In 1964 Professor Raphael Mechoulam was on a public bus carrying 5 kilos of premium Lebanese hashish in a plastic bag to his laboratory at the Weitzmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel. That noticeably fragrant bus ride turned out to be a fateful one, as Mechoulam used his haul to discover the psychoactive component in Cannabis, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It was a discovery that had eluded scientists for decades.
- From THE SCIENTIST
Research on animals has proven sound – Cannabinoids treat a variety of diseases in mice and monkeys. We hear anecdotes about cannabis used to effectively heal various forms of cancer and epilepsy. 10,000 years of world history tell of the plant’s use for both medicine and industry upon almost every continent. Knowing this, why do nearly all Western governments seem hesitant to open doors for human trials and the scientific method?
That is the underlying question in The Scientist, a new documentary which traces the life of Dr. Raphael Mechoulam. From his time surviving the Holocaust in Bulgaria through his immigration to Israel and his work in cannabis, this story is beautiful one of curiosity, smarts and passion.
Throughout, Dr. Mechoulam tells us about his intellectual draw to natural products that can be used to solve biological problems, especially in regards to the human body. “Assyrians used it for medicine, used it for excitation, have used it in religion,” he says.
He goes on: “The Egyptians used it as medicine. Surprisingly the Greeks and Romans didn’t know much about its psychoactivity, but they used cannabis as an anti-inflammatory drug. Cannabis in India was used by those who wanted to be delivered from all worries and care. Well that’s quite a good definition of anti-anxiety.”
His knowledge of cannabis history and use reflects a more general respect for what’s come before – for human history – seemingly to avoid tripping over blind spots that await anyone with too much faith in progress and technology.
In his career researching cannabis in Israel, Dr. Mechoulam ascertained that THC interacts with the largest receptor system in the human body, the endocannabinoid system (ECS). “No one was working on cannabinoid therapy, so we thought at that time that this project was worth following,” Mechoulam says.
Today’s medical field is only beginning to suspect that this major system influences many different diseases, as they're finding mammals have cannabinoid receptors in almost every part of the body. Mechoulam asserts, “...here we have a group of compounds, an endogenous system of major importance, and it is not being used as much as it should be in the clinic.”
The reality that cannabinoids are naturally found in women’s breastmilk is one sign from nature that these compounds play a significant role in our mental and physical health. Studies on mice have even shown cannabinoids to be effective in preserving bone density and healing fractures. There is little wonder why doctor has received so much funding from the National Institutes of Health over the past 40 years. In 1986, Dr. Mechoulam published Cannabinoids as Therapeutic Agents – the first modern academic document on medicinal cannabis.
Since, it has served as the trusted source of information for the medical marijuana and industrial hemp movements happening in America and Europe. Such work has led to this moment in history, where over 20 U.S. states offer some form of legal cannabis treatment with others pursuing broader legalization efforts. Mechoulam ends his introduction to the book with a simple and deeply probing question: Are we missing something?