Cannabis plants. (photo credit: HEBREW UNIVERSITY)
For the first time ever, Rehovot engineers enhanced medical cannabis strains with 20% more THC, an accomplishment that will help develop new strains for users and increase crop yields.
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem can justifiably boast that it has done more for cannabis research than any other scientific institution in the world.
Bulgarian-born Prof. Raphael Mechoulam, 91, is a still-active organic chemist and professor of medicinal chemistry at the university who has studied cannabis (marijuana) for more than five decades. In 1976, he and his team succeeded in synthesizing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound in cannabis.
Mechoulam – who has received the Israel Prize, Harvey Prize, Rothschild Prize and many others awards for his research – has since made major contributions to the chemistry of cannabinoids and the discovery of endocannabinoids. Those molecules produced by the body are similar to cannabinoids of plant origin in that they tend to make people happy. Also called endogenous cannabinoids, the first was named anandamide by Mechoulam, after ananda, the Sanskrit word for joy, bliss and happiness.
He and his research group also succeeded in the total synthesis of the cannabidiol (CBD), a chemical in the cannabis sativa plant (hemp) that in one form is approved as a drug for seizure. They also synthesized cannabigerol (CBG), which may help lower cholesterol, protect the brain and nerves and reduce swelling and may help against Huntington disease, inflammatory bowel disease and to stimulate appetite.
In his initial study of natural products, Mechoulam was surprised to learn that the active compound in cannabis had never been isolated in pure form. He decided to investigate its chemistry, because without an active chemical, it could be used for basic or clinical research. He recalled that the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) were not interested in giving him grants because they said, “Marijuana is smoked in Mexico, not the US.” However, after a senior American politician learned that his son smoked it and feared it had affected his brain, the NIH changed its mind. The Health Ministry in Jerusalem finally granted Mechoulam permission to obtain cannabis samples from the Israel Police so he wouldn’t be jailed.
Cannabis plant. (credit: HEBREW UNIVERSITY)
Lacking a car then, he took the weed to his lab by bus, arousing queries from fellow passengers about what was producing that sweet smell.
As it is not psychoactive, CBD can be used in large amounts. Mechoulam’s medical colleagues found that it could stop epileptic attacks in half of young epilepsy patients. Conducting a large clinical trial on children with epilepsy, though, had to wait for 35 years. He called this delay unfortunate, as many thousands of children could have been helped.
To Read The Rest Of This Article By Judy Siegel-Itzkovich on Jerusalem Post
Published: May 31, 2022
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