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Although the entire work and groundbreaking discoveries of Professor Mechoulam were made in Israel, his roots are north of Israel, in Bulgaria.
Raphael Mechoulam was born in 1930, in Sofia, Bulgaria in Jewish family. With a father who was head of the local hospital and a physician, it wasn’t a surprise when he started following in his father’s footsteps.
He chose the ‘American Grade School’ to continue with his education, but then WWII happened and Raphael’s family was caught right in the middle of it. His parents were forced to leave Sofia as a consequence of the latest anti-semitic laws, and to make matters worse, his father was taken to the concentration camp. Luckily, he survived.
It became clear that Bulgaria was not a safe space for any Jewish family during and after the war, so Raphael’s family decided to immigrate to Israel. There, Raphael attended the Hebrew University, studying chemistry and through that, beginning his journey towards making medical history.
After receiving his master’s degree in biochemistry from Hebrew University in 1952, Raphael attended the Weizmann Institute in Reḥovot for his doctoral studies. As a young Ph.D. student, he wanted to leave a good impression, so he focused his energy on finding a quality research topic.
He was surprised to find out that the active ingredient in morphine was known to be extracted for 100 years already, and it was the same for the cocaine from the cocoa leaves. However, he couldn’t find anything on the active ingredient of the marijuana.
He chose his field of research and as we know 60 years later, he didn’t make a mistake.
For Raphael, living, studying and working in Israel was a major mitigating circumstance. As he himself had said during countless interviews, things are easier when you live in a small place - you can always say that you weren’t familiar with the laws and apologize and everything would be fine, in Raphael words.
So, in 1964, Raphael, without knowing that he could ask for marijuana samples from the Ministry of Health, he took a rather unconventional path - he went to the police. He connected with the head of the investigating department of the national police and asked him for 5 kilos of marijuana.
The inspector was also unfamiliar with the rules, so he didn’t see a problem in it. Professor Mechoulam took the samples and took a bus ride to his laboratory at Weizmann Institute, with 5 kilos on his back.
This was a groundbreaking moment in the history of THC and CBD extraction, a moment professor Mechoulam loves to get back to.
In 1963, Professor Mechoulam and his colleague Yuval Shvo identified the structure of the CBD as an active ingredient in marijuana, for the first time in history. A year later, they isolated THC, the psychoactive ingredient, for the very first time as well.
These were major discoveries at the time, but professor Mechoulam wanted to focus on the positive effects of CBD. Over the years, his goals were to explain the advantage of using a high-concentrated CBD marijuana, rather than marijuana with high concentrations of THC.
Professor Mechoulam’s work is so inspiring because he dedicated his life to identifying the endocannabinoid system and the medical use of CBD. In 1980, he made a groundbreaking discovery with his study that proved a possible treatment of epilepsy with CBD. Aside from it, through his work, he was able to prove the role of CBD in treating schizophrenia, PTSD, and Parkinson’s disease.
In 1992, professor Mechoulam and scientists Lumir Hanus and Bill Devane made another startling discovery: the brains’ first cannabinoid receptor, naming it Anandamide. In 1994, the three of them discovered 2-AG, the main cannabinoid receptor for CB2. With these two discoveries, they set the basis for further studies for the therapeutic use of CBD.
No other scientist has dedicated almost their entire life to study the marijuana plant like professor Mechoulam. For his work, he has been awarded 25 times in academic circles, including honorary doctorates and the Heinrich Wieland Prize for distinguished scientists.
Even at the age of 89, he’s still included in multiple studies in his laboratory at the Weizmann Institute, in the hope that his work will lead him to many more discoveries that will improve people’s lives.
Disclaimer: This post is intended for informational purposes only and not intended to serve as professional medical advice. Please consult your doctor and listen to your body on what works for you.