by Alan Aldous
Widely revered as the ‘Father of Cannabinoid Research,’ Raphael Mechoulam (92) died on March 9 at his home in Jerusalem. A Hebrew University School of Pharmacy professor, Mechoulam, began his cannabinoid experiments in the 1960s in Israel and continued working past the age of ninety.
Mechoulam and his team made groundbreaking discoveries related to the chemistry and pharmacology of cannabinoids—including the identification and synthesis of THC and CBD and the discovery of endocannabinoids, said the International Cannabinoid Research Society. While THC, CBD, and CBG are household names today, that would not be the case if it weren’t for Dr. Mechoulam.
His work was the catalyst for future cannabinoid medicine breakthroughs, such as identifying the human body’s internal cannabinoid receptors (the Endocannabinoid System) in the 1980s and ’90s, as detailed in a 1993 academic paper titled Molecular characterization of a peripheral receptor for cannabinoids.
The professor was actively working into his 90s.
It was 2020 when he revealed his latest discovery, cannabidiolic acid methyl ester (EPM301), a new, patented compound (synthetic, fully stable acid-based cannabinoid molecules) that caused a wave of excitement around the future of medicinal cannabis.
“Raphi’s research significantly impacted our understanding of the endocannabinoid system, its importance, and the therapeutic potential of cannabis. His work paved the way for the development of new drugs and treatments in a range of medical conditions, including chronic pain, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis,” says a memo from the ICRS.
Among Mechoulam’s many other achievements are the design and synthesis of numerous necessary novel cannabinoids with crucial therapeutic potential as pharmaceutical drugs.
The professor also helped form The Hebrew University Multidisciplinary Center for Cannabinoid Research (MCCR) in 2017 based on his significant discoveries over the past 55 years.
Hebrew University President Asher Cohen says, “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. This is a sad day for the academic community and for the university. I send my sincere condolences to his family.”
“This is a very sad day for me, for the science community and for the cannabis community. Professor Raphael Mechoulam, or as we called him Raphi, was one of the greatest scientists I ever met and was my teacher and mentor in many aspects. I truly believe he deserved a Nobel prize,” says Dedi Meiri, an associate professor at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology.
“Thank you Raphi for all the great things you did and discover[ed] in your life and thanks for all the help and support you gave me. Rest in peace my dear friend,” he continues.
“Today we lost a revolutionizer, legend, and extraordinary scientist. His discovery on THC has made revolution in the cannabis and health world,” says Haitham Amal of The Amal Lab.
Mechoulam was born in Bulgaria and emigrated to Israel in 1949 with his parents. He obtained a Master’s in biochemistry in 1952 from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot. Mechoulam worked on his postdoctoral research at the Rockefeller Institute in New York before returning to The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1965. There, he worked on his cannabinoid research, according to an article in the National Library of Medicine celebrating the researcher’s 90th birthday.
“Throughout his research career in the cannabinoid field, Mechoulam has demonstrated time and again an amazing ability both to come up with exciting original and important ideas that have greatly helped to advance knowledge about cannabinoid preclinical and clinical pharmacology, biochemistry and medicinal chemistry, and to follow these ideas through with great effect,” says the article, written by his colleague Roger Pertwee.