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If you know anything about cannabis science, you know the name Dr. Raphael Mechoulam. The Israeli cannabis researcher is a specialist in the chemistry and pharmacology of cannabinoids. Mechoulam, now 88, is known as the first researcher to identify THC as the psychoactive compound within cannabis. He’s been analyzing cannabis compounds for a whopping 50 years. We caught up with Mechoulam recently to discuss the next big cannabinoids, the future of cannabis research, and his revered career in the industry.

Tell us what it was like to uncover THC and its role in cannabis all those years ago?

The discovery was gradual. First we managed to get pure THC and then we elucidated its structure. It took months. We were delighted when we had successfully achieved our goal.

Is it true you once resorted to asking an ex-military friend serving in the Israel Police to illegally supply you with seized Lebanese hashish for research purposes?

We asked the police, an ex-military friend of our administrator serving in the Israel Police, for hashish for research. We got it, legally, without any problems. Then it turned out that we had broken the law. We had to get an approval first from the Ministry of Health. Hence, next time we went first to the ministry, and then to the police. Both the ministry and the police gladly supported research. 

There are so many cannabinoids that have yet to be researched thoroughly. Which cannabinoids are you interested in learning more about?

CBD, for one, because it is not psychoactive but has many therapeutic effects. Also, I’m interested in CBD acid, the precursor of CBD in the plant, which is about as active as CBD. CBG is also of interest, due to it being the biogenetic precursor of most cannabinoids. And finally there’s Anandamide, which causes a variety of effects.

Israel has become a major area for cannabis research. Why is that? What is it about Israel and cannabis that go so well together?

Cannabis research in Israel is highly regarded. When I initiated research in this area in the 1960s I never had any red-tape problems. Very few scientific groups throughout the world were in this area. In most countries, academic researchers would have had difficulties. Later, the U.S.’s NIH was willing to support us with money for about 45 years.

Where would you like to see cannabis research progress in the next decade?

Most probably we shall also have semi-synthetic cannabinoid derivatives on the market, mostly for pain, for psychiatric diseases and for some autoimmune diseases. 

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