The Father of Cannabis Research

Liz Filmer
06 Nov 2022

The "father of cannabis research, " Dr Raphael Mechoulam, discovered THC and helped identify the endocannabinoid system's key components. Now, he's made another groundbreaking discovery in cannabinoid acids.

Mechoulam has worked in many lab roles in his career. Nowadays, he spearheads the medical team for a large pharmaceutical group working to develop novel therapeutics from synthetic cannabinoids. Mechoulam has devised a method that modifies cannabis acids, keeping them stable enough to be usable on an industrial scale. This discovery was vital in increasing the stability and usefulness of cannabinoid acid. It also allowed the pharmaceutical company EPM to patent this form of CBDA, cannabidiolic acid methyl ester or EPM301.

Born in Bulgaria, Mechoulam attained a master's degree in biochemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1952 and a PhD in chemistry.

The start of his cannabis journey was receiving 5kg of hash from the Israeli police. His team had already discovered the chemical arrangement of CBD back in 1963. Now they had access to a large brick of cannabis compounds to study.

Mechoulam and his research partner Yehiel Gaonisuccessfully isolated THC from this same lump of hash. Mechoulam also discovered the chemical structures of some other minor cannabinoids over the next decade. This includes CBG, CBC, and some cannabinoid acids.

Animal and human studies proved that THC was the main psychotropic component of cannabis. However, researchers didn't know how the cannabinoid produced these effects.

In the 1980s, Mechoulam and his colleagues found that cannabinoids work through a specific mechanism, or, as we know it now, the endocannabinoid system. They found the CB1 receptor in 1988 and the CB2 receptor in 1993.

Mechoulam also designed and synthesised a range of novel synthetic cannabinoids used to target endocannabinoid receptors during the investigation. 

Mechoulam's discoveries have given us a more comprehensive understanding of the cannabis plant, the human body and its systems.

He has received multiple "Highly Cited Researcher Awards". He ranks among the top 1% of researchers worldwide for cited papers in a specific domain of study. 

In an interview with Mechoulam in 2020, he was asked about his thoughts on the future of cannabis research. He stated he'd like more human clinical trials regarding cancer and further exploration of the expanded endocannabinoid system. Hopefully, the doctor's wishes will come true shortly.


Liz Filmer