The Father of Marijuana Research Is Now Working on Synthesizing Cannabis Molecules
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Raphael Mechoulam, a biochemist and professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, played a major role in finding the basic chemical components of cannabis. He became the first scientist to isolate CBD, THC, and other cannabinoids.
Now, he leads a team at Tel Aviv-based company EPM that has pioneered a way to produce stable, synthetic acid-based cannabinoid molecules without having to use the plant or its products.
For cannabis entrepreneurs, it's a wake-up call that commercially viable; synthesized cannabis has arrived. Many already consider synthesized cannabis as the future of the industry.
The "Father of Marijuana Research"
Israel is often considered a hub for marijuana research because scientists in the country don't confront the many obstacles that researchers face in the United States. It's also home to Mechoulam, who many consider the "Father of Marijuana Research."
In the 1960s, the Bulgaria-born Mechoulam did groundbreaking work in cannabis, an area of research that he said at the time was "almost totally neglected." He and his fellow researchers isolated CBD, THC, and other chemical compounds in marijuana, findings that led to more research into the psychological and physical impact of cannabis.
Mechoulam, 90, now leads the medical research team at EPM, where the focus is on synthesizing those compounds.
New focus on chemical compounds in live cannabis plants
Israeli entrepreneur Reshef Swisa recently spoke with the Jerusalem Post about EPM's research and where the cannabis scientific research is moving in the coming years.
Most research into cannabis focuses on CBD, THC, and other compounds in cannabis after the plant is already dead or dying. But EPM is focusing on the compounds in the plant while it is still alive and growing.
"While the entire industry is working on the compounds that decarboxylate from the plant after it starts drying up, we were more interested in looking into what happens on the plant itself," Swisa told the Post.
He also said that pharmaceutical companies would only be interested in producing cannabis medications if they are demonstrably better than the medications they already have. It must prove either more potent, cost-effective, or have fewer side effects, he said.
He also pointed out that the companies cannot get a patent on a naturally occurring molecule in a plant, another issue that has hindered them from entirely investing in cannabis medical research.
Synthesizing cannabis molecules
By making synthetic versions of molecules found in cannabis, companies can create a process that they can patent. Mechoulam's team did just that, creating synthesized molecules that replicate the structure of cannabis acids.
They have the added benefit of not breaking down into cannabinoids as easily as natural cannabis acids do. That allows researchers to reproduce on a large scale without the need for using natural cannabis plants.
Swisa told the Post: "We've so far developed 14 different molecules, eight of which are completely novel discoveries, meaning that we own a very exclusive patent on them since they are a discovery to the scientific world. Each one of those molecules has the potential to be developed into several drugs, while many companies can do incredible things with even just one molecule."
It's news that should get the attention of cannabis entrepreneurs. So should this: EPM already has expanded to working with scientists in Canada and the United Kingdom and has facilities developing its products in the UK, Denmark, and Sweden.