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Holy Smokes! Tel-Aviv's Cannabis Industry Is Lighting Up

Cannabis has long been rigorously studied in Israel, and the result is an industry ready for global markets.

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These days, you only have to walk as far as your nearest health food store or hip cafe to find CBD tea, smoothies, oil, creams, candy, and more. CBD, when isolated from the rest of a marijuana plant, provides pain and tension relief without the sensation of being high, and it’s all the rage.

Alexandra Rojkov | Getty Images

But few know that CBD has its origins in the Holy Land! 

In the 1960s, Hebrew University of Jerusalem scientist Raphael Mechoulam was the first to both isolate and describe the chemical structure of CBD and its psychoactive counterpart, THC. For years, Israeli doctors have been prescribing marijuana for a variety of disorders, including PTSD, which is not uncommon given the nation’s mandatory military service.

Just last week, the Israeli Knesset (the nation’s parliament) legalized the export of cannabis and cannabis products for medical purposes, opening the door to global markets for Israel's marijuana industry, which boasts some of the most innovative projects in the world.

For starters, Israel is continuing its legacy of developing unique methods of approaching marijuana as a substance. UNV Medical, a publicly held company, is producing cannabis creams and oils that meet European medical and manufacturing standards using CO2 and ethanol based extraction methods that allow precise levels of CBD and THC in their products. Precision dosing is the key in designing products to treat different ailments.  

Another Israeli firm, Tikun Olam, has conducted cannabis research and produced unique therapeutic strains under a license from the Israeli Healthy Ministry. The company takes its name from the Kabbalistic (Jewish mystical) concept of “repairing the world,” through acts of goodness, altruism, and kindness.

Tikun Olam’s regulated clinical trials have treated more than 20,000 patients to date. The focus of its analytical laboratory is to isolate active compounds within cannabis strains, in order to customize their concentrations to treat specific conditions. It has specialized projects concerning how cannabis can help the elderly and pediatric patients, for whom it has developed unique products that are safe for vulnerable populations to consume.

A variety of creative niches in the industry are being discovered and quickly met by Israeli invention. For instance, growers and affianados find applications for HiGrade’s algorithms that can analyze key elements about the quality and conditions of a cannabis plant from a photo alone. Prior to this the only way to test the potency of a cannabis flower was through high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), which chemically separates the components of a material. In other words, it destroyed the weed, which resulted in very few flowers being tested. That resulted in mislabeling and misrepresentation of plant potency.

Through HiGrade, Israel is presenting the first tool that can provide this necessary information without harming the product.

Israel has also developed its own accelerators and investment firms strictly catering to medical marijuana. iCan is what happens when the cannabis industry meets “Startup Nation.” They connect investors to innovative Israeli cannabis ventures, and links different parts of the industry supply chain, such as growers, processors, researchers and distributors.

Last December iCan CEO Saul Kaye said, "Israel, already the most advanced nation in cannabis R&D, will now be able to produce and market cannabis and cannabis-based products that will help millions of people suffering from illnesses including cancer, MS, Parkinson's, sleep disorders, epilepsy, and PTSD, to name just a few.”

This will be an interesting year to observe the rise (or fall?) of many canna-tech projects based out of Israel. Some people claim that, similar to blockchain, this industry might go up and down steeply; other say it's a real use-case based industry. Only time will tell who is right.