The discovery of the Endocannabinoid system and more

Cannabis and Growing Up Under Fascism

Raphael Mechoulam was born in Sofia, Bulgaria on Nov. 5, 1930.  His father was a physician and head of a local hospital.  At the time of his birth, Fascism was at its peak with Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in power. Harry J. Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, was leading a crusade against cannabis.

Except for “medical or scientific purposes,” cannabis was already illegal in most countries as a result of a ban by the International Opium Convention of 1925. Raphael and his family were Jewish at a difficult time in Europe and eventually emigrated to Israel. Following his father’s scientific foot-steps, Raphael received a Masters of Science and doctorate in Biochemistry.

Isolating THC in a Decade of Revolution

The 1960s was an era of counter culture and revolution. Africans went through radical political change as 32 countries gained independence from their colonial rulers. Television flourished depicting a landing on the moon and the banality of war. John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. were assassinated as leaders of social change.

In the presence of this turmoil, more than ever, cannabis was needed to modulate cultural stress. In 1964, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and his colleagues were the first to isolate and sequence delta-9-tetrahydrocannibinol (THC). Three years later, a national telephone poll of college students identified a 5% lifetime prevalence use of cannabis. By 1969, cannabis use among college students had jumped to 22%.

THC is a phyto-cannabinoid; (phyto – def. relating to plant).  Phyto-cannabinoids are a main group of chemicals in the cannabis plant.  After their initial success, Dr. Mechoulam and his team continued to discover and sequence other phyto-cannabinoids including cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG) and various others. He immediately saw applications for phyto-cannabinoids.

“I’m part of the faculty at the medical school here, and at Hadassah Hospital, we use THC for a variety of things… We found it effective in fighting hiccups, for example. You’ll be surprised how if somebody has hiccups constantly for months how terrible it is. And it works fine. We’ve used it for Tourette’s Syndrome, which is a very nasty neurological disease.”  – Robert Mechoulam, Ph.D.

Discovering the Endocannabinoid System

A Protector of the Body, Similar to the Immune System

The 1980s were a time of social and economic change as the world experienced globalization of economies, the birth of the internet and the Cold War. In the midst of recurrent war in the Middle East, Dr. Mechoulam and his colleagues continued their interest in cannabinoids.

His team discovered that THC attached to receptors, similar to a key fitting into a lock. Further investigations revealed that all animals produced their own key similar to THC. Anandamide was the name given to the first THC-like substance found to already exist in animals. “Ananda” in the Sanskrit language means bliss. In an ever rapid and stressful world, where war prevails and injury is prevalent, a substance emerges as modulator and protector of people.

Hence, the endocannabinoid system is discovered (endo – def. internal or within).  Dr. Mechoulam compares it to the immune system. He states,“…the immune system obviously guards us against proteins, viruses and microbes, but not all damage.”  “… our body… tries to protect itself with other systems – and the endocannabinoid system is one of them.”

Endocannabinoids regulate mood, sleep, appetite, muscle relaxation and pain sensation. Bliss? Perhaps, and much more. They reduce inflammation, they destroy cancer cells and they help glucose metabolism. The possibilities in using this system to help many medically ill people is astounding and exciting.

Bliss is defined as sheer joy or complete happiness. As a medical practitioner, I spend my time thinking about and discussing illness. Our practice is dedicated to patients who use cannabis as medicine. One might describe a feeling of bliss after they use cannabis. I happily report that our patients who use cannabis also experience bliss. Another example of bliss is the act of doing work you love. I feel that as a MediCann provider.


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