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Raphael Mechoulam Dies at 92: Quotes To Remember

Written by Lydia Kariuki

On 9th March 2023 the cannabis community lost a founding father, risk-taker, pacesetter, and “greatest of all time” medical cannabis researcher – Professor Raphael Mechoulam. Isaac Newton’s famous quote aptly applies to what this scientist meant for hundreds  of medical cannabis researchers, thousands of doctors and caretakers, and millions of patients: “If I have seen any further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Raphael Mechoulam was born in 1930 in Bulgaria’s capital city – Sofia.  He studied chemical engineering and later pursued a master’s degree in biochemistry. He further obtained a Ph.D. from the Weizmann Institute in Israel which was followed by a postdoctoral certificate from the Rockefeller Institute in New York.

Mechoulam’s interest in the healing properties of the cannabis plant began as early as the 1960s. He made quite a number of interesting observations about the plant’s therapeutic potential that needed to be exploited.

“In ancient Syria they used cannabis for essentially all the things that people use cannabis for today. Cannabis was then used over the next couple of thousand years, even Dr Russell Reynolds who was the physician of Queen Victoria in England used to import it from India (European cannabis was not good enough for him) because she suffered from migraines. He didn’t write that in a paper, but it was obvious who it was for because she was the only patient that he had.”

In 1964, Mechoulam identified and isolated delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (famously known as THC) from cannabis. By doing this he got the (medical cannabis research) ball rolling and this has gotten us to where we are today. He later discovered other significant endocannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabigerolic acid (CBGA).

“I believe cannabinoids represent a medical treasure waiting to be discovered.”

Close to thirty years later, Mechoulam made yet another groundbreaking discovery that forever changed the trajectory of medical cannabis. In 1992 Mechoulam together with William Devane and Prof Lumir Hanush discovered anandamide which gave a whole new meaning to the endocannabinoid system and its significance.

“We have a whole system, a lot of compounds that are very much involved in our physiology. At the moment most people are interested in cannabidiol and THC; the chances are as it happened with cannabidiol which had to wait for about 30 years, in 15 years from now most of the talks are going to be about endogenous cannabinoids, and on the cannabinoids which have more or less the same structure, but have different effects.”

To date, over 30,000 cannabis-related studies have been conducted and published. While THC and CBD have been the mainstay of medical cannabis, science is revealing a shift towards other forms of cannabinoids. Here is what Mechoulam had to say about cannabidiolic methyl ester.

“We have a publication in press which shows that cannabidiolic methyl ester is more potent for treating pain and depression and we have seen a few other examples. These findings will be published over the next few years or maybe even over the next few months. Do not be surprised when cannabidiolic methyl ester starts to replace cannabidiol slowly as the natural cannabidiol of importance, it does not cause the side effects of THC.”

Raphael Mechoulam will be remembered for transitioning medical cannabis from the counterculture to the mainstream. There’s no better way to honor his legacy than to push medical cannabis to the highest echelons of modern medicine through scientific research, policy advocacy, and public awareness.

Image: Raphael Mechoulam lecturing at the Hebrew University. Photo: DR

About the author

Lydia Kariuki