Mechoulam – The Master of Medical Marijuana
Medical Marijuana is fast becoming the largest embedded crop in the economy of many U.S. states and small countries across the globe. The proliferation of reports on the positive effects of medical marijuana have led to a new outlook on cannabis and cannabis products.
Gone are the days of Cheech and Chong, and potheads and ponytails.
Cannabis is being rebranded as a wonder weed and a medical breakthrough for a range of ailments. But as we know, marijuana has carried the stigma of a “gateway drug” for many years, so how did the new perception of marijuana as a bona fide treatment become known.
Let us help explain the shift in perception.
Who Discovered Medical Marijuana?
Recent news has identified Israel as the forerunner in the research and development of medical marijuana. So, perhaps it will be no surprise to learn that the Father of Modern Medical Marijuana is Raphael Mechoulam (try saying after a daily dose of MaryJane’s brand medicine).
The aptly named doctor – Raphael is the archangel of healing – is actually an organic chemist, but it has been his investigations that have given evidence and leverage to the realization of the health benefits and the legalization of medical marijuana in the United States.
Raphi, as he is known to his colleagues, has dedicated the last fifty years of his life to deciphering the chemical compounds of cannabis and how the human body interacts with these compounds.
He is the genius responsible for isolating and deciphering the molecular structure of the cannabinoids, with specific emphasis on tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) the psychoactive molecule and cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive compound that is the main carrier of medicinal qualities.
So why did Mechoulam choose to study cannabis at a time when pot was widely reduced to a bad habit at best, and at worst, blamed as a substance seducer that led smokers down a rabbit hole of addiction and debauchery.
He had no prior knowledge of the herb’s medicinal use as told in folklore and history books.
And he was most definitely not a pot smoking hippie in his youth.
He was, quite simply, a respectable, studious, science nerd who had to choose an original research subject; one that did not have 50 other students researching it, and the subject had to be substantial and have social impact.
The First Medical Marijuana Studies
As he was searching for a suitable subject, his lightbulb moment came when he realized that, while morphine and cocaine compounds had been isolated from their leafy origins to develop medicines, the chemical compounds of the marijuana plant had been left untouched and unstudied.
Mechoulam’s earliest studies were with pesticides, and perhaps this connection to plants and a plant’s natural, chemical pest repellent may have led to the understanding that the marijuana plant held strong medicinal properties.
But of course, to study marijuana, you need to get your hands on it and that’s not easy to do when it is an illicit substance. Raphi turned to the only people he knew that would have a decent sized stash – the police. He obtained a document from the Ministry of Health, which let him go to the police and ask for the contraband.
They agreed to let him have some, and he took the bus home with 5 kilos of hashish in his backpack.
In 1963, just three years after he began his research, the good doctor and his research team had determined the structure of CBD and four years later they had isolated and synthesized THC.
While it is now being used for chronic pain, cancer and PTSD and more, the first medical breakthrough in treatment was for epilepsy. The evidence gathered through testing showed overwhelmingly clear results that medical marijuana was effective in reducing seizures.
So, in 1980, Dr. Raphael and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in collaboration with a team of investigators from the Sao Paulo Medicine Faculty of Santa Casa wrote a report on the study that proved the incredible efficacy of cannabidiol for the treatment of epilepsy. It was never published.
Despite the fact that derivatives from opium, cocaine, and heroin are widely used in medicine, it has taken almost 40 years to get this treatment for epilepsy approved and it is still restricted. A labyrinth of bureaucracy and a game of political numbers has stopped millions of epilepsy sufferers from accessing the medical care they so desperately need.
How and Why Does Medical Cannabis Work?
Dr. Raphael and his team discovered that the human body produces a compound in and around the brain that mimics cannabis.
They named the chemical anandamide after the Sanskrit word ananda, “bliss”. These chemicals are intricately linked with the the largest receptor system in the human body. And because this system responded to chemicals that closely mimic cannabis, they named it the endocannabinoid system (ECS); basically a collection of cell receptors and corresponding molecules.
This major physiological system is involved in many metabolic processes, including human diseases and their symptoms. The endocannabinoid receptors control everything from behavior to nerve and bone growth.
And Dr. Raphi and his team discovered that THC interacts directly with these receptors. It’s like a match made in nature; a symbiotic relationship that exists outside the laws of time and culture.
“The endocannabinoid system is very important. Almost all illnesses we have are linked to it in some way or another. And that is very strange. We don’t have many systems which get involved with every illness,”. Dr. Raphael Mechoulam.
And this could be the key to the wide range of ailments that respond well to cannabis treatments.
As long as our system produces the Anandamide and other endocannabinoids at stable levels, our bodies will function properly. However, if the production of compounds becomes unbalanced or does not function well, the body becomes susceptible to a range of illnesses. Luckily, THC and cannabidiol can be used as replacement treatment.
The ECS is located throughout the entire body, however, some receptors and more concentrated in certain areas. CB1 receptors are found throughout the central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are found on immune cells, in the gastrointestinal tract, and in the peripheral nervous system.
The large and diverse areas monitored by these receptors illustrate how crucial they are to maintain optimal health and bodily function. These chemical messengers help maintain optimal balance in the body.
In Israel today, medical cannabis is approved and regulated for 27000 patients, and in the U.S., roughly 2,604,079 legally qualified patients use medical cannabis.
The number of people tuning in to the medicinal benefits of marijuana just keeps growing, and the medical benefits continue to be discovered. As Dr. Raphi states: “cannabinoids represent a medicinal treasure trove which waits to be discovered.”
And who can complain about a treasure trove that grows like a weed – provided by nature, harnessed by humankind.
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