January 17, 2020 5 min read

Even after the 2018 Farm Bill and the legalization of hemp, the United States still struggles to settle the dust surrounding medical marijuana. At this point, more than half of U.S. states have legalized the use of medical marijuana for various conditions, like epilepsy, Crohn's Disease, cancer-related symptoms, and various other forms of chronic illness. 

Despite the massive support behind cannabinoid-based medicine, the federal government still refuses to budge, leaving cannabis labeled as a schedule one drug, alongside dangerous and addictive substances like peyote and heroin. This classification defines cannabis as having “no known medical use,” but researchers all over the world strongly disagree. 

This classification severely limits researchers from studying cannabis for its medical potential. In fact, most research regarding marijuana conducted on U.S. soil is heavily biased, searching for proof of the potential harms of cannabis. Most of the studies relevant to cannabis’ health potential come from foreign countries, namely Israel, who has been spearheading cannabis research since it’s beginning. In fact, Israel’s footprint on the medical marijuana world can be traced all the way back toRaphael Mechoulam, often known as the Father of Cannabis because of his work identifying the chemical structure of marijuana. Since then, marijuana research in Israel has advanced very quickly, and the tiny country has supplied the majority of relevant research that we have today.

A Look at Israel’s Medical Marijuana Research

Israel’s research regarding medical cannabis started with Mechoulam in the 1960s. At the time, Mechoulam was only a junior researcher at the Weizmann Institute at Rehovot. He was already interested in the effects of cannabis and set his sights in that direction with his first research project. At the time, research regarding cannabis’ medical potential was nearly nonexistent, which served to inspire Mechoulam to look deeper into the topic. Nobody had every isolated marijuana’s chemical structures, so despite cannabis being illegal in Israel at the time, he set out to do it himself. 

He turned to the director at Weizmann for help, eventually procuring five kilograms of marijuana from local authorities to use in his studies. Despite the illegal status of cannabis, he was able to continue his research using smuggled hashish supplied by the Israeli government for decades. After a few years of dedication, he finally achieved what he had been hoping for. 

In 1963, Mechoulam and His Team Isolated CBD, then THC

At this time, Israel was already leading the rest of the globe in its medical marijuana research efforts, but the isolation of these compounds was exactly the fuel that Israel needed to begin breaking down the physical and mental effects marijuana has on humans. It was this discovery that later led to the unearthing of the endocannabinoid system, or the bodily system that interacts with these cannabis molecules.

In fact, the endocannabinoid system contains endocannabinoids, or compounds naturally made by the body, that are nearly identical toCBD, THC, and many other cannabinoids found in cannabis. It should come as no surprise that the endocannabinoid system was then appropriately named after the cannabis plant itself. 

From there, Israel’s research continued, and leading researchers began to address the effects of cannabis on particular conditions and disorders. Now, most of the research regarding the use of THC and CBD for chronic illness comes from foreign soil, most of it from Israel. This first footstep was actually a leap ahead of the rest of the world, and without the isolation of these cannabinoids and the discovery of the body’s interactive endocannabinoid system, we would likely still be in the dark on the healing potential of the cannabis plant. 

Israeli Studies Regarding Cannabis for Chronic Illness

There is no quick way to summarize the amount of evidence Israel has provided backing cannabis’ use as modern medicine, but there are some areas of focus that seem to turn the most heads. Tikan Olam, one of the country’s medical suppliers, oversees some of the largest medical marijuana-based studies in the world. 

One recent study lasted six months and set out to prove medical cannabis as a reasonable and effective treatment for patients with fibromyalgia, where81.1% of patients reported overall improvement to symptoms after using medical marijuana. Other prominent studies look at the effects of cannabis oncancer, diabetes,Alzheimer's, and for replacing opioids and other pain medications. 

Much of this research identifies cannabis as a safe, effective option for people of all ages. In fact, multiple research efforts, present and future, are set to determine the efficacy of CBD for children. As research efforts continue to advance in Israel, there’s talk of R&D in the way of usingCBD for Autism Spectrum Disorder, especially for children. As of now, large corporations like Tikan Olam have provided research that enabled the country, which legalized marijuana for medical purposes in the early 1990s, to support the use of medical cannabis for the following conditions:

  • Cancer
  • PTSD
  • Chronic Neuropathic Pain
  • Colitis
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Tourette’s Syndrome
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Terminal Illness

These qualifying conditions are awfully similar to those listed by medical marijuana approving states in the U.S., mostly because they rely on these same foreign studies. As Israel’s research efforts continue to grow, multiple U.S. states are expected to adapt accordingly, though many hope to improve conditions (and legal restrictions) for researchers here at home.

But Why is Israel’s Cannabis R&D Advancing So Quickly? 

Great question, but it all boils down to legal hurdles and financial support. As a whole, Israel dedicates more money to research efforts than most countries. Plus, medical cannabis is legal across the country, which allows researchers to actively expand their horizons, and to access the quality cannabis they need to conduct relevant research. 

The stigma surrounding cannabis is nearly nonexistent, and Israel recently decriminalized recreational marijuana as well. Although it still technically remains illegal on a federal level, researchers in Israel don’t need to deal with all the red tape that American researchers would encounter. 

In fact, American organizations are turning to Israel for help defining and expanding their own medical marijuana industry. TheHebrew University’s Multidisciplinary Center for Cannabinoids Research is actively researching the application of cannabinoids and theirside effects, including CBD for conditions like tissue inflammation, renal disease, cancer, and more. 

Many researchers in the U.S. hope to partner with Israeli experts in hopes of understanding and standardizing the plant’s medical potential, but the U.S. still has miles to go before cannabis R&D can transcend to an even remotely competitive level. Hopefully, legislation is headed in the right direction, and after the legalization of hemp and recentFDA efforts to regulate CBD, it seems so. In the meantime, we continue to rely on Israel and other leading medical marijuana countries to bring this life-altering evidence to the table. 

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