Stockholm Medical Cannabis Conference

In Memoriam – Dr. Raphael Mechoulam

Dr. Raphael Mechoulam was a true pioneer in the fields of molecular pharmacology, receptor pharmacology, and cannabinoid research. His groundbreaking research on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) has had a profound impact in medicine, pharmacology and neuroscience. Recently, he passed away at the age of 92, leaving behind an incredible legacy of scientific contributions. His work on the ECS has had far-reaching implications for medical research and neuroscience. It has not only provided the scientific rationale for how and why cannabis works as a medicine but also increased our fundamental understanding of human physiology. His contributions to science have also helped to break down stigmas and misconceptions surrounding cannabis.

Dr. Mechoulam’s largest contributions to the field of molecular pharmacology include his isolation, characterization and chemical synthesis of THC, the main psychoactive component of cannabis, as well as his discovery of anandamide, the first discovered endocannabinoid that led to the revelation of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) [1,2]. His research on the ECS has revealed its critical role in various physiological processes, such as pain modulation, appetite regulation, mood, sleep, and immune function. These discoveries have paved the way for significant advancements in the understanding and potential therapeutic applications of cannabinoids and the ECS. Dr. Mechoulam was an active researcher until the very end of his long life, and he co-authored his last article in February this year, in which a semi-synthetic stabilized version of CBDA, CBDA-ME, was shown to elicit very promising therapeutic effects in female rats in an animal model for depression [3].

In addition to his scientific accomplishments, Dr. Mechoulam was known for his warm personality and sharp wit. He was beloved by his co-workers and friends, and his humor and humanity endeared him to many in the global scientific community.

Early Career and Discoveries

Dr. Raphael Mechoulam began his scientific career in the 1960s, at a time when cannabis was largely misunderstood and stigmatized by virtually all nations across the globe. Undeterred, he set out to explore the plant’s chemical composition and potential therapeutic properties in his home country of Israel.

In 1964, he and his team made a groundbreaking discovery: they were able to isolate and characterize tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component of cannabis. He also discovered the first chemical synthetic route to recreate the molecule in a lab. This allowed for further research into the plant’s pharmacology and effects on human health. In the following years, Dr. Mechoulam and his team made several other important discoveries related to cannabis, including the isolation of other cannabinoids such as CBD, CBG, CBC and THCV and the novel chemical synthesis of several cannabinoids for medicinal and research use. These discoveries laid the groundwork for modern research into the therapeutic potential of cannabis and its derivatives and have had a lasting impact on the fields of pharmacology and medicine.

Later Research and Contributions

Dr. Mechoulam’s research into the chemical composition and potential therapeutic properties of cannabis spanned close to six decades and has had a profound impact on the fields of pharmacology and medicine. His many groundbreaking discoveries have led to a greater understanding of the pharmacology of cannabis and constitute a significant proportion of the scientific foundation on which modern research into the therapeutic potential of cannabis and its derivatives is built. 35 years after his first scientific breakthrough with the discovery of THC, Dr. Mechoulam successfully identified the first endocannabinoid, anandamide (AEA). This further led to to the discovery of the ECS and a massive paradigm shift in the understanding of human physiology and the maintenance of homeostasis.

Dr. Mechoulam’s research also led to the discovery of the endocannabinoid system, a complex signaling network in the body that regulates a wide range of physiological processes. This discovery has had a profound impact on our understanding of human health and disease and has led to the development of new treatments for a wide range of medical conditions.

Dr. Mechoulam said these enlightening words in multiple interviews throughout his career:

“The joy of science is to find out something new.”

And in his life and work, he certainly did just that. He will be deeply missed, but his legacy will continue to inspire and guide future generations of scientists.

Stefan Broselid, Ph.D.
Molecular Pharmacology
Editor-In-Chief, Aurea Care Medical Science Journal

Reference list:

  1. MECHOULAM, R., & GAONI, Y. (1965). A TOTAL SYNTHESIS OF DL-DELTA-1-TETRAHYDROCANNABINOL, THE ACTIVE CONSTITUENT OF HASHISH. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 87, 3273–3275. doi:10.1021/ja01092a065 
  2. Devane, W. A., Hanus, L., Breuer, A., Pertwee, R. G., Stevenson, L. A., Griffin, G., Gibson, D., Mandelbaum, A., Etinger, A., & Mechoulam, R. (1992). Isolation and structure of a brain constituent that binds to the cannabinoid receptor. Science (New York, N.Y.), 258(5090), 1946–1949. doi:10.1126/science.1470919
  3. Hen-Shoval, D., Moshe, L., Indig-Naimer, T., Mechoulam, R., Shoval, G., Zalsman, G., Kogan, N. M., & Weller, A. (2023). Cannabinoid Receptor 2 Blockade Prevents Anti-Depressive-like Effect of Cannabidiol Acid Methyl Ester in Female WKY Rats. International journal of molecular sciences24(4), 3828. doi:10.3390/ijms24043828