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It certainly seems so, with the awarding of the Technion’s (Israel Institute of Technology) prestigious Harvey Prize in the Human Health category to Raphael Mechoulam. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, it should — after all, Professor Mechoulam is considered the “Godfather” of modern cannabis medicine.

Professor Mechoulam is an organic chemist in the School of Pharmacology in the Faculty of Medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He was awarded the prize for his ground-breaking research identifying the components, mechanisms of action, and implications for human health of the cannabinoid system.

His meticulous decades-long discoveries have improved the medical understanding of the negative implications of drug abuse, and have demonstrated the therapeutic properties of cannabis for a wide range of diseases and pathological conditions. In particular, his research has led directly to the development of innovative treatments for epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and pain relief.

Mechoulam is the first researcher to have isolated the psychoactive component of cannabis, THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), determining its structure and the structure of the second major component of cannabis – Cannabidiol or CBD. He is also the first scientist to discover the human endocannabinoid system — the cellular receptors through the entire human body that respond to cannabinoids.

His research stems from his early curiosity at whether cannabis could be viewed as a healing plant and not just a recreational drug. In 1963, he visited a police station to obtain his very first research sample: 5 kilos of hashish. He then began working with the Israeli Ministry of Health to obtain a regular supply from police custody to conduct his studies.

Over the years, the Harvey Prize has become a reliable predictor of who will win the famed Nobel Prize. It is awarded at the Technion each year for outstanding achievements in science and technology, human health, and significant contributions to humanity. Since 1986, over 30% of Harvey laureates have ultimately received a Nobel. Three of them – Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier, Professor Jennifer Doudna, and Professor Reinhard Genzel – received the 2020 Nobel Prize last month.

So should Prof. Mechoulam receive his own Nobel Prize in 2021, or perhaps 2022, it will definitely be the final word on the importance of cannabis to medical science.

Image Credit: Adam Baker CC