Get to know Canna-Boss No.1: Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, the guy who isolated THC

by DGO Web Administrator

Oh, hello, DGO – we’re gonna do something new here in our little weed garden this week as we greet the de facto arrival of springtime. Please enjoy the first of an occasional installment series looking at some of the great minds and voices of the cannabis movement. We’re gonna call it Canna-Bosses and our first is an octogenarian Jewish grandfather who is, quite frankly, cooler than any of us. He has that twinkle in his eye that the greatest people carry, the one I seek out every day and when I find it, that person and me … we become friends. He’s that dude who says, “Yes, I’ve won some awards for my work, but let’s talk about the future.” He’s a survivor – he saw his father sent to a World War II work camp for part of the war – a true believer, and a wry, spry, sharp old guy.

Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, the 85-year-old Israeli organic chemist who isolated THC in 1964, embodies the contradictory nature that often surrounds the cannabis plant: not a stoner himself, but possessed of no moral slant against his subject. He decided on his area of study almost by default. After looking around for potential topics that would not put his small laboratory in direct competition with larger, better funded organizations, he lighted upon cannabis after considering the fact that cocaine had been isolated from the coca leaf and heroin from the poppy over a century previous but no such analysis existed to explain the intoxicating mechanism of marijuana.

Due to the influence of an unnamed but politically-connected patron in the United States, the research at his Israeli laboratory has been funded by the (American) National Institute of Health since the 1960s, a time frame during which study of the same kind here in the U.S. has been almost completely shut down as a result of the federal scheduling of cannabis. His naiveté was obvious as he began his first experiments: He used a personal connection to acquire 5 kilograms of confiscated Lebanese hashish from the Israeli national police and transported it on a city bus to the facility where he and his colleagues were soon able to isolate THC, aka Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol from the 111 known cannabanoids present in the chemical makeup of the plant. He soon discovered that these were not the proper channels and sent all future requests for raw materials through the Israeli Ministry of Health, as was appropriate. In an especially twisty twist, an American suit-type arrived in Israel soon after this discovery to requisition 10 grams of the raw isolate to bring back to the States for research, a process which involved a bit of international smuggling, as was assumed by the good doctor Mechoulam in the informative and amusing 2015 documentary about him, “The Scientist” (

Now, to be dead honest, if I were the guy responsible for all of us smoking kind bud instead of seedy, stemmy brickweed, responsible for the careers of Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa and Cypress Hill, and for the feeling you’ve had as you watched a tear roll down your lover’s cheek and saw every raindrop that’s ever fallen, I’d be content to rest on my laurels. But not Mechoulam. The good doctor and his associates dug harder into their research and discovered the human endocannabanoid system – an intricate series of receptors throughout the body responsible for wellness and stability. They also discovered anandamide, the naturally occurring human biochemical that cannabis mimics. He has used the release of “The Scientist” as a platform to encourage further research and testing of marijuana in applications as far reaching as diabetes, PTSD and pediatric oncology.

It’s this drive that makes Mechoulam DGO’s first Canna-Boss. If you have an hour this week, burn one down, watch the documentary and see what I mean.

Christopher Gallagher lives with his wife and their four dogs and two horses. Life is pretty darn good. Contact him at [email protected]


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