Raphael Mechoulam: His Impact on Cannabis and Endocannabinoids

At Green Nexus, we are dedicated to sourcing high-quality cannabis L. long photoperiod plant and cannabis L. short photoperiod plant seeds that support your well being and align with your wellness goals. While cannabis has been used for centuries for its medicinal qualities, there was little to no research into the science behind how and why it was beneficial. Thanks to the work of Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, we have a greater understanding of cannabis, cannabinoids, and the endocannabinoid system. We wanted to provide a look at his life and work to help you understand why cannabis is becoming widely accepted for its medicinal uses. 

About Raphael Mechoulam

Raphael Mechoulam was born in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1930, the son of well-to-do parents. For much of his childhood, he attended an American primary school, but as Bulgaria became closely aligned with Germany, their laws began to reflect Germany’s. Being Jewish, Dr. Mechoulam and his family were forced to leave Sofia, and his father was sent to a concentration camp. While he survived, the family chose to emigrate to Israel in 1949.

Prior to emigrating to Israel, Dr. Mechoulam studied chemical engineering, but began studying chemistry after the move. He enjoyed this work more, receiving a master’s degree in biochemistry from Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1952 and his Ph.D. at Weizmann Institute in 1958 for his thesis on the chemical make-up of steroids. His first research experience was in the Israeli Army where he studied and worked on insecticides.

Raphael Mechoulam’s Research on Cannabis

In the early 1960s, Mechoulam began to shift his research to cannabis, wanting to pick up on the research into the chemistry of the cannabis plant, specifically determining the chemical structures of cannabinol and other phytocannabinoid constituents of the plant. 

Isolating Potency

In 1963, Dr. Mechoulam and his colleagues at Hebrew University reported the isolation, structural makeup, and activity of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (Mechoulam, R. Gaoni Y., 1967), or Potency, as well as several other cannabinoids. Other cannabinoids were isolated during this time including cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol, cannabichromene, and cannabinoid carboxylic acids. However, Potency was found to be the main psychoactive constituent of the plant, responsible for much of the effects people felt, including increased appetite, physical relaxation, and feelings of euphoria.

Discovering Cannabinoid Receptors

Over two decades, research into cannabis continued. At this point, it was thought that Potency’s effects were non-specific, though findings in the 1980s showed this may not be accurate and that certain cannabinoids, including Potency and CBD, display stereoselectivity (Howlett, et al, 2002). This means there would have to be a receptor in the body to affect how Potency and other cannabinoids would affect both the mental and physical state.  

By 1993, two G protein-coupled cannabinoid receptors had been discovered. CB1 is found in the nervous system while CB2 is found in the peripheral nervous system and is needed for immune and inflammatory responses. 

Revealing Endocannabinoids

Because they found cannabinoid receptors within the body, it would be necessary for endogenous cannabinoids that are created by the body to exist. Thus, Dr. Mechoulam and collaborators began looking for endocannabinoids. His research revealed anandamide, a naturally produced neurotransmitter that could activate the CB1 receptor (Devane W.A. et al 1992). 

Raphael Mechoulam’s Impact on Medicine

Dr. Mechoulam has devoted years of research to advancing how we understand cannabinoids, including how they can be used in both biochemistry and pharmacology. He has received numerous awards, including: 

1994 – Member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities

1999-2000 – President, International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS)

2000 – Israel Prize in Exact Sciences – Chemistry

2001 – Honorary doctorate from Ohio State University

2002 – Honorary Member of the Israeli Society of Physiology and Pharmacology

2003-2005 – Chairman of the Board, International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines (IACM)

2006 – Honorary doctorate from Complutense University

2011 – National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Discovery Award

2012 – EMET Prize in Exact Sciences – Chemistry which is given for excellence in academic achievements that make a great contribution to society. 

2012 – Recipient of the Rothschild Prize in Chemical Sciences and Physical Sciences which is given to Israeli academics who have made noteworthy contributions in their fields. 

2014 – International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines (IACM) Award

2016 – Genius 100 Visionary

2018 – Honoris causa from the University of Guelph

2019-2020 – Harvey Prize Recipient, an annual award for breakthroughs in science and technology

Order High Quality Cannabis Seeds Today

We owe much of what we know about cannabis and how it affects the endocannabinoid system to the hard work and dedication of Dr. Mechoulam. We believe in continuing to share information about how cannabis can support wellness goals and improve the quality of life. Shop our cannabis seed selection or learn more about our breeders: Barney’s Farm, Green House Seeds, Soma Seeds, Dutch Passion, and Amsterdam Genetics.

Mo-cannabis-nurse

Author

Mo Smyth, BSN, RN Cannabis Nurse Educator

References

Devane W.A., Hanuš L., Breuer A., Pertwee R.G., Stevenson L.A., Griffin G., Gibson D., Mandelbaum A., Etinger A., Mechoulam R. Isolation and structure of a brain constituent that binds to the cannabinoid receptor. Science. 1992;258:1946–1949. doi: 10.1126/science.1470919. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1470919

Howlett A.C., Barth F., Bonner T.I., Cabral G., Casellas P., Devane W.A., Felder C.C., Herkenham M., Mackie K., Martin B.R., et al. International Union of Pharmacology. XXVII. Classification of cannabinoid receptors. Pharmacol. Rev. 2002;54:161–202. doi: 10.1124/pr.54.2.161. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12037135

Mechoulam R., Gaoni Y. The absolute configuration of Δ1-tetrahydrocannabinol, the major active constituent of hashish. Tetrahedron Lett. 1967;8:1109–1111. doi: 10.1016/S0040-4039(00)90646-4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6039537