Raphael Mechoulam, the ‘Father of Marijuana Research,’ Dies at 92

Raphael Mechoulam, called the “father of marijuana research” for his groundbreaking work in understanding the chemical structure of THC, died recently at his home in Israel. He was 92 years old.

A biochemist and professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Mechoulam played a major role in finding the basic chemical components of cannabis. He became the first scientist to do extensive research on cannabinoids.

“Most of the human and scientific knowledge about cannabis was accumulated thanks to Professor Mechoulam. He paved the way for groundbreaking studies and initiated scientific cooperation between researchers around the world. Mechoulam was a sharp-minded and charismatic pioneer,” Asher Cohen, president of Hebrew University, said in a statement.

Raphael Mechoulam’s Work Began in the 1960s

Israel is considered a hub for marijuana research (as well as a place with interesting cannabis history) because scientists in the country are not held back by the many obstacles that face researchers in the United States.

In the 1960s, the Bulgaria-born Mechoulam did trailblazing work in cannabis, an area of research that he said at the time was almost totally neglected.  He and his fellow researchers isolated CBD, THC and other chemical compounds in marijuana. Their findings lead to more research into the psychological and physical impact of cannabis.

In the years before his death, Mechoulam’s team focused on creating synthetic cannabis. They accomplished the goal of creating synthesized molecules that replicate the structure of cannabis acids that have the added benefit of not breaking down as easily as natural cannabis acids into cannabinoids. That allows them to be reproduced on a large scale without the need for using real cannabis plants.

A Lifetime of Achievement

Thanks to his determination to study cannabis, Mechoulam paved the road for many researchers who followed. He also received many accolades, including 25 nominations since the 1960s for academic awards. Those include the Heinrich Wieland Prize (2004), an honorary doctorate from Complutense University (2006), the Israel Prize in Exact Sciences – Chemistry (2000), an Israel Chemical Society Prize for excellence in research (2009) and an EMET Prize in Exact Sciences – Chemistry (2012).

Mechoulam also became a founding member of the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines and the International Cannabinoid Research Society. In 1994, he was elected as a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

Born in Bulgaria in 1930, Mechoulam moved to Israel with his family in 1949. He earned a doctorate in 1958 from the Weizmann Institute (1958), with a thesis on the chemistry of steroids, and did postdoctoral studies at the Rockefeller Institute in New York. He joined the scientific staff at the Weizmann Institute from 1960–65, focusing on isolation, structure elucidation and total synthesis of the main active principles of cannabis.

Joshua Rednik, CEO of American Friends of the Hebrew University, said in the statement: “The world has lost a giant in the scientific research community and a pioneer in the medical cannabis field.”

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