Israeli chemist and researcher Raphael Mechoulam celebrated his 90th birthday on November 5. He's best known for discovering THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets you high.
Mechoulam: "It all started from a fateful bus ride in 1964."
Mechoulam was born in Sofia, Bulgaria in 1930. After his father survived being in a concentration camp, the family moved to Israel in 1949. Mechoulam studied biochemistry and graduated from the Hebrew University of Israel in 1952 and then received his Ph.D. at the Weitzmann Institute in 1958. He was hired as a professor by the University in 1972.
According to Mechoulam:
"My laboratory has worked on the chemistry, pharmacology and clinical effects of natural products (including cannabis) for over 50 years. We have isolated numerous cannabinoids, including the active constituent of cannabis, delta9-THC, and elucidated its structure. We have also identified endogenous cannabinoids in the pig brain. These fatty acid derivatives, named anandamide and 2-AG, are the agonists of a major new biological system called the endocannabinoid system. Most of my current research focuses on the numerous anandamide-like compounds in the mammalian body, many of which are involved in basic biological reactions, such as bone formation, vasodilation, head trauma, addiction, etc. We have also developed novel cannabinoids and anandamide-like compounds which are being developed as drugs by pharma companies."
Asked how his cannabis research began, Mechoulam explained:
"It all started from a fateful bus ride in 1964, when I brought five kilos of Lebanese hashish I received from the Israeli Police to my laboratory at the Weitzman Institute in Rehovot. With that material we were able to isolate and identify the psychoactive component in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol, that had eluded scientists for decades. The rest, shall we say, is history."
Mechoulam's research also identified other cannbinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabigerol (CBG). "I think there should be more focus on the acidic precursors of THC and CBD – THCa and CBDa," he noted. "Those molecules have low stability and, as a result, very little research has been done on them. But I think that they have a big potential and should be studied more."
Mechoulam was selected as a member of the Israeli Academy of Science and Humanity in 1994.
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