Legalized Marijuana is in hot demand
It’s fair to say that most of us are familiar with the effects THC can have on the body. But for those who are out of the loop, here’s a little background: THC is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, or “weed,” as many of us have taken to calling it. This year marks the 50th anniversary the ingredient was isolated from the plant., and we can thank Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam for that discovery.
Back in 1963, when Mechoulam first asked the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for a grant to research cannabis, the top U.S. public health agency told him, “Come back to us when you choose another subject — marijuana is not an American problem.”
So, feeling a little rejected and disheartened, Mechoulam went back to his native Israel. And it’s a good thing he did because Mecholaum credits the small country, its more lenient rules and personable atmosphere for helping bring him to his discovery.
During an interview at his office at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mechoulam told Vocativ, “Our administrative manager knew a guy from his army time who became a senior police officer. He called him and asked if we could get some Lebanese hashish from the storage rooms. Long story short, I went to Tel Aviv, had coffee with the guy and drove back on the bus with 5 kilos of hashish.”
One year later, Mechoulam got a call from the same American official who so confidently rejected his request for a grant. “Turns out, a U.S. senator’s son was caught smoking marijuana. The senator asked the NIH what effect it would have on his brain, and they were embarrassed to have done no research on the matter. He called to see what our group has done so far,” Mechoulam revealed.
“By that time, we were lucky enough to isolate THC, so I invited him over” … how’s that for a turn of events?
Long story short, the health official hopped on a plane to Israel. When he left, he took all the pure THC extracted from the batch with him. That move allowed the Americans to begin some much-needed research on a subject they were so quick to dismiss. Mechoulam insists most of the THC research that was done in the U.S. during the following years from those 5 kilos.
Mechoulam and his team have gone on to identify other cannabinoids in the plant (including non-psychoactive cannabidiol, which researchers cite as the key in developing new drugs).
But despite the team’s advances, Mechoulam explains that THC and cannabidiol are simply not patentable. Why? Because they wouldn’t make the drug companies enough money to incentivize the investment it would take to turn them into approved drugs. The fact that cannabis is still illegal in so many places also gives companies a reason to pass on it.
“A lot of time has been wasted,” Mechoulam said. “Back in the ’80s, we did a small study on the effects of using cannabidiol-rich marijuana on adults who suffer from epilepsy. “The results were great.”
Nowadays, doctors have begun testing doses of a few drops of oil under the tongue of children deeply affected by the affliction. “The results are once again great, but it has been 35 years, for God’s sake … so many families have suffered since then,” he exclaimed.
Early-stage research has shown that cannabinoid-based therapies can have hugely beneficial effects for a number of disorders, including schizophrenia, graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), osteoporosis and neuropathic pain.
Mechoulam is so familiar with the benefits cannabis-based therapies can provide from those suffering from poor health. But just because his work centers around the drug, doesn’t mean that his recreational life does. In fact, when asked if he thinks marijuana should be legalized he replied, “I am definitely not happy with people going to jail for using weed, but if I had to vote yes or no, I would vote against it.”
Should it surprise us that the “Grandfather of Marijuana” isn’t actually into the casual toke? Not really. He is, after all, a scientist. And that’s probably the most apt title we can apply to him. He’s invested his life’s work in a chemical compound that carries with it an incredibly potent social significance. In that way, it’s easy to see how the lines can get blurred time to time. Maybe that’s why the fan mail from legalization activists keeps coming.
Mechlouam is now a professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel.