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RIP Prof. Raphael Mechoulam, the ‘Father of Cannabis Research’.

Professor Raphael Mechoulam
Written by Ofer Shoshani

RIP dear Mechoulam, you will forever be in our hearts.

Israeli organic chemist, professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, and esteemed medical cannabis researcher, Professor Raphael Mechoulam, has passed away today at the age of 92.

Professor Raphael Mechoulam, often referred to as the “Godfather” of modern cannabis medicine, will be remembered as a pioneer in the field of medical cannabis research. As a researcher at the Hebrew University, he was the first to isolate the psychoactive compound THC in cannabis and also discovered the important medical compound CBD. His groundbreaking work paved the way for further research and advancements in the field, all of which had a major impact on the way the rest of the world views cannabis and now has a better understanding of its role in modern medicine.

Who was Raphael Mechoulam? 

Raphael Mehoulam was a Bulgarian-born Israeli scientist who, again, is best known for his working in the isolation and total synthesis of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as well as the discovery of the endogenous cannabinoids anandamide and 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG), found in the brain and peripheral organs, respectively.  

Mechoulam was born in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1930, to a Sephardic Jewish family. His first experiences with medicine and healing came from his father, who was a physician and head of a local hospital. At a young age, Mechoulam’s family was forced to leave their hometown as nazism spread throughout Europe and anti-semitic laws became more commonplace. Mechoulam’s father was sent to a concentration camp, which he survived, and in 1949 the family immigrated to Israel. This is where Mechoulam took up an interest in research and chemistry, and he worked on insecticides in the Israeli army.  

After receiving his M.Sc. in biochemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ph.D. at the Weizmann Institute, Reḥovot, he began looking at cannabis – the plant as a whole and its individual compounds – to learn more about how they work in the human body and what could be the benefits of using it. Mechoulam went on to become of the founding members of the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines and the International Cannabinoid Research Society 

He has earned dozens of awards, honors, and accolades for his work in the field including the Israel Prize in Exact Science, the NIDA Discovery Award, EMET Prize, Rothschild Prize in Chemical Sciences and Physical Sciences, the Harvey Prize of Technion, and many others. 

Mechoulam’s Research 

Most of the scientific knowledge we have about cannabis and the endocannabinoid system stems from Mechoulam’s initial discoveries. For the last 60 years, his lab has been focusing on the chemistry, pharmacology, and medical benefits of natural products, mainly cannabis. In addition to the discovery of THC, as well as elucidating its structure, they have isolated many other minor cannabinoids.  

Possibly of greater importance, Mechoulam was the first to discover and study anandamide and 2-AG, and subsequently, the human endocannabinoid system. Simply put, the ECS is a network of neurotransmitters and receptors that exists in the bodies of all animals. For many years, it was believed that only mammals had an endocannabinoid system, but we now know that it exists in nearly all animals, including vertebrates (mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish) and many invertebrates (sea urchins, leeches, mussels, nematodes, and others).   

Cannabinoid 1 and Cannabinoid 2 receptors (CB1 and CB2) are found in the brain and nervous system, as well as in peripheral organs and tissues. It’s the reason cannabis compounds are able to work so efficiently in our bodies. Anandamide and 2-AG are fatty acid derivatives that work as agonists of the endocannabinoid system.  

Much of his research examined the numerous potential therapeutic uses for cannabis compounds, such as bone healing, vasodilation, head trauma, addiction, and even cancer. His lab also developed novel cannabinoids and anandamide-like compounds which are being developed into medical products by pharmaceutical companies in Israel.  

Final Thoughts

Professor Mechoulam was a respected intellectual, a visionary, and a true leader in his field. His contributions to science and medicine will continue to have a lasting impact on society.

RIP dear Mechoulam, you will forever be in our hearts.

Learn more about Raphael Mechoulam and his work

In this informative and thoughtful interview, Professor Raphael Mechoulam discusses how he got started studying medical cannabis, some of the biggest challenges facing cannabis research today, and what we should focus on to improve cannabinoid medicine on a global scale.

A cannabis-based treatment for cancer may finally be on the horizon, thanks to the research of none-other-than Professor Raphael Mechoulam.
One of the most prestigious scientific awards, Technion’s Harvey prize in Chemical Engineering and Medical Sciences, went to Professor Raphael Mechoulam – the “Godfather” of modern cannabis medicine.

Read more about Raphael Mecoulam and his projects and accomplishments.

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About the author

Ofer Shoshani

Ofer Shoshani is the Founder and Editor-in-chief of Cannadelics.