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Raphael Mechoulam, the 'father' of cannabis science, has died aged 92



Raphael Mechoulam in the 60s at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Photo: DR

Raphael Mechoulam, considered by many to be the “father” of cannabis science, died today, aged 92, in Jerusalem, Israel. The news was advanced this morning by Israeli researcher and former student of Mechoulam, Dedi Meiri, on LinkedIn. Mechoulam was the most influential and pioneering figure in the field of medical cannabis research internationally. The funeral will be held on Sunday, March 12th at 14pm in Givat Shaul, Jerusalem.

The Cannareporter extends its deepest condolences to Mechoulam's wife, Dalia, children, grandchildren, family and all those who have been inspired by the fundamental work done by Raphi, as he was known, in the field of cannabis.

Mechoulam has been married for 55 years to Dalia, a retired teacher who always accompanied him, and with whom he has three children: Roy, professor of mathematics at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Hadas, a pediatric ophthalmologist, and Dafna, a pediatric neurologist. Raphi and Dalia also had seven grandchildren aged between seven and 24.

Raphael Mechoulam was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, on November 5, 1930, but with World War II he moved to Jerusalem, Israel, where he has lived ever since. Raphi, as he was known to his friends, was a professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. He is known for his work (together with Y. Gaoni, C. Trips and S. Benezra) in the isolation, structure elucidation and total synthesis of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the main active principle of cannabis, and for the isolation and identification of the endogenous cannabinoids Anandamide, from the brain, and 2-Arachidonoyl Glycerol (2-AG), from peripheral organs, together with their students, postdoctoral fellows and collaborators.

Mechoulam's Pioneering Cannabinoids: Over 350 Published Studies
Mechoulam has published more than 350 scientific articles and has received numerous awards around the world for the work he has developed over more than 6 decades. He was Professor Emeritus in the Department of Natural Products at the School of Pharmacy at the Faculty of Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Known as “The Father of Cannabis Science” Mechoulam was the most influential figure in the field of Medical Cannabis research.

Raphael Mechoulam's main scientific interest was the chemistry and pharmacology of cannabinoids. With his research group, he achieved the total synthesis of the main plant cannabinoids Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol, cannabigerol and several others. Another research project he undertook led to the isolation of the first endocannabinoid, Anandamide, described, isolated and characterized by two of his postdoctoral researchers, Lumír Ondřej Hanuš and William Devane. Another endogenous cannabinoid, 2-AG, was soon discovered by Shimon Ben-Shabat, one of his doctoral students.

His main contributions are in the field of cannabis components and endogenous cannabinoids found in the brain and peripheral system. He published extensively on their pharmacological activities and was one of the first to complete the total synthesis of major plant cannabinoids such as Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG) and others.

In his later years, Mechoulam continued to work with various students at the University, studying the chemical and biological effects of natural products and substances on the human body. “Specifically, research projects in my laboratory currently cover the chemistry of endogenous cannabinoids (isolation, structure elucidation, synthesis) as well as the synthesis of new compounds to be tested as drugs against pain, inflammation, high blood pressure and cancer” .

Mechoulam received a degree in biochemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1952) and completed his Ph.D. at the Weizmann Institute, Reḥovot (1958), with a thesis on the chemistry of steroids. After postdoctoral studies at the Rockefeller Institute, New York (1959–60), he was part of the scientific staff at the Weizmann Institute (1960–65), before moving to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he became a professor (1972) , namely Professor of Medicinal Chemistry since 1975. He was dean (1979–82) and pro-rector (1983–85) of the same university and in 1994 he was elected a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences. He has also received the Rothschild Prize for his outstanding research on medical cannabis.

Cannareporter interviewed Raphael Mechoulam at the International Congress on Clinical Trials with Cannabis, CT-Cann 2019, at the Park Plaza Hotel, London, UK, on ​​October 25, 2019.

Documentary “The Scientist” tells the life and story of Mechoulam

The documentary “The Scientist”, directed by Zach Klein and funded by the Canna Foundation, tells the story of Mechoulam and is available for free on Youtube. O movie traces the investigator's story from his early days as a child victim of the Holocaust in Bulgaria to his immigration to Israel. He then discusses his career as chief investigator of the chemistry and biology of the world's most misunderstood plant. The film depicts how Mechoulam discovered that THC interacts with the largest receptor system in the human body, the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

Awards and Distinctions
Some of the international awards awarded to Professor Raphael Mechoulam include:
– Somach Sachs Prize for “best research by a scientist below 35 at the Weizmann Institute”, 1964.
– Distinguished Visiting Professorship, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, 1982-1983.
– “Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior” Nov. 1991 issue dedicated to R.Mechoulam. for achievements in the cannabinoid field.
– Elected, Member Israel Academy of Sciences, 1994.
– David R. Bloom Prize, 1998, for “excellence in pharmaceutical research”, Hebrew University.
– The International Cannabinoid Research Society (ICRS) establishes an annual award to be named The R. Mechoulam Annual Award in Cannabinoid Research, 1999.
– Israel Prize in Exact Sciences – chemistry, 2000.
– Ariens Award and Lecture. 2000. Dutch Pharmacological Society sponsored by Solvay Pharmaceuticals. Amsterdam.
– Doctor Honoris Causa, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, 2001.
– Elected, Honorary Member, Israel Society of Physiology and Pharmacology, 2002.
– Heinrich Wieland Prize, to promote research on “lipids and related substances in the fields of Chemistry, Biochemistry, Physiology, and Clinical Medicine”, Munich, Germany, 2004.
– Henrietta Szold Prize for achievements in medical research, Tel-Aviv Municipality, June 2005.
– Doctor Honoris Causa, Complutense University, Madrid, 2006. ECNP (European College of Neuropsychopharmaclogy), Lifetime Achievement Award, Paris, 2006.
– ICRS (International Cannabinoid Research Society) Special Award For lifetime achievements in the cannabinoid field, Cologne, Germany, 2007.
– Israel Chemical Society Prize for excellence in research, Feb. 2009.
– Hebrew University, Medical Faculty Prize for excellence in research, June 2010.
– Eicosanoid Research Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award, Seattle, Washington, September, 2011.
– NIDA Discovery Award, NIH, Bethesda, September 2011.
– Rothschild Prize by Keren Hanadiv (The Rothschild Family Foundation), Jerusalem (in the Knesset) 2012.
– EMET Prize –November, 2012
– IACM Award – 2014
– Genius 100 Visionary – 2016
– Honoris causa from the University of Guelph, 2018
– Honoris causa from the Weizmann Institute of Science, 2019
– Harvey Prize of the Technion Institute in Israel – 2019-2020


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