Raphael Mechoulam’s research into cannabis over the last sixty years has changed lives in the UK for the better. The medicines which his research has enabled treat people with serious illnesses, such as multiple sclerosis and severe treatment resistant epilepsy. CBD wellness products are bought in pharmacies, supermarkets and health shops across the land. An industry built on his discoveries—made in collaboration with scientists around the world—is giving employment.
CBD Business News invited some leading figures in the UK cannabis industry to comment on the contribution of Professor Mechoulam.
Professor Mike Barnes MD FRCP, a consultant neurologist who played a critical role in the development of Sativex (a cannabis-based medicine which treats symptoms of multiple sclerosis), and is chair of the Cannabis Industry Council among other roles in the industry, is unequivocal in his assessment of the impact of Professor Mechoulam’s work: “Huge. There can be no researcher in medicine whose discoveries have made so much impact on so many people. Outstanding.”
Asked how Professor Mechoulam’s work has informed his own, he responds, “Professor Mechoulam was no doubt the pioneer of cannabinoid research, and every researcher since owes him a huge debt of gratitude for those first steps. He showed the world that research on the plant was not only possible with determination, but that the plant had a whole new arena of exciting compounds that have led to many invaluable medicines.
“the outstanding result is the finding of the anti-convulsant properties of CBD”Professor Mike Barnes MD FRCP, chair of the Cannabis Industry Council
“His discoveries have led to so many medicines for so many people with long term, chronic conditions. I think the outstanding result is the finding of the anti-convulsant properties of CBD which has dramatically changed the lives of children with drug-resistant epilepsies.
“His work and the work of his team, and now groups worldwide who worked with him, has been instrumental in our understanding of the extraordinary properties of the plant and the cannabinoids and terpenes and other compounds within it.
“So much done, and now—after his start and guidance—so much more to do.”
Siân Phillips, co-executive director of the Cannabis Trades Association, outlines Professor Mechoulam’s place in scientific history: “Just like Lister, Fleming or Gerhard Domagk, Mechoulam is now an important name in scientific and cannabis history. Even if you’ve not heard of the professor, but you’ve used CBD in the form of tinctures, gummies, drinks, cosmetics or vapes, or have even eaten chocolate, he has been a part of your life.
“His work in the chemistry and pharmacology of cannabinoids led to the total synthesis of major plant cannabinoids such as Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (D9THC), cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG) and many others. He also isolated the first described endogenous cannabinoid—anandamide.
“Without the foundational research, many of the health benefits of cannabis could not have been established as early and in a sophisticated way.
“Where would the medicinal, consumable and topical cannabis businesses be without the professor? It is now possible to single out cannabinoids in the development and testing of innovative food, health and beauty products, shaping today’s market.
“With the crumbling healthcare system in the UK and need for alternatives to some of the prescribed medicines, more people are turning to the CBD wellness market. This means that people are taking care of themselves in a more holistic way—what goes inside us affects us more than what we know.
“Just like Lister, Fleming or Gerhard Domagk, Mechoulam is now an important name in scientific and cannabis history”Siân Phillips, co-executive director of the Cannabis Trades Association
“Provided that there is a regulated and legal market, with laws that are science, fact and evidence-based, the UK could become a thriving model-market internationally.”
Like Mrs Phillips, Nick Tulloch CEO of Voyager CBD and Nicholas Morland CEO of Tenacious Labs are mindful of the foundational role of Professor Mechoulam’s work with regard to the CBD industry they are working to develop.
Nick Tulloch comments, “In many respects Raphael Mechoulam’s discoveries represent the beginning of the modern day CBD and hemp industry. A plant which had been used for health purposes as far back as ancient Egyptian and ancient Chinese times fell out of favour in the early part of the 20th century. His work in isolating THC and determining that CBD was not psychoactive paved the way for the development of CBD—as distinct from the hemp plant itself—as an active and, importantly, a legal ingredient in health and wellness products.
“From that, businesses such as my company Voyager have become mainstream, creating careers for me and all of our workforce.”
Asked what benefits a growing wellness market based on CBD brings to the UK, Mr Tulloch responds, “As the plant-based health and wellness movement gathers momentum, not only in the UK but around the world, extracts from hemp should be seen as a regular, and hopefully, aspirational constituent of wellness products.
“Research to date may not be of pharmaceutical standard, but it is plentiful and the findings point strongly to numerous benefits for the user leading to two potential outcomes. Firstly, CBD could start to replace man-made remedies as a natural therapy for a range of conditions—opinions may be split but, at Voyager, we believe strongly in the long term benefits of finding a natural alternative. Secondly, a natural extension to the growing popularity of CBD as a health and wellness supplement is the development of medicinal cannabis products which, to date, is an area in which the UK has lagged behind other countries.”
Looking ahead to how the CBD industry will develop in the coming years in the UK and elsewhere, Mr Tulloch suggests, “A likely consequence of the increased prevalence of CBD in health and wellness products is regulation. For a time it appeared as if the UK would lead the world in CBD regulation through its early implementation of the novel foods regulations. Although this has taken longer and, arguably, has been more confusing than originally billed, it does nevertheless signal the direction of travel.
“Raphael Mechoulam’s discoveries represent the beginning of the modern day CBD and hemp industry”Nick Tulloch, CEO Voyager CBD
“It is right and proper that a widely-used supplement should have regulatory oversight and, in time, we expect there to be more scrutiny over labels, production methods, complementary ingredients and recommended uses.
“Professional and responsible companies should welcome these developments, as should customers who, whether through a kite-mark or brand recognition, will have more confidence in what they are buying. With regulation comes more opportunities and we, in particular, would like to see loosening of advertising restrictions which in many cases are already out of sync with a product’s legal standing.
“Ultimately also customers should expect prices to fall. As CBD production increases and brands move from boutique to household names, economies of scale will make CBD a more attainable product—a necessary and desirable attribute if the industry is really to thrive.”
“The future of the industry depends on the mantra, follow the science”Nicholas Morland, CEO Tenacious Labs
Mr Morland is similarly appreciative of Professor Mechoulam’s foundational work, saying “We couldn’t have built Tenacious Labs had it not been for the work of pioneers such as Mechoulam. The future of the industry depends on the mantra, ‘follow the science’.
“The growth of wellness, of CBD products as a target for discretionary spend, and in pharmaceuticals, is simply a given for the UK, along with the rest of the western world. As Mechoulam observed, CBD products are not psychoactive. Maintaining any kind of prohibition makes no sense.”
And looking to the future?
“The end of prohibition for CBD products brings economic benefits to sectors including agriculture, retail, pharma, even housebuilding,” asserts Mr Morland.
“There is no downside for the government to continue with its legalisation, and the tax take will be magnificent.”
STOP PRESS—Professor Mechoulam died on Thursday 6 April 2023, aged 92