The “Father of Medical Cannabis” and the scientist who first discovered critical cannabinoids and the importance of the endocannabinoid system is dead at 92
The Jewish scientist, Raphael Mechoulam, died on March 9, 2023 at the age of 92. He was often referred to, even in his lifetime as the “Father of Cannabinoids.” In fact, there was a great deal of scientific research and inquiry into the plant starting from the mid-19th century, but it was Mechoulam who first reported the isolation, structure and stereochemistry of both Delta 9 THC and subsequent cannabinoids.
Since the early nineteen sixties, he and his team pioneered research that would become the basis for the entire legalization discussion, starting with widespread medical utility.
All of this globally recognized but early research was conducted in Israel, Mechoulam’s adopted state, and secretly funded by the United States, where such research remained mostly banned for decades because of prohibition.
Despite all of these amazing achievements, Mechoulam never stopped working and never “retired.” Indeed he was well known on the European cannabis festival circuit, talking about a plant he helped legitimize, including in Germany, a continent he and his family were forced to flee thanks to National Socialism.
An Unusual and Innovative Life
Born on November 5, 1930 in Sofia, Bulgaria, he was born into a well to do, educated family. His father was a physician and head of a local hospital and his mother, from an old, monied Jewish family with an international education including a stint in Berlin.
After the imposition of antisemitic laws during WWII, his father was sent to a concentration camp, although survived. After the communist takeover of formerly pro-Nazi Bulgaria, Mechoulam was allowed to attend university where he studied chemical engineering, which he later admitted to disliking.
The family immigrated to Israel in 1949, where he subsequently studied chemistry and gained his first research experience working on an Israeli army funded study on insecticides.
After receiving an M.Sc. in biochemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1952 and a Ph.D. at the Weizmann Institute in 1958, he did postdoctoral studies at the Rockefeller Institute in New York from 1959-1960. He subsequently returned to Israel and the scientific staff of Weizmann Institute before moving back to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
His subsequent work on cannabinoids put the entire discussion on the medical map. He is one of the founding members of the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicines as well as the International Cannabinoid Research Society.
The Historical Impact
Thanks to Mechoulam’s ground-breaking research, the pure scientific idiocy of Prohibition was put to the test – and scientifically speaking helped to establish the first modern scientific research on which the entire and still emerging field of cannabis has expanded subsequently.
In the year he has died, Germany, a place where Jewish scientists who also experimented with cannabis research before both they and the plant were banned during the Third Reich, is leading the way in Europe on legalization of both the medical and recreational kind of cannabis. The United States stands at an equally pivotal point in the discussion. And countries globally are finally moving to not only legalize medical use, but also are beginning to seriously consider full legalization.
While Mechoulam in other words may not live to see the end of the revolution he started, he certainly saw many pivotal passages of the same. He will also certainly be remembered, both in the cannabis industry and beyond, globally for his scientific contributions which made it all possible.
Rest in peace.