Raphael Mechoulam, the scientist, pioneer of cannabis research

Raphael Mechoulam, the scientist, pioneer of cannabis research


In the past few years the debate on the medical, social and legal aspects of cannabis has increased more and more. The growing interest has also brought an increase in the number of male and female researchers studying ever more profoundly the quality of the hemp plant.

The identification of CBD and THC 

The pioneer of  this line of research was, without a doubt professor Raphael Mechoulam, a scientist still today engaged in research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In 1964, when working at the Weizmann Institute in Israel, Mechoulam was the first -  together with his colleagues Yechiel Gaoni, and Habib Edery – to isolate and analyse delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (commonly known as THC): one of the active principles of cannabis best known by the public.

Through the years Mechoulam confirmed himself as the real precursor of this line of research. The Israeli researcher is the  discoverer of cannabidiol (CBD) as well, already identified in 1963. His publications, result of almost 50 years of work, form the basis of scientific research on cannabis.

Raphael Mechoulam, a life in research

Mechoulam was born in 1930 in Sofia, Bulgaria, and grew up in a wealthy Jewish family. With the onset of Jewish racial laws his dad,  physician in a hospital in the city, was deported to the concentration camps, but was able to survive. In 1949 the entire family emigrated to Israel, where Raphael Mechoulam undertook chemistry studies. He graduated in 1952 and obtained a doctorate at the Weizmann Institute in 1958. After a short experience at the Rockefeller Institute of New York he returned to his country to work at the Weizmann Institute and pass subsequently to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The first clinical study on the effects of CBD

In several interviews Mechoulam declared how scientific research on cannabis was undertaken very slowly. The political climate – in the years in which Mechoulam moved his first passes, cannabis was still a taboo – had direct consequences on the possibility for researchers to find hemp to conduct studies on.

It is also for this reason that Mechoulam was able to publish the first clinical study on the effects of CBD on eight patients affected by epilepsy, only in 1980, seventeen years after having identified this active principle.

ln the above mentioned first and short experiment, half of the participants did not manifest the convulsions typical of the disease, during the period of consumption of CBD, while three patients showed improvements also in the following weeks.

Mechoulam was, in principle, the mind behind the major part of scientific studies, which brought to the development of cannabis compounds which can be found on the market and consumed,  result of years of rigorous studies.

Raphael Mechoulam is author of over a 300 publications and is still continuing his research activity, supported by his team. Also owing to him, today about 147 million people all over the world can utilize the cannabis compounds, amongst which CBD, in order to mitigate the symptoms of various diseases.  


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