Father of Cannabis Chemistry Receives Award for Excellence in Botanical Research
Professor Raphael Mechoulam. Credit: en:User:Tzahy on Wikimedia Commons
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The American Botanical Council (ABC) recently presented the 2017 ABC Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award to Professor Raphael Mechoulam, PhD, an Israeli organic chemist and the “father of cannabis research.” Mechoulam was the first researcher to isolate, determine the structure of, and synthesize delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive component of cannabis (Cannabis spp.).
ABC presents the annual award, named in honor of the late, celebrated professor Norman R. Farnsworth, PhD, to an individual who has made significant research contributions in the fields of pharmacognosy, ethnobotany, ethnopharmacology, or other related scientific disciplines dealing with medicinal plant research. Farnsworth, who died in 2011, was a highly published and internationally renowned research professor of pharmacognosy, a senior university scholar in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and one of the co-founding members of ABC’s Board of Trustees.
Mechoulam, a professor of medicinal chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, has been investigating Cannabis compounds for more than 50 years. “Cannabis has been known for millennia both for its therapeutic effects and for its effects on mood and behavior. However, as the chemistry of the cannabis constituents had not been well established when we started our research in the 1960s, there was essentially no modern medical use of cannabis,” he said. “Present day pharmacology and clinical work with any drug — including drugs from plants — is based on reliable chemical knowledge.”
In the 1960s, his research team became the first to isolate THC and elucidate its structure. They also established the structure of cannabidiol (CBD), a major, non-psychoactive constituent of cannabis, and isolated other cannabinoids, including precursors of THC and CBD. “Later we synthesized these constituents and thus made them available for research,” Mechoulam said.
Subsequently, Mechoulam and colleagues began investigating the effects of various cannabinoids on human health. In the 1980s, he discovered that CBD had potent anti-seizure properties and that THC could help alleviate certain side effects of chemotherapy in children with cancer. He also was part of the research team that found the first evidence of an endogenous ligand for cannabinoid receptors in the brain.
“ABC is pleased and honored to bestow the Norman R. Farnsworth Award to Professor Mechoulam,” said Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC. “He is internationally recognized for his many compelling and pioneering discoveries regarding the chemistry and pharmacology of cannabis. These accomplishments created new research opportunities in the novel field of the human endocannabinoid system, one of the most important regulatory systems in human physiology.”
Mechoulam has published more than 380 scientific journal articles to date, and he continues to investigate cannabinoids and serve as an advocate for the healing properties of cannabis. “I strongly believe that plant and endogenous cannabinoids or their derivatives will become major drugs,” he said.
Throughout his career, Mechoulam has received numerous awards and recognitions, including a NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) Discovery Award, an Emet Prize in Exact Sciences, and lifetime achievement awards from the International Cannabinoid Research Society, the Eicosanoid Research Foundation, and the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology, among others.
Stefan Gafner, PhD, ABC’s chief science officer, noted: “Professor Mechoulam is truly a giant among natural products scientists. He made some of the most impactful discoveries in the area of botanical research. With the elucidation of the structures of THC, CBD, and many of the minor cannabinoids, he laid the foundation for scientific research on cannabis. The discovery of endogenous ligands to the cannabinoid brain receptors provided an avenue for numerous researchers to investigate the physiological processes in which the endocannabinoid system is involved.”