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Hall of Fame: Dr. Raphael Mechoulam

Hall of Fame: Dr. Raphael Mechoulam
PHOTO Courtesy of "The Scientist"

In The Magazine

Hall of Fame: Dr. Raphael Mechoulam

The father of cannabis research paved the road for scientists to better understand the herb’s immense resource for medical purposes.

Dr. Raphael Mechoulam is a well-known organic chemist, pharmacologist and Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His contributions to the study of cannabinoids’ chemistry and cannabis-based medicines have led him to be regarded as the father of medical cannabis research.

In the 1960s, Dr. Mechoulam started researching cannabis, focusing primarily on the pharmacology and chemistry of its cannabinoids. In addition to the discovery of THC in 1964, he isolated several other vital cannabinoids, including Cannabidiol (CBD), Cannabigerol, Cannabichromene, and Cannabinoid carboxylic acids.

The largest and one of the most critical biological receptor systems, the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), was identified in the late 1980s as a result of Dr. Mechoulam’s discovery and study of THC.

The two primary cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, were discovered due to research conducted between 1988 and 1990 into the molecular characteristics of specific cannabinoids. Around the same time, he uncovered the expression of CB1 receptors in mammalian organs. Numerous medical searches for a substance that may activate these receptors resulted from this. Dr. Mechoulam was successful in locating the so-called endocannabinoids.

In 1999, he coined the phrase “entourage effect” to explain the impact that cannabinoids have on the mammalian endocannabinoid system when they’re present together rather than when administered individually. Dr. Mechoulam worked with his students and postdocs to identify and isolate the essential endogenous cannabinoids of the ECS, such as anandamide from the brain and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) from the peripheral organs, that activate the cannabinoid receptors.

Dr. Mechoulam demonstrated how CBD might be used to treat epileptic patients’ seizures in 1980. After more than three decades, GW Pharmaceuticals in the United Kingdom finally paid heed and created Epidiolex, the first cannabis-based prescription drug. His research and contributions to the medical field convinced Israel’s government to support cannabis research in the 1990s, years ahead of many other nations.

Dr. Mechoulam’s study catalyzed cannabis research around the globe and provided modern medicine with the terminology needed to proceed in this area. His contributions to contemporary medicine paved the road for scientists to influence the herb’s immense resource for medical purposes and the creation of cannabis-based medications to treat various disorders while dispelling outdated myths and stigma surrounding the plant.

This story was originally published in the print edition of Cannabis Now.

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