In this informative and thoughtful interview, Professor Raphael Mechoulam discusses how he got started studying medical cannabis, some of the biggest challenges facing cannabis research today, and what we should focus on to improve cannabinoid medicine on a global scale.
This interview is brought to you by our friends Heli Dangur and Narkis Tessler from CannaCAST IL, Israel’s leading medical cannabis podcast. They formed this show with the primary goal of educating and empowering the medical cannabis community by offering international exposure to Israel’s groundbreaking technology, R&D, and innovation.
In this episode from their series, Dangur and Tessler sat down with the world renowned Professor Raphael Mechoulam for an insightful interview in his lab at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Mechoulam is known as the Father of Cannabis Research since discovering endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids back in the early 1960s. He and his research group were the first to isolate and fully synthesize the major plant cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol, cannabigerol and many others. He has also conducted many studies on Anandamide, an endocannabinoid responsible for homeostasis and referred to as the “bliss molecule“.
It was his curiosity about cannabis as a healing plant that led him to a police station in 1963, where he obtained his first sample – 5 kilos of hashish – to use for research purposes. Mechoulam then developed a relationship with employees at the Israeli Ministry of Health, who gave him permits to continue getting cannabis products for his studies over the next few decades. As he casually summarized it, “I always went to the ministry of health, they gave me a letter to the police, went to the police and drank some coffee with them, took the hashish I needed and that was it.”
In this gracious interview, Mechoulam also discuses some of the biggest challenges facing th discuses some of the biggest challenges facing the medical cannabis industry today, such as a lack of clinical trials; or better yet, a lack of legitimate clinical trials conducted on actual humans. “The problem today is that, although medical cannabis is used quite widely, we don’t have enough clinical trials in most fields; and this is a major problem because physicians like to back up their medical advice with clinical trials… and as long as it [clinical trials] is not done on humans, physicians will not prescribe cannabidiol… and rightfully so,” stated Mechoulam.
There are various other barriers that are hindering medical cannabis research, as Mechoulam points out. “Clinical trials today cost a lot of money. When insulin was discovered almost 100 years ago, it became a drug within 1 year. Things that were demanded at that time were not very complicated and they could be finished within several months. Today, things are much more complicated, it takes years to do the clinical trials and everything that is needed, and it costs a huge amount of money.”
“Big Pharma is apparently, at the moment at least, not very interested because there are no patents,” he continued. “And without the patent, they don’t want to spend money on something that they cannot get a return from on their investment.”
He also discussed how cannabinoids can be utilized by our bodies to treat many other conditions and what our future areas of research focus should be, such as autoimmune disease (which is on the rise in the U.S. and other parts of the world), osteoporosis, addiction, and cancer – which he is currently in the process of developing a cannabis-based treatment for.
“Cannabidiol is clinically tested for a disease called GVHD (Graft versus host disease). In certain diseases, mostly cancer, the bone marrow has to be replaced and the replacement of the bone marrow causes the body to attack the bone marrow and the new bone marrow then attacks the body. Then in many cases, the patient is sick, sometimes very sick.
“This a kind of autoimmune disease. Cannabidiol is an excellent drug in treating this. I was slightly involved in this research.” He pointed to the success of the clinical trials, which took course over a couple of years. “Chances are, we will have Cannabidiol as a treatment for diseases affecting bone marrow that needs to be replaced,” he added.
To hear more about recent medical cannabis developments from the wise words of Professor Mechoulam himself, check out the podcast episode and leave us your thoughts!