Earlier this year we talked about Roger Adams, the American chemist responsible for ground breaking research in cannabis. Adams discovered THC, HHC, and delta 8 in the 40’s, but he was unfortunately unable to isolate these cannabinoids. Luckily, an Israeli chemist named Raphael Mechoulam would pick up right where Adams left off about twenty years later. Essentially, Adams walked so Mechoulam could run, and we truly are lucky that both of these men were so ahead of their times. Read on to learn about how Raphael Mechoulam (aka “The Grandfather of Cannabis”) overcame a tumultuous time in history, and fought against stigma, to redefine the world of cannabis and hemp.
Raphael Mechoulam was born on November 5, 1930 in Sophia, Bulgaria. His father was a physician, head of the Jewish hospital. Unfortunately, anti-semitic laws forced the family to leave the city in favor of a small village. Raphael’s father was appointed village doctor in 1942, and the family was safe for a while, but eventually was forced to move again and again. After moving from village to village, his father was taken to a concentration camp. Fortunately, he survived the experience.
The communists gained control of Bulgaria in 1944, and Raphael began to study chemical engineering, which wasn’t his favorite, but piqued his interest in the scientific field. Finally, the Mechoulams relocated to Israel after the war, in 1949. Here, the budding scientist Raphael excelled in his studies. In 1952 he earned a Master of Science degree in biochemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Six years later, he completed his PhD at the Weizmann Institute.
Ahead Of His Time
Dr. Mechoulam then spent a few years in the army as a researcher; it was there that he met his wife, Dalia. Post-army, the scientist was interested in chemistry problems related to biological problems. Because Israel could not compete with other major groups in terms of budget, Mechoulam tried to find topics that were not already being pursued. He realized that no one was working with cannabis despite its rich history and wondered what information we were missing about the plant. In the early 1960’s, Mechoulam began the research for which he is most famous today.
Truly ahead of his time, the doctor originally asked the National Institute of Health in the US for a grant for cannabis research. He was denied because the institute felt that cannabis was “irrelevant”. Just one year later they would change their mind when a politician’s son was caught smoking and the man wanted to know if his illegal antics were damaging to the mind. Mechoulam held no grudge, and was nice enough to send them the “world’s supply of THC” which he had managed to isolate.
Early Cannabis Research
Initially, the revolutionary reefer researcher got his supply from the confiscated contraband that the Israeli police had in their possession. Mechoulam was successful in isolating THC, and he and his team conducted their first experiments on monkeys. The researchers noted the sedative effects, which inspired Mechoulam to take his studies a step further.
At a party, his wife baked a “special” cake and distributed servings containing 10 mg of THC to ten guests, while five guests enjoyed delicious, but ordinary, cake for comparison. This party- I mean study- yielded interesting results which prompted the future “grandfather of cannabis” to continue his work. Many participants claimed not to be affected although one could not stop talking, and one burst out laughing every ten to fifteen seconds. Only one participant showed signs of anxiety and paranoia.
During this period, Raphael Mechoulam also successfully synthesized delta 8. He and his team were actually criticized for their desire to learn more about the cannabinoid, because the plant only produced it in trace amounts (compared to CBD and THC, which are present in larger quantities).
The Endocannabinoid System
In the 1980’s, American scientist Allyn Howlett discovered the CB1 receptors that contribute to the endocannabinoid system. Her discovery provided a great jumping off point for further research from Mechoulam. The endocannabinoid system reacts to the cannabinoids present in cannabis; but the burning question remained: what was this system meant to interact with that was already present in our own bodies? After two years of research, Mechoulam’s team identified a compound in the brain which acts on these receptors. They named their discovery anandamide after the Sanskirt word ananda meaning “supreme joy”.
The doc wasn’t done yet. With his new understanding of the way cannabis interacts within the bodies of mammals, Mechoulam pursued a ton of medical research with cannabis. Unfortunately, though positive discoveries were made, his findings would not be used for several decades due to the stigma surrounding the controversial plant.
In 1999, Mechoulam and his team identified “the entourage effect”. This describes the phenomenon that the presence of multiple cannabinoids greatly increases activity in the endocannabinoid system. They contribute together to an overall effect that can’t be produced by a single molecule.
Three years later in 2002, the marijuana MVP filed for a patent for the process of isomerization. This was an absolute game changer. Isomerization made it possible to convert naturally abundant CBD into delta 8. Most of the delta 8 on the market today is created through this process.
Mechoulam is still alive today at the ripe old age of ninety-two. He has continuously advocated for the progress of medical marijuana. Luckily, he has lived to see the fruit of his labor. We are absolutely indebted to him for our understanding of not only the cannabis plant, but the human body. He has worked tirelessly to overcome obstacles and stigma. This man pursued research well ahead of its time and broadened the understanding of an ancient plant. The popularity of delta 8 today would not be possible without his innovation. Celebrate his discoveries with our selection of delta 8 blunts and prerolls. Or, you can even experience the entourage effect for yourself with our HHC prerolls, which contain both HHC and CBG.
*Most of the information in this piece was gathered from the documentary “The Scientist”, available here.