05 Feb The Past, The Present and The Future. In Conversation with Professor Raphael Mechoulam.
Prof. Raphael Mechoulam, Professor Emeritus of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute for Drug Research, is globally acknowledged as the father of cannabinoid research. His pioneering work has proven to be of central importance in pharmacology, physiology, and medicine.
Born in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1930, he survived wartime Europe and immigrated to Israel in 1949. Prof. Mechoulam studied biochemistry, receiving his MSc from the Hebrew University in 1952 and his PhD from the Weizmann Institute of Science in 1958. After completing postdoctoral research at the Rockefeller Institute (today Rockefeller University) in New York, he established his independent research group at the Weizmann Institute in 1960 and, six years later, moved to the Hebrew University, where he would later serve as Rector from 1979 to 1982.
Prof. Mechoulam’s research focuses on the chemistry of natural substances, their biological function, and the development of new potential drugs. He is best known for developing the chemistry, biochemistry, and medicinal chemistry of cannabinoid compounds of plant origin. In 1964, while at the Weizmann Institute, he reported the isolation and structure elucidation of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive ingredient in the cannabis plant. Prof. Mechoulam subsequently identified the endogenous cannabinoid substances in the brain, which operate a previously unknown biochemical system—the endocannabinoid system.
These substances, the most well-known of which is called anandamide, are involved in a large number of biochemical processes and their function, or dysfunctions, and have been implicated in a long list of diseases. In collaboration with researchers in Israel and abroad, Prof. Mechoulam was instrumental in elucidating the importance of plant cannabinoids and endocannabinoids in many physiological processes and pathological conditions, including neuroprotection, sleep, pain management, trauma, vasodilation, cancer, inflammation, bone formation, learning, and memory. These studies have resulted in the expanding use of medicinal cannabis, as well as the development and study of various medical derivatives for a variety of conditions.
Prof. Mechoulam’s research achievements have earned him numerous accolades, including the Israel Prize in Exact Sciences, the Rothschild Prize in Chemical Sciences and Physical Sciences, the international Heinrich Wieland Prize, the US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) Lifetime Achievement Award, the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) Lifetime Achievement Award, and the EMET prize in Exact Sciences. He is a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and holds honorary doctorates from various universities in Europe, the United States, Canada, Argentina, and Israel. He has authored some 440 papers, which have been cited some 51,000 times.