Raphael Mechoulam started his first marijuana project by walking into a police station and asking for some confiscated weed—for research purposes.
“I went there, drank coffee with the policemen and got 5 kilos of cannabis, hashish,” he said.
Decades later, the 87-year-old Israeli chemist is known widely as the “father of marijuana research,” after he used those 5 kilos to discover THC (marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient) in the 1960s, and then later discovered the structure of CBD (its non-psychoactive ingredient, often used for medicinal purposes). Over the years, the U.S.'s National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has funded much of his extensive research, including examining the effects of marijuana on epilepsy, nausea, anxiety and schizophrenia.
"It has been prohibited for so long that people associate medical marijuana with recreational marijuana. There should be complete separation between recreational marijuana and medical.Medical marijuana should be developed as a medicine advance, according to strict rules. Recreational marijuana is a social issue, and has to be decided by the population," he said.
"Medical marijuana should be legalized in my view, but it should be well regulated. In Israel, a person cannot go to a pharmacy or a place and buy medical marijuana. A physician—a specialist in the disease the person has—has to apply to the ministry.They have a department that deals with medical marijuana. Every single case has to be approved by physicians. For diseases that are not on an approved list, the physician or the minister have to decide," he continued."
Raphael Mechoulam was born in Sofia, Bulgaria on November 5, 1930 to a Sephardic Jewish family. His father was a physician and head of a local hospital, while his mother "who had studied in Berlin, enjoyed the life of a well-to-do Jewish family".
He attended an "American Grade School" until his parents were forced to leave their hometown because of anti-semitic laws and his father was subsequently sent to a concentration camp, from which he survived.
After the communist takeover of hitherto pro-German Bulgaria in 1944 he studied chemical engineering, which he "disliked." In 1949 his family immigrated to Israel where he later studied chemistry. He gained his first research experience in the Israeli Army working on insecticides.
He received his M.Sc. in biochemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1952), and his Ph.D. at the Weizmann Institute, Reḥovot (1958), with a thesis on the chemistry of steroids. After postdoctoral studies at the Rockefeller Institute, New York (1959–60), he was on the scientific staff of the Weizmann Institute (1960–65), before moving to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he became professor (1972) and Lionel Jacobson Professor of Medicinal Chemistry from 1975. He was rector (1979–82) and pro-rector (1983–85). In 1994 he was elected a member of the Israel Academy of Sciences.