Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam led groundbreaking study: he is considered the discoverer of the main active ingredients of the cannabis plant THC and CBD, as well as the functioning of the endocannabinoid system. Now the distinguished professor has passed away at the age of 92.
Tireless commitment to research and destigmatization of cannabis
In the early 1960s, Mechoulam, a young scientist in Jerusalem, began researching the active constituents of the cannabis plant. Cannabis was a stigmatized plant whose specific medicinal properties were not yet known. He succeeded in isolating cannabidiol (CBD) as one of hundreds of active compounds of the hemp plant. One year later, he discovered and isolated tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is responsible for the intoxicating effects of cannabis.
Over the decades, Professor Mechoulam became a pioneer in cannabis research. In 2017, he helped establish the multidisciplinary Center for Cannabinoid Research at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
“Most of the human and scientific knowledge about cannabis was gathered thanks to Prof. Mechoulam,” said Hebrew University President Asher Cohen in a statement on Mechoulam’s death. “He paved the way for groundbreaking studies and initiated scientific collaboration between researchers from around the world. Mechoulam was an astute and charismatic pioneer.”
He also pioneered research in the early 1990s on the endocannabinoid system, which produces the body’s own cannabinoids that regulate appetite, relieve pain and support the immune system.
As Mechoulam discovered more about cannabis and its effectiveness in alleviating symptoms of cancer, epilepsy and other diseases, he lamented that strict drug laws in the United States and elsewhere suppressed research and kept cannabis products off the market.
In 2017 he told New York Times that industry and academia “need to follow medical lines of thought and development and modern medical pathways”. “There are currently more [clinical trials] in Israel than in the United States, which is ridiculous.”
Raphael Mechoulam was born Nov. 5, 1930, in Sofia, Bulgaria. With World War II, he moved to Jerusalem, Israel, where he has lived ever since. In 1972, Mechoulam became a full professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, was appointed Lionel Jacobson Professor of Medicinal Chemistry in 1975, and served as rector of the university from 1979 to 1982. Mechoulam was a founding member of the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines and the International Cannabinoid Research Society. In 1994, he was elected a member of the Israeli Academy of Sciences.
Read more about Raphael Mechoulam’s life and research here
The Times of Israel, accessed March 13, 2023