Rumour has it that the United States has been funding marijuana research for many decades. Israeli researchers have been investigating the plant on America’s coin, courtesy of an annual grant from the National Institute of Health. During this time, many countries have recognized the therapeutic potential of cannabis (either the whole plant or extracts such as CBD) – but the United States still deems marijuana to have “no medicinal value”.
Therefore, the question begs, if the US government is so steadfast in its opposition to medical cannabis, why has it funded – and why does it continue to fund – Israeli research for so long?
Fifty years of research
Marijuana activists will probably know Raphael Mechoulam, the godfather of cannabis who first discovered the psychoactive THC compound that has made the herb so sought after.
Mechoulam appealed to the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the 1960s to fund studies on marijuana. Not surprisingly, his request was turned down. Many assumed that was the end of it, but not quite.
A new report from Newsweek has revealed that the NIH contacted Mechoulam one year after his initial requiry. The story goes that an anonymous United States senator questioned the NIH on the actual effects of marijuana after catching his son smoking pot. But the NIH had no answer – while many had their own ideas of how cannabis impacted the body and brain, there was no scientific evidence to prove it.
This presented Mechoulam with an opportunity. Though federal law prevented studies on cannabis in the U.S., there was nothing to stop the NIH funding foreign programs – not that this was common practice, however.
But thankfully for Mechoulam, the NIH was willing to fund marijuana research to the tune of $100,000 a year to determine the health effects and therapeutic potential of the herb. This agreement started more than 50 years ago, and remains in place today. Did you ever wonder why so many cannabis studies come from the state of Israel?
Israeli medical discoveries
Mechoulam and his research team have made many exciting discoveries regarding the medical possibilities of marijuana over the past five decades. These include:
- Cannabinoids (compounds in marijuana) have neuroprotective qualities
- Cannabinoids help with brain injury recovery
- CBD (cannabidiol) is an effective epilepsy treatment – especially in children
- CBD reduces chance of diabetes
- CBD is an antipsychotic compound
- Cannabinoids may be able to treat autoimmune conditions
This is just a glimpse of what Mechoulam and other Israeli scientists have found from studying cannabis. The research has garnered worldwide respect and remains a popular starting point for marijuana reform.
There’s no guarantee that medical marijuana would have the traction it does today if not for Mechoulam's work. At home, the cannabis scientist has achieved widespread recognition for his efforts, winning multiple honors and awards.
Israel sets an example for the rest of the world on how to create a successful medical marijuana industry. Patients can access the herb for several ailments, such as chronic pain, arthritis, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Crohn’s disease and epilepsy.
U.S. government maintains “no medicinal value” stance
While $100,000 a year doesn’t last long in the world of marijuana research, it’s undeniable that more than $5 million over a 50-year period has been a huge help from a somewhat unlikely source.
But what has it all been for? The federal government and its agencies maintain that marijuana has no medicinal value, despite funding research which suggests the exact opposite.
On top of that, the NIH came out with a study in 2013, explaining that “essentially every human disease” is connected, in some way, to the endocannabinoid system.
Interestingly, the federal government has patented cannabinoids as a neuroprotective oxidant – this quality is what makes cannabis an intriguing potential treatment for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Furthermore, before marijuana was choked by federal prohibition, doctors would happily prescribe the herb. Dr Alan Shackelford, who prescribes it in the marijuana-loving state of Colorado explained to Newsweek that the plant was “an integral part of American medicine” from the 1830s until it was banned, adding that it was “used safely and effectively.” Shackelford is also passionate about improving cannabis research.
Why the hypocritical stance?
Big pharmaceutical companies are trying to throw their financial weight around to stop the marijuana movement. Large donations to anti-legalization groups are just one of the dirty tricks being played, and those who aren’t trying to prevent access want an exclusive part of the pie. Some companies have sought special permission from the U.S. government to test their cannabis-based medical products, in the hope of having a monopoly of the market in the event of legalization.
Meanwhile, caring doctors who recognize the possibilities of marijuana and want to prescribe it to their patients are unable to do so because the plant and its extracts remain Schedule I substances.
The federal government has shown a willingness to let states deal with marijuana how they wish, although Washington’s restrictive position still looms large, and DEA raids are not uncommon, even in legalized states.
Science is on the side of cannabis activists, and the time has come for the rights of individual citizens to choose how they medicate to be respected. The more battles that are won at the ballot box, the more likely that opposition forces concede the battle.
What are your thoughts on the legal status of marijuana in the United States and elsewhere? Is it time for a fresh approach? Let us know in the comments.