This blog is the second part of a multi-part series on the life of Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, a person considered by many to be “the grandfather of cannabis.” His discoveries and personal life are too grand to fit within one blog, so we recommend you read part one here before proceeding with this blog. If you have already read part one, enjoy part two of our tribute to Dr. Raphael Mechoulam.
Discovering The Endocannabinoid System
One of the most important scientific discoveries relating to cannabis, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam did not discover the endocannabinoid system himself; rather, he facilitated the discovery. After his discovery and isolation of THC, Dr. Mechoulam essentially had a monopoly on isolated THC. For this reason, the United States government approached Dr. Mechoulam and asked if he would give them isolated THC in return for grant money. He agreed and received grant money in perpetuity from the US government. Furthermore, almost any discovery relating to cannabis in the United States until 2000 used the THC Dr. Mechoulam and his team isolated.
Therefore, many intrepid cannabis scientists in the US owe their discoveries partially to Dr. Mechoulam. Two of these scientists had a breakthrough discovery surrounding the endocannabinoid system: Allyn Howlett and William Devane. At the time, Dr. Howlett and her graduate student Devane were studying how the brain interacted with cannabis. In 1988, they made a groundbreaking discovery. While studying rats, they discovered a receptor in their brains that responded directly to THC. They named this receptor CB1.
Soon they would discover that rats were just one species with this quality. As a matter of fact, they learned that every creature with a spinal cord has these CB1 receptors. These receptors entail that humans, along with countless other creatures, have a bodily system that regulates cannabinoids like THC. This system was named the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system regulates cannabinoids throughout the human body. That means cannabinoids are essential for human survival and play a large part in emotions, sleep, appetite, and much more. This discovery prompted Dr. Mechoulam to study the endocannabinoid system, which led to his next great discovery.
The earthshaking discovery of the endocannabinoid system raised many critical questions about humans and cannabis. As Dr. Mechoulam put it after learning about the endocannabinoid system, “Did God intend for humans to consume cannabis?” He would later discover the answer was no. Still, this answer actually cemented the idea that cannabis could be used to improve quality of life.
The discovery of the CB1 receptor prompted Dr. Mechoulam to study the brain. His theory was that the human body created cannabinoids that interacted with the receptors. He decided to study pig brains since they are a close analog to human brains. The only issue was pig brains are difficult to obtain in Israel because they are not kosher. So, two trusty assistants traveled a long way to a merchant who sold parts of pigs. They said he was shocked when they bought so many pig brains, and each time they returned the price was higher! One assistant said that by the end of the experiment the brains were “quite expensive.”
After a two-year study on the brains, they confirmed their theory. There is a chemical that the body creates that mimics THC. They named this compound Anandamide, a combination of the Sanskrit word “Ananda,” meaning “extreme happiness,” and “-mide,” which is part of the scientific name for the compound. The discovery meant that although one did not have to ingest cannabis to activate the endocannabinoid system, one could ingest it to enhance the body’s regulation of cannabinoids. Therefore, cannabis can be used as medicine to regulate the human body in ways that many other plants and medicines cannot. With this discovery, many people worldwide finally began to study cannabis to see what it could do for human bodies.
Delta-8 Isolation Patent
The endocannabinoid system discovery prompted Dr. Raphael Mechoulam to look further into cannabis to see what other compounds could affect the body. In his studies, Dr. Mechoulam learned that there were over 200 cannabinoid compounds in cannabis, each affecting the endocannabinoid system differently. Therefore, Dr. Mechoulam sought to isolate these compounds as he did with THC. This led to the patent of CBD to Delta-8 conversion.
Dr. Mechoulam already knew that other scientists had discovered other cannabinoids. In 1941, Roger Adams discovered the compound Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol, colloquially known as Delta 8. Utilizing this previous knowledge, Dr. Mechoulam sought to isolate Delta 8. The issue was Delta 8 occurs in much smaller quantities than THC or CBD. So, Dr. Mechoulam ingeniously decided to use his large quantities of CBD to isolate these small amounts of Delta 8. He succeeded, and in 2002 he, and several other scientists, applied for a patent for CBD to Delta 8 conversion. In 2008 the US government granted the patent, which became essential to alternative cannabinoid companies.
Here at Farma Barn, Delta 8 gave us our start. Without Dr. Raphael Mechoulam’s conversion patent, it is no exaggeration to say we owe our existence to his discovery. The Delta 8 conversion patent opened up the opportunity to create Delta 8 products, and after the 2018 Farm Bill, they are legal across the United States. From us at Farma Barn, thank you for everything, Dr. Mechoulam.
Dr. Raphael Mechoulam led an inspired life and sadly passed away at the old age of 94. There is an incredible documentary about his life called The Scientist, which everyone should watch. In the documentary, Dr. Mechoulam made some extraordinary claims about the future possibilities for cannabis.
Several studies worldwide show that cannabis not only improves cancer drug side effects but can also stop cancer in its tracks. Perhaps one day, cannabis might play a role in a cure for cancer. In addition to many other effects, such as improving sleep, appetite, and helping with mental disorders, Dr. Mechoulam made a “crazy speculation” near the end of his life. He thought that the endocannabinoid system might be responsible for our personalities. There are over 200 cannabinoids, and different amounts of these cannabinoids appear in our bodies. Since there is evidence that cannabis affects emotions, perhaps cannabinoids control all of our emotions. We might owe our unique personalities to cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system.
Finally, we will conclude with Dr. Raphael Mechoulam’s call to action. The documentary begins by asking Dr. Mechoulam, “why did you allow us to make a documentary about you.” He began with a joke: “he was not a person who said no to friends.” However, he added an important remark. He said the main reason he agreed was to inspire future studies of cannabis and fully unlock its abilities to help the human body. Dr. Mechoulam’s life centered around the incredible cannabis plant, and the least we can do is continue pursuing his goals. If any aspiring chemists are reading this article, maybe you can study cannabis too and leave a brilliant legacy like Dr. Raphael Mechoulam.