let’s give cannabis a go.”
Until his passing, Dr. Mechoulam was the president of the Hebrew University’s Multidisciplinary Center for Cannabis Research, the largest such center in Israel, and a globally important institution conducting breakthrough research into cannabis, cannabinoids and endocannabinoid.
“Dr. Raphael Mechoulam pioneered the paradigm shift from cannabis being a recreational experience to being an elevated medical opportunity,” says Cannabis Now Publisher and CEO, Eugenio Garcia.
“With cannabis being relatively new, there are leaders who made truly remarkable strides in the space. With Dr. Mechoulam’s passing, we have lost another legend. We are grateful for his vision and mission to unlock what cannabis can do for the planet and to heal people.”
In 2020, Cannabis Now traveled to Israel to explore the cannabis culture and participate in the annual Canna Tech Conference hosted in Tel Aviv.
“When we were filming our documentary in Israel, Dr. Mechoulam was very generous with his time,” says Garcia. “He invited us to the university to participate in a conversation about the science and benefits of cannabis. It was wonderful to connect with him in person.”
Watch the documentary below.