Raphael Mechoulam, otherwise known as the “Father of Cannabis Research”, paved the way for much of what we know about cannabis science. After isolating THC in 1964, Mechoulam gave way to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system — arguably the most important medical discovery of the 20th century.
Who is Raphael Mechoulam?
Name: Raphael Mechoulam
Born: 5 November, 1930
Died: 9th March, 2023 (aged 92 years)
Raphael Mechoulam, otherwise known as the “Father of Cannabis Research” was born in Sofia, Bulgaria to a Jewish family. He grew up in a well-to-do family until they were forced out of Bulgaria due to anti-semitic laws. Mechoulam’s father was sent to a concentration camp, from which he survived. Mechoulam went on to study chemical engineering, but did not like it. In 1949, the family moved to Jerusalem, Israel where Mechoulam went on to study chemistry.
Mechoulam received his M. Sc. in biochemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and then received his PhD at the Weizman Institute. During his studies, Mechoulam became increasingly obsessed with cannabis and cannabinoids. At this point in his research, CBD had been isolated and identified, but THC had not. Mechoulam isolated and identified THC in 1964 at the Weizman institute.
This discovery began an entire cascade of discoveries about cannabis, its constituents, and its pharmacokinetics with the human body.
Mechoulam lived in Jerusalem, where he continued to be one of the greatest contributors to the field of cannabis research up until his death in 2023.
Notable works and achievements
- Mechoulam isolated and identified THC in 1964.
- Three decades later, between 1992 and 1995, Mechoulam and his team identified and isolated endogenous cannabinoids, anandamide and 2-AG. This formed the basis of all studies of the endocannabinoid system, after which cannabinoid receptors were discovered, and the concept of the endocannabinoid system was formed.
- In 2000, Mechoulam won the Israeli Prize in Exact Sciences.
- In 2001, Mechoulam received an honorary doctorate from Ohio State University.
- In 2011, Mechoulam was given the NIDA Discovery Award.
- In 2012, Mechoulam was a recipient of the Rothschild Prize in Chemical Sciences and Physical Sciences.
- In 2016, Mechoulam received an award in recognition of his lifetime achievement at CannaMed.
- In 2016 he also received the Genius 100 Visionary award.
- He held honorary degrees from the University of Guelph (2018) and the Weizmann Institute of Science (2019).
- In 2019 – 2020, he received the Harvey Prize of the Technicon, a prestigious award for breakthroughs in science and technology. Receiving this prize is sometimes seen as an indicator that the recipient may also win a Nobel Prize.
Raphael Mechoulam Quotes
“I believe cannabinoids represent a medical treasure waiting to be discovered.“
“I have spent most of my life decoding the mysteries to be found within this incredible plant. The collective work on the plant has currently led to identifying a major physiological system, the endocannabinoid system, which appears to be involved in numerous human illnesses. I would like to see my colleagues forge ahead with their investigations, advancing even further the acceptance and integration of cannabinoids, in particular cannabidiol, its derivatives and the specific CB2 agonists, in traditional medicine.“
SensiBilisation: Sensi Seeds’ rare interview footage with Raphael Mechoulam
Sensi Seeds’ SensiBilisation series aims to bring forth the biggest influencers in the world of cannabis. The first 15 episodes featured Jack Herer, while the second part features Raphael Mechoulam. Please, click on CC to view subtitles in English, French, Spanish, German or Dutch.
In this first video, Mechoulam shares the moment when he and his team were identifying compounds in some illegally obtained hashish.
Identifying receptors and rocking cannabis history
This second episode with the Professor dives deeper into the discovery of the cannabinoid receptors and how important this system is for the body and the brain.
Sometimes science is missing out
In the third episode of SensiBilisation featuring Raphael Mechoulam, the Professor indicates that sometimes science misses out on certain discoveries. As an example, Mechoulam uses anandamide, a very simple but important compound that only was discovered in 1992.
Quantifying is crucial for medicine
Raphael Mechoulam is making a clear statement in this SensiBilisation episode with the THC-Professor. Mechoulam states that if cannabis treatments are not quantitative and scientifically verifiable, then physicians will not accept them. The Professor is using some very strong examples to underline this statement.
The undiscovered benefits of cannabis
Many discoveries on the medicinal value of cannabinoids have been made ever since THC’s isolation in 1964, but the Professor believes there is still much more to discover. In this belief, he honours all the scientists that have ever researched and are currently researching the cannabis plant.
Cannabis and the entourage effect
Years ago Professor Raphael Mechoulam researched terpenes. These are non-active compounds in cannabis which also can be found in many other plants. He found out that they influence the activity of other compounds in cannabis, such as THC and CBD. In this episode, the Professor points out the importance of terpenes in cannabis.
Mechoulam’s personal THC experience
In this episode, Professor Mechoulam reveals something he has never shared in front of a camera before in such great detail: his own personal experiences with THC, and those of his wife, the members of his research team and a couple of friends.
More footage of Raphael Mechoulam
Cannabis’ great scientist, Mechoulam, has been the subject of many interviews and films. At the UFCM iCare Symposium in Strasbourg in October, 2014, Mechoulam was the key speaker. Many cannabis researchers and scientists spoke about medicinal cannabis and its progression in the modern world. See Mechoulam’s lecture at the symposium below.
Raphael Mechoulam: The Scientist
It is only fitting that a film should be made in Mechoulam’s honour. He was essentially the spark that started the burning flame of cannabis research. Without Mechoulam’s initial research, many of the discoveries about cannabis and the endocannabinoid system may never have been made.
The documentary outlines his young life in Bulgaria before fleeing from the second world war. It shares his story of clandestine research, and how that developed into one of the most fruitful careers in history.