Raphael Mechoulam – pioneer of cannabis research

Raphael Mechoulam – pioneer of cannabis research

Raphael Mechoulam was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, on November 5, 1930. The son of Jewish immigrants from Bulgaria, he grew up in Israel. He studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he later began his career as a scientist.

After completing his studies in 1952, Mechoulam worked as an officer in the Israeli army before returning to the Hebrew University in 1956 for his doctorate in chemistry. There he worked with, among others, the future Nobel Prize winner Ernst David Bergmann and soon made a name for himself as a talented young scientist.

Discovery of THC and other cannabinoids

In the 1960s, Mechoulam turned to the scientific study of cannabis, which at that time was still illegal in many countries and therefore little researched. Together with his team, he began to study the chemical properties of the plant and the active ingredients it contains. In 1964, Mechoulam succeeded in isolating the psychoactive molecule delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and elucidating its structure – a milestone in the study of cannabis. Until then, it was not known which active ingredient was responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis.

In the years that followed, Mechoulam researched other active ingredients of cannabis and discovered cannabidiol (CBD) and various other cannabinoids, among others. Through his work, he was able to develop a better understanding of the medicinal properties of cannabis and demonstrate its potential to treat a variety of conditions.

Raphael Mechoulam - pioneer of cannabis research 1
Abb. 1: Die Entdeckung des THC-Moleküls war ein Meilenstein in der Erforschung von Cannabis und überaus wichtig, um ein Verständnis für die Wirkung zu bekommen

Medical cannabis on behalf of the government

Mechoulam also worked closely with the Israeli government to promote regulation of medical cannabis in Israel. In 1992, he founded the Cannabinoid Research Center at Hebrew University, which is now one of the world’s leading centers for cannabis research.

In addition to his work on cannabis, Mechoulam has been involved in other important research projects. Among other things, he studied the endocannabinoid system, which plays a key role in the regulation of pain, mood and appetite. Through his work, he was able to show that the body produces natural cannabinoids and the importance they have for health and well-being.

Mechoulam has received numerous awards and honors for his research throughout his career. In 1999, he was elected a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and in 2016, he received the EMET Prize for his work in medicinal chemistry. In 2019, he received the Israel Prize, the highest award an Israeli citizen can receive.

Raphael Mechoulam - pioneer of cannabis research 2
Abb. 2: Die Arbeit von Raphael Mechoulam wurde mehrfach mit Preisen ausgezeichnet.

A life for (medical) cannabis

Mechoulam was also a well-known advocate for the legal use of (medical) cannabis and often spoke out against criminalization. He emphasized that cannabis could be a safe and effective remedy and that it was important to conduct more research in this area.

Der Wissenschaftler war bis ins hohe Alter aktiv in der Forschung tätig und arbeitete weiterhin an neuen Projekten. Seine Erkenntnisse haben großen Einfluss auf die medizinische Untersuchung und die Art und Weise, wie Cannabis und seine Wirkstoffe betrachtet werden. Er war ein inspirierender Lehrer und Mentor für viele junge Wissenschaftler und hat dazu beigetragen, dass die Cannabis-Forschung zu einem anerkannten Bereich der medizinischen Forschung wurde.

His death on March 9, 2023 leaves a big gap in the scientific community and in cannabis research. A very nice quote from him, which was printed in the journal Nature Medicine in 2018, describes him and his way of research very well:

“I think discovering new things that have never been seen before is one of the most exciting things in science. It’s like being immersed in a new world.”

Raphael Mechoulam

Raphael Mechoulam has entered this new world a long time ago and has now unfortunately left it again. But one can say with certainty: His researches have motivated many new scientists to carry on his legacy always! So the new world announced by Mechoulam will become bigger and bigger.

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