December 11, 2023  ⦿  

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Prof. Raphael Meshulam, the discoverer of THC and who is considered the global cannabis guru, died at the age of 92

The Israeli chemist Prof. Raphael Meshulam, considered the “grandfather” of cannabis and the one who first identified the molecule THC about 60 years ago, passed away early in the morning (Friday) at his home. The funeral of the late Prof. Meshulam, who was 92 years old at the time of his death, will take place on Sunday, March 12 at 2:00 p.m. from the funeral home, Jerusalem community, Givat Shaul, Jerusalem.

Prof. Meshulam, a member of the Israel National Academy of Sciences since 1994 and winner of the Israel Prize for Chemistry Research in 2000, was born in 1930 in the city of Sofia, Bulgaria. His father, Dr. Moreno of Shulam, was a doctor, the director of the Jewish hospital in Sofia and the president of the Zionist organization “Maccabi” in Bulgaria.

Meshulam studied chemical engineering for a year. In the years 1960-1965, he worked at the Weizmann Institute of Science, initially in the junior faculty and later in the senior faculty and studied the chemistry of natural substances, including cannabinoids.

Together with Yehiel Gaoni and Habib Edri, he discovered in 1964 the active ingredient in cannabis, THC, and since then continued research and development in the field – until he became, according to many, the number 1 expert in the world – which led to receiving dozens of government and other awards for his activities to promote the new research.

After isolating the active substance in cannabis, he discovered substances in the human body that bind to the cannabinoid receptors, and constitute a new signal transmission system – the “endo-cannabinoid system”. Meshulam published 350 scientific articles, book chapters and reviews, most of them on the cannabinoid system and edited three books on the subject.

In 1999-2000 he served as president of the International Cannabinoid Research Society. Since 2007 he has served as the chairman of the division of natural sciences at the Israel National Academy of Sciences. In June 2014, Professor Meshulam was selected by the Jerusalem Post as one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world.

At the beginning of his journey, Mashulam intended to research medicinal genetics in general, as evidenced by his library containing a treasure trove of texts on medicinal plants from around the world. But as fate would have it, the first plant he started researching was cannabis, and it captured his attention.

Meshulam’s best-known story, which also appeared in the film about his work (“The Scientist”), is when he received a block of hashish from the police to conduct the first research on cannabis in Israel.

“The director of the institute was friends with the chief of the police station in the city,” he used to tell. “When I asked him to get me such a quantity of material, he called the station commander, and he invited me to the station to drink coffee and get cannabis. After he handed me the substance, I traveled with the cannabis on the bus, and the passengers didn’t understand what this smell was that I had in my bag.”

Another amusing story of Meshulam is his first experience with cannabis consumption, when he asked his wife to make a cake with the Acapulco Gold strain with high THC and ate it together with his research partners: “One laughed endlessly, the other started talking more than usual and the third went into an anxiety attack because she was losing control. I was the only one who was feeling a little high,” he said.

Israeli cannabis sector

In an interview he gave to this magazine about 6 years ago, in honor of his 87th birthday, he said that in order to isolate the THC, he had to work for many months together with Dr. Yechiel Gaoni. “We were happy when we managed to do it in the end, but the success was also gradual – every step had to be approved and we were required to check everything again and again.”

On the need for clinical studies in cannabis regarding cancer, he said that “It is unbelievable that neither government officials nor private foundations anywhere in the world have promoted or encouraged clinical trials – but this is a fact. To date, no real clinical trials with cannabinoids against cancer have been published.”

Meshulam referred in an interview to the regulation of the medical cannabis market and the issue of non-criminalization in Israel and said that “Medical cannabis must be regulated for medical reasons. Recreational cannabis is a social issue. The population of each country has to decide for itself. In any case, non-criminalization should be implemented in light of the widespread use of cannabis.’

In an interview he gave to another website in which he was asked if he had used cannabis, he replied that “I have no interest in personal use, nor do I drink alcohol. Maybe a toast here and there during the holidays, like most Israelis who put a bottle of wine on the table for ten people and at the end of the evening there is half a bottle left. I don’t smoke cigarettes either. I solve the things I want to solve in the usual ways. We received the material from the police with the understanding that it was only used for research and that is the only use we made of it.”


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