By / March 13, 2023

Raphael Mechoulam, “Father of Cannabis Research,” Dies at Age 92

The famous cannabis scientist Raphael Mechoulam passed away at the age of 92. The news was announced by friends and colleagues who shared their condolences and tributes.

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Eulogizing Mechoulam

“This is a very sad day for me, for the scientific community, and for the cannabis community. Professor Raphael Mechoulam, whom we called Raphi, was one of the greatest scientists I have ever met, my teacher and mentor in many ways. I truly believe he deserved a Nobel Prize!” shared David Meiri, associate professor at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and colleague of Mechoulam.

“Thank you, Raphi, for all the great things you did and discovered in your life, and thank you for all the help and support you gave me. Rest in peace, my dear friend.”

The Father of Cannabis Research

Among his many accomplishments, Dr. Mechoulam is considered the first person to isolate and then synthesize THC.

Raphael Mechoulam was born in 1930 in Sofia, Bulgaria. His family later moved to Israel, where Mechoulam studied chemistry.

In the early 1960s, while working as a chemist at the Weizmann Institute, Mechoulam procured cannabis from the Israeli police with the intention of isolating and identifying the plant’s psychotropic component, which had never been done at the time.

“Morphine had been isolated from opium in the 19th century, early 19th century,” Mechoulam said in a 2014 interview with CNN. “Cocaine had been isolated from coca leaves [in] the mid-19th century. And here we are in the middle of the 20th century when the chemistry of cannabis is not yet known. So it was an interesting project.

Mechoulam Discovers THC

Mechoulam succeeded in his cannabis project, and discovered tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). He and his colleagues also isolated, discovered the molecular structure, and synthesized several other cannabinoids, including cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), and cannabichromene (CBC).

The discoveries of Mechoulam laid the foundation for chemical research on cannabis and helped spur new discoveries, such as the body’s cannabinoid receptors in the 1980s and 1990s.

Once these endocannabinoid receptors were identified, the race was on to find the chemicals that normally interact with them, the body’s endogenous cannabinoids. Once again, Mechoulam proved to be a pioneer. In 1992, he conducted research that proved that a chemical called arachidonoyl ethanolamine, which he and his colleagues named anandamide, was produced by the body and could activate the CB1 receptor.

Mechoulam Continued His Research and Innovations in Old Age

At the 2019 CannMed cannabis conference in California, the then-88-year-old researcher announced another creation: synthetically stable Cannabidiolic Acid (CBDA), suitable for clinical use.

“We have taken the unstable acid molecules of the cannabis plant and synthesized them to provide a stable and consistent basis for the search for new therapies across a wide range of medical needs,” Mechoulam explained during his presentation at the conference.

We Need More Cannabis Research

In his speech, Mechoulam urged the scientific community to further support medical cannabis research and lamented the research time already lost, as well as the patients who have been unable to benefit from cannabis-based treatments for conditions such as epilepsy.

“Did we have to wait 30 years? No,” said Mechoulam in 2019. “We could have helped thousands of children, and we didn’t.”

Mechoulam was a professor of medicinal chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. He received the Israeli Exact Science Prize – Chemistry in 2000, a NIDA Discovery Award in 2011, and the Harvey Prize (an annual Israeli award for breakthroughs in science and technology) in 2019.

(Featured image via Wikimedia Commons – Public Domain)

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