The acclaimed scientist, Raphael Mechoulam, often referred to as the father of cannabis research, died on the 9th of March 2023, at the age of 92.
Born in Hungary on the 5th of November 1930 Raphael emigrated to Israel in 1949 with his Jewish parents. Three years later in 1952, he obtained an MSc in biochemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He continued his studies and obtained a PhD in chemistry at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, near Tel Aviv, before carrying out postdoctoral research at the Rockefeller Institute in New York.
In the mid-sixties, he returned to the University of Jerusalem, which is where, in 1972, he became a professor of Medicinal Chemistry. In the following years and decades, he took many senior roles within the university, as well as being elected a member of the Israeli Academy of Sciences in 1994, and serving as president of the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines from 1996 – 2000.
Mechoulam was the recipient of many awards and honours throughout his academic career, including the Rothschild Prize in the field of Chemical Sciences and Physical Sciences, and an award from the International Association of Cannabinoid Medicine in 2014.
Both inside and outside of academic circles, Raphael Mechoulam was most well-known for his pioneering work in the field of cannabis and specifically, cannabinoids such as THC, CBD and CBG.
He also discovered one of the body’s own cannabinoids, anandamide. Derived from the Sanskrit word for bliss, anandamide is produced by the body and is chemically similar to THC. From his cannabis work, he earned him the monicker, ‘father of cannabis science’.
Most of the human and scientific knowledge about cannabis was accumulated thanks to Prof. Mechoulam. He paved the way for groundbreaking studies and initiated scientific cooperation between researchers around the world.
In a statement, the President of Hebrew University, Asher Cohen said, “Most of the human and scientific knowledge about cannabis was accumulated thanks to Prof. 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.”
It was in a series of research papers, starting in 1963 with ‘Isolation, Structure, and Partial Synthesis of an Active Constituent of Hashish’, where Raphael and his team first reported the ‘isolation, structure elucidation, stereochemistry and activity of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), which is the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis, and was originally named Δ1-THC’.
After several research groups in the 1980s, including Mechoulam’s own research on cannabinoids, it was agreed by the scientific community that there must be a bodily system that interacts with them. The race was on to find cannabinoid receptors in mammalian tissues, and it was won when Mechoulam discovered the endocannabinoid system.
“He led research that provided convincing evidence that (i) N-arachidonoyl ethanolamine, which he and his collaborators named anandamide, is an endogenously produced compound that can activate the CB1 receptor, and (ii) that 2-arachidonoylglycerol is also a cannabinoid receptor-activating endocannabinoid.”
Raphael Mechoulam continued his research his entire life. While talking at a cannabis conference in California in 2019 he announced at the age of 88 that he had synthesised cannabidiolic acid (CBDCA), an important phytocannabinoid in fibre and seeds-oil hemp.
Ethnobotanitiast and anthropologist Dennis McKenna, brother of psychedelic pioneer Terrance tweeted his condolences.
Today, the father of cannabinoid research, Dr Raphael Mechoulam passed away at the age of 92. His work has laid the foundation for groundbreaking research into cannabinoid medication everywhere.
— Dennis McKenna (@DennisMcKenna4) March 11, 2023
Speaking to CNN in 2014 about his motivation for going into cannabis research, Mechoulam said, “Morphine had been isolated from opium in the nineteenth century, early nineteenth century, cocaine had been isolated from coca leaves [in the] mid-nineteenth century. And here we were, mid-twentieth century, and yet the chemistry of cannabis was not known. So it looked like [an] interesting project.”