Cancer Survivor, Cannabis Activist, and Founder of the Beverly Hill Cannabis Club Cheryl Shuman recently visited Israel to meet with Cannabis Research Pioneer Prof. Raphael Mechoulam of the Hadassah-Hebrew University Faculty of Medicine, whose work provided the basis for the medical community’s embrace of medical marijuana (cannabis). Ms. Shuman, who was diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer many years ago, credits cannabis with bringing her back from the brink of death.
“Much of our work was begun half a century ago,” says Prof. Mechoulam. His interest in cannabis was sparked after he returned from a post-doctoral fellowship at the Rockefeller Institute in New York and became interested in the intersection of chemistry and biology. “Cannabis,” he says, “was ripe for investigation.”
Fluent in a variety of European languages, Prof. Mechoulam read 19th century papers about the plant’s potential. The Israeli police gave him five kilos of high-quality Lebanese hashish that they had apprehended from a smuggler. He coined a new term, “cannabinoids” (referring to the active constituents of cannabis) and isolated first CBD, a non-psychoactive constituent which, according to research at Hadassah, reduced sugar levels in diabetes-prone mice and ameliorated effects of heart ischemia (inadequate blood supply). Then he isolated THC, the psychoactive constituent, as well as half a dozen other cannabinoids.
Prof. Mechoulam notes that pharmaceutical companies have been reluctant to fund clinical trials because marijuana use is controversial and impossible to patent.
Yet, he says, “Cannabis remains a medical treasure trove which waits to be discovered.”
Dr. Elyad Davidson, who heads Hadassah’s Pain Clinic, does offer cannabis to his patients. He reports, however, that “we’re still pre-clinical, which means that although cannabis is being used, we’re guessing on its efficacy and safety. Pain isn’t something you can quantify, so we rely on the reliability of patient reports.”
In 2007, the first cannabis fields were sanctioned by the Israeli government. Today, 10 official growers/dealers have the permission of Israel’s Ministry of Health to plant fields of marijuana. There is, however, no standardization of the product yet. “This means that one dealer might be using leaves, while another is using blossoms, and a third, a different strain of cannabis altogether,” explains Dr. Davidson. “Certain strains and sub-strains have higher psychedelic qualities. This makes prescribing difficult.”
One Hadassah study has revealed that 85 percent of its patients found marijuana effective as an adjunct therapy for the pain associated with bone marrow transplantation. But, questions remain.For example: Does marijuana actually decrease the pain or just help a patient deal with chronic pain?
“There are now about 14,000 patients in Israel who have received government permission to take cannabis. This includes people suffering from chronic pain, the inflammation of Crohn’s disease, the spasticity of multiple sclerosis, the nausea caused by chemotherapy, the anxiety of post-traumatic stress, and the after-effects of bone marrow transplants.
Ms. Shuman came to Israel to learn about the medical marijuana industry there. Her hope is to cultivate a relationship with Israeli experts in this field and recruit them to advocate for quality medical marijuana treatment. The organization that is hosting her stay in Israel is calledTikkun Olam (repairing the world) and, according to Ms. Shuman, she and this oldest and largest marijuana-growing dispensary in Israel are dedicating their energy to repairing the world one bud of high-grade cannabis at a time. Her goal is to take Tikkun Olam’s unique model of dispensing marijuana and counseling patients international.