Even if you've been consuming cannabis for longer than not, the name Raphael Mechoulam may not ring a bell for you. It should though, as this accomplished chemist and professor is a pioneer in cannabis research and has done much to legitimize the science behind marijuana in a world that's been against weed for nearly 100 years.
Born November 5, 1930, in Sofia, Bulgaria, Mechoulam's family immigrated to Israel in 1949 after being subjected to anti-Semitic prejudices. He received his Masters of Science in Biochemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1952, and his Ph. D. at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot in 1958. However, Mechoulam is best known as the world's first modern scientist to lead investigations into the biology, organic chemistry, and pharmacology of cannabis, and more recently, cannabinoids.
His studies into cannabis began in 1964 when he – now famously – smuggled 5 kilos of high-quality Lebanese hashish on a public bus to his lab at the Weizmann Institute. Since then he and his research team have achieved the isolation and synthesis of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana, as well as other cannabinoids (such as cannabidiol and cannabigerol), and identified the first two endogenous cannabinoids in humans (the first he named anandamide, from the Sanskrit word ananda which means “bliss”). His work also resulted in the discovery of the endocannabinoid system in vertebrates.
Mechoulam was elected a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences in 1994 and has received dozens of honors and awards, including the NIDA Discovery Award, (2011) and the ECNP (European College of Neuropsychopharmaclogy) Lifetime Achievement Award (2006). He has contributed to several books, secured more than 20 patents, and written more than 350 scientific articles as his research has progressed.
Today, Raphael Mechoulam is a professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and continues his work on the isolation, structure elucidation, and synthesis of endogenous cannabinoids and their mechanisms of action within the human body. He continues to collaborate with colleagues and institutions around the world, including groups in Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada, and the United States. Professor Mechoulam is also the subject of a 2015 documentary called The Scientist, which chronicles his career researching cannabis.
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