Cannabis was used as medicine over thousands of years. Despite that, it entered a period of stigmatisation in the 20th century. What happened in an elevator pitch? The herb, which has been documented in Chinese medical texts as a cure-all ran into modern science. It also ran into politics. And naturally, also had religious enemies. If there were not enough drama, two world wars also entered the mix.

There have been few more deliberately targeted substances in the history of humanity in other words. With the exceptions of the Spanish Inquisition and the Nazi Holocaust, legalisation has been a war with few other parallels. The suffering caused by it is just beginning to be faced. A current discussion about the same is just raising its head in Canada. On a federal level. The government refuses to wipe clean the records of “criminals” arrested for a drug the country no longer finds illegal.

In other words, it was not just the use, possession, or cultivation of cannabis that was dangerous for the last 100 years. Internationally, it was any association with it. That included all those who wished to study it. Including for medical purposes.

It is not as if the witch hunt, however, was able to thrive everywhere. And into this maelstrom stepped Raphael Mechoulam. Today he is known as many things. That includes “Discoverer of THC.” It also includes the moniker “Father of the Endocannabinoid System.”

In the modern sense, such titles are absolutely earned. Almost singlehandedly, this unprepossessing Israeli immigrant scientist kept cannabis on the map. His was not an entirely solitary journey. And reform documented by Mechoulam and others has been promulgated into political change. This, in turn, has helped Mechoulam. However, along the way he faced down challenges that stumped others. All in the name of science. It’s also a story has grown from daily challenge to fable. And the associations with the Holocaust are not casual.

THC CBD research Raphael Mechoulam

THE BEGINNINGS OF THE JOURNEY

Mechoulam survived the Holocaust as a child. Like many families, his immigrated to Israel from Europe after WWII. Along the way, as the son of a medical doctor, he picked up academic credentials in biochemistry in several countries. He began studying the pharmacology of cannabinoids at a time when he had to go to the police for his raw materials. In 1963, as a young researcher, he isolated CBD. In 1964, he and his team of researchers succeeded in isolating THC.

From that point on, Mechoulam has literally defied political attacks with results. It was not always easy, but results continued to flow in. The discovery of the endocannabinoid system itself followed twenty years later. At the beginning of the new century, in other words, Mechoulam’s work was setting a new stage for the conversation.

How he managed this coup is another story. He almost single-handedly (with some exceptions in Canada) became the sole recipient of research funds from the United States for cannabinoid research. Armed with funds plus a place in the research establishment, Mechoulam, was best placed to lead the charge. And he focussed on the core science.

His work, in other words, allowed the progression through a wilderness. And his team delivered right at a time when the climate was finally good for a new conversation. As news of Mechoulam’s work on the ECS began to spread, global politics were turning. In the United States, Western States challenged federal law. In Europe, the less intensely fought war on drugs began to fade.

The Dutch coffee shop scene played an important role in all of this too. As a result of the grey laws around the drug itself, the seed culture in the Netherlands provided a semi-commercial seed lab unlike any in the world. Mechoulam’s research had by this time attracted the interest of the Israeli army. In at first small batches and then increasingly large numbers, Israeli soldiers were exposed to cannabis. Most of the earliest work was on brain injury and PTSD. All of these were derived from Mechoulam’s research. And all that cannabis was coming into the country via Holland.

By 2008, the Israeli government was beginning to integrate cannabis into mainstream military medicine. This meant exposure to the general population too. The system they implemented became the first part of current reform. The specialised canna-doctors were all, at core, getting their marching orders from Mechoulam’s map.

Israel Government Cannabis Research

TIES TO THE PAST, FOCUS ON THE FUTURE

Sourcing Dutch cannabis for Israeli research began to have an impact in Europe too. This started in academia. As a result, Mechoulam’s work infiltrated the continent well before the turn of the century.

Mechoulam’s influence began to show up in the UK in 1998. GW Pharmaceuticals was given additional licenses by the British government that year to focus on cannabinoid-based medications. The German government also began to move in this direction. This is because of the many links encouraged between Israel and Germany for historic reasons. Mechoulam’s influence in Germany, in fact, is so great that the government has essentially agreed with the scientific findings of this former refugee. Even before the legalisation of medical use earlier this year, German research funds were finding their way into cannabinoid research. And some pretty esoteric corners of that world.

It has been a long time since the German government supported the idea of cannabis as having no medical efficacy. And this is Germany, home of the “scientific study” that cannabis “causes” schizophrenia.

The sea of change here is so great, if unheralded, because of Mechoulam’s work. More interestingly, that has been the case for a long time. One example? The University of Dortmund has just successfully replicated cannabinoids from yeast. This Ruhr area University is in the middle of nowhere. Yet it is also the recipient of research funds from the government to produce cannabinoids.

And that all came, ultimately, from the direction and work of one man.

WHAT IS NEXT?

Mechoulam is still on the cutting edge discussions of cannabinoid application. His work is increasingly being used as a reference internationally. This starts with the impact of cannabinoids on children. The direct application of his work is changing national laws globally, particularly across Europe and the so-called “West.”

What will be more interesting is when this information begins to be integrated, again, with Eastern medicine if not technology to deliver it.

Much of the irony here, of course, is that Mechoulam’s work, while valuable, has “only” elevated Western understanding with Chinese medicine. Fascinating ground still lies ahead when these two are finally combined.

In fact, Chinese five-point acupuncture also stimulates areas of the body which can impact the function of the endocannabinoid system. Add to that medical cannabis which does the same from the other direction as it were, and the results are profound. So much so, that they were recorded, in Chinese, thousands of years ago.

What is about to happen, as a result in fact of Mechoulam’s work, is east is about to meet west. With new kinds of databases and analysis, including Big Data, many of the questions that still remain about cannabinoids are about to explored.

This includes databases where the native language is just “science.”

cannabis indoor cultivation

THE MASTER SWITCHING SYSTEM?

There is a great deal of evidence that the Endocannabinoid System is the master regulator switch of the human body. All of this is based on Mechoulam's work. And all of it is fundamental knowledge about human health. Depending on where and how applied, for example, cannabinoids appear to switch hunger on and off. They also switch pain, depression and spasticity impulses off. They help the body combat infection and inflammation.

They also do not turn “off” breathing impulses – like opioids. If the scientific understanding of the same is mapped into databases that transcend human language, who knows what will emerge. Chinese symbols to English or Hebrew will melt in the face of modelled, numbers-based data.

In the words of the Israelis, what Mechoulam’s work is capable of doing is revolutionary. This is changing the course of not just modern medicine, but governments. Starting with the Israeli policies themselves. Further afield, of course, the impact of Mechoulam’s professional life’s focus, is changing the course of global history.

 

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