Israel is at the forefront of medical cannabis research and innovation, making some of the most significant discoveries that the cannabis world has ever seen. This fact is something that all cannabis experts and medical pot proponents know. But how did Israel get to this point?
Medical cannabis research in Israel began in the 1960s, when renowned Israeli cannabis researcher Raphael Mechoulam of the Center for Research on Pain at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem discovered the properties and structure of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). Mechoulam’s study started with five kilograms of hashish, which he got from the stash confiscated by the police. He continued to procure cannabis from the police for years.
In 1963, Mechoulam and his team became the first scientists to successfully identify and isolate CBD. In 1964, they were able to isolate the THC molecule, along with the molecules of several other cannabinoids.
Moreover, in 1994, a member of Mechoulam’s team, Czech analytic chemist Lumír Hanuš, along with American molecular biologist William Devane, first described the structure of anandamide, the first endocannabinoid. A year later, another member of the team, Shimon Ben-Shabat, was able to elucidate the structure of 2-AG, a second endocannabinoid.
Since Mechoulam and his team’s breakthroughs, cannabis research in the country has continued at a steady pace. This is mainly aided by the Israeli government’s lax cannabis legislation.
In 1999, the Israeli government officially legalized the use of medical cannabis by patients suffering from certain conditions, including AIDS, cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder, and pain-related illnesses such multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and Crohn’s Disease. Patients are allowed to smoke cannabis, take the drug in liquid of capsule form, or apply it on the skin as a topical.
In 2004, Israel’s military started using THC for the experimental treatment of PTSD among soldiers.
The number of registered patients using medical cannabis rose to 10,000 in 2012. This was after the Ministry of Health made the drug available to them for free. By this time, there are already eight government-approved cannabis cultivation operations in the country distributing prescribed medical cannabis to licensed patients.
Tikun Olam Company, which was the first licensed medical cannabis grower in Israel, was able to develop a variety of cannabis-derived therapeutic products and cannabis plant strains with medical benefits. These products contain different THC and CBD levels for optimum medical efficacy, depending on a patient’s condition. To date, Tikun Olam has developed around 230 varieties of cannabis and is now one of the world’s leading medical cannabis suppliers.
It was projected in 2017 that Israel’s medical cannabis industry would soon be valued at hundreds of millions of dollars with the health ministry backing the country’s cannabis research and innovation. Currently, registered medical cannabis patients in Israel is over 26,000, and this number is expected to grow twice in 2018.
Moreover, in April 2017 the government gave medical cannabis companies in the country to start exporting their cannabis products due to the growing global demand. This measure is estimated to generate Israel more than $260 million annually. An inter-ministerial report also stated that exports could add around 4 billion shekels to the country’s economy.
Currently, cannabis research and innovation is supported by the health ministry with an 8-million-shekel yearly budget. Israel is one of only three countries in the world where the government sponsors R&D. Because of this, cannabis researchers and companies from outside have relocated to Israel in order to pursue their studies.
Israeli company iCan, which invests in domestic cannabis market, said that there are over 50 American companies doing cannabis research in the country, and these companies invested more than $125 million in the country’s cannabis operations. There are also American companies that have moved their entire research and development operations to Israel.