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People Who Helped Shape the Cannabis Industry: Rafael Mechoulam

By Kent Gruetzmacher
Published: December 1, 2017 | Last updated: April 8, 2021
Key Takeaways

Rafael Mechoulam is one of the most influential, yet least publicized, figures in the contemporary cannabis space. His significance in the industry is the result of his profound contributions to the medical science surrounding marijuana.

As a professor of medicinal chemistry at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Rafael Mechoulam is famous for the discovery and isolation of cannabinoid compounds from both the marijuana plant and the human body.

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Beginning his research into the medical benefits of cannabis in the mid-twentieth century, Mechoulam set forth to establish a legitimate understanding of the herb’s chemical compositions in an era steeped with prohibition and naïveté.

To put this notion in context, some of his most notable scientific discoveries occurred during the 1960s. At this time, when counterculture celebrated marijuana for it’s psychoactive, quasi-mystical attributes, Mechoulam recognized the herb as a genuine medicine and sought to objectively investigate it in controlled laboratory settings.

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The importance of Mechoulam to modern day medical marijuana movements cannot be overstated, as the research he conducted 50 years ago is still ahead of its time by today’s standards.

To elaborate, in 1964 Mechoulam discovered the chemical composition of the main psychoactive compound in marijuana: tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. In other words, Mechoulam isolated, and broke down chemically, the primary psychoactive component in cannabis that has been getting individuals high for thousands of years.

Interestingly, his discoveries represent a convergence of ancient and modern cultures—he described a plant suffused in a supernatural aura with the objective classifications of Western science.

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Mechoulam’s laboratory work continued, and the scientific community recognizes him as “the first to complete the total synthesis of major plant cannabinoids 9-tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol, cannabigerol, and others.”

Mechoulam’s success with the synthetization of cannabinoids opened the door for the creation of pharmaceutical-grade, synthetic cannabis medicines. These meds, such as marinol, have been prescribed to terminally ill cancer and aids patients in the US for decades.

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As Mechoulam’s medical research into cannabis continued into the 1980s, he made another paradigm-shifting discovery: that of the endocannabinoid system.

As part of Mechoulam’s research methodology, he was attempting to discern “where the psychoactive compounds in cannabis THC” interact with the human body and discovered an entire network of “chemical compounds and receptors” now referred to as the endocannabinoid system.

Upon discovering this previously unknown neural network, Mechoulam and his peers theorized that the endocannabinoid system acts to regulate chemical equilibriums within the human body.

To elaborate further, Dr. Robert Melamede from the University of Colorado postulates that “it is the role of our bodies’ endocannabinoids to regulate healing processes by controlling free radicals... [he] refers to free radicals as the friction of life and the endocannabinoids as the oil.”

As a result, Mechoulam’s discovery has set the stage for understanding alternative causes, as well as cures for such human maladies as migraine headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and fibromyalgia by way of the endocannabinoid system.

As the medical marijuana movement continues to struggle with acceptance in mainstream medicine, Mechoulam’s discoveries are nothing short of revolutionary as they set the standards for younger generations of chemists, scientists, and doctors to follow.

Today, Mechaulam remains on the cutting-edge of medical science research into cannabis, serving on the scientific advisory board for such cannabis-based pharmaceutical manufactures as Kalytera.

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Written by Kent Gruetzmacher | Writer, Owner of KCG Content

Profile Picture of Kent Gruetzmacher

Kent Gruetzmacher MFA is a Colorado-based writer and owner of the writing and marketing firm KCG Content. Kent has been working in the cannabis and hydroponics space for over a decade. Beginning in California in 2009, he has held positions in cultivation, operations, marketing, and business development. Looking specifically to writing, Kent has worked with many of the leading publications and marketing agencies in the cannabis space. His writing has been recognized by such icons as Steve D’Angelo and Rick Simpson.

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