Chemistry Culture

Founding Fathers of Cannabis Research

Written by Petar Petrov

The Work of the Drs. Mechoulam, ElSohly, and O’Shaughnessy

Many of the advancements and breakthroughs in the cannabis field today can be indirectly attributed to three scientists, the fathers of cannabis knowledge: Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, Dr. Mahmoud ElSohly, and Dr. William O’Shaughnessy. The three scientists’ collective body of work spans pretty much the entire spectrum of cannabis research, consisting of the medical, recreational, and cultivation realms.

Dr. Mechoulam – THCand Anandamide

It was in the early 1960s when Bulgarian-born Israeli chemist Dr. Mechoulam began investigating cannabis in order to elucidate its active molecules, as the chemical nature of the flower was uncharted territory.

What kickstarted his research was the Israeli police’s friendly donation in the form of 5 kilos of seized Moroccan hash.

Thorough, methodical analysis began, the result of which was a pivotal discovery of more than 100 cannabinoids, including the one to rule the psychoactive realm – THC.

The only time Mechoulam admits to actually experiencing THC’s effects for himself was when his wife baked a large, THC-infused cake for him and his fellow researchers.

As if this discovery wasn’t enough, in 1992, Mechoulam discovered another aspect of our mystical relationship with cannabis – anandamide, the first endocannabinoid to be isolated. This paved the way for research of another key aspect of cannabis: our endocannabinoid system, and how cannabis affectit.

Dr. ElSohly – Cannabis Cultivation and Potency

Dr. ElSohly is probably the most prolific of thecannabis researchers, having authored more than 250 scholarly articles on the subject.

He is most famous for being head of the cannabis program at the University of Mississippi which has an exclusive deal with the government to produce research-grade cannabis. ElSohly has been in charge for nearly four decades now, developing a variety of different plants for the needs of fellow cannabis researchers.

Through this work, ElSohly has also brought forward and passed on knowledge of the cultivation process and evolution of cannabis in terms of potency, in addition to discovering seven new cannabinoids with his team. [1]

Dr. O’Shaughnessy – Medical Cannabis

Dr. O’Shaughnessy gained popularity and respect in the medical community with his discovery of a treatment for cholera in distant 1831.

During his stay in India, O’Shaughnessy began studying and experimenting with Indian medical plants, from opium to cannabis. In 1839, he wrote a paper on the history of the applications of cannabis in medicine by Ayurvedic and Persian doctors in India and the Middle East, after which he began to conduct his own experiments with animals.

O’Shaughnessy did not over-generalize his conclusion (‘cannabis is the panacea to all ailments’), but rather demonstrated its beneficial, pain-relieving, and calming properties. Famously, hesuccessfully treated a 40-day old baby that was suffering from convulsions with cannabis, which led him to describe the flower as an “anti-convulsive remedy of the greatest value”. [2]

Returning to England in 1841, O’Shaughnessy brought a significant amount of cannabis back and spread the news of the flower’s medicinal potential among the English medical practitioners, even reaching Queen Victoria’s physician Sir J. Russell Reynolds, M.D. who started promoting cannabis as a relief for menstrual cramps. [3]


  1. Radwan, M. et al, “Isolation and Pharmacological Evaluation of Minor Cannabinoids from High-Potency Cannabis sativa, Nat. Prod. 2015, 78, 6, 1271-1276. (cited by 44 ; impact factor = 3.281)
  2. The Dublin Journal of Medical Science (1836-1845)., Volumes 23-24.
  3. Reynolds, J.R. “Therapeutical uses and toxic effects ofCannabis indica”,Lancet, 1890,1:637-8. (cited by 163; impact factor = 53.254)

About the author

Petar Petrov

Petar is a freelance writer and copywriter, covering culture, art, society, and anything in-between that makes for a nice story. And as it so happens, cannabis is a great element to add to each of those conversations.

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