While Israel is already a world leader in medical cannabis research, for the first time the government has decided to fuel the blaze.
The Agriculture Ministry’s chief scientist will be investing NIS 8 million in 13 relevant biochemistry and medical research projects, with the hope of improving the growth of medical cannabis in Israel, the ministry announced on Monday. Describing the initiative as “a pioneering step,” the ministry said the funds will enable scientists to perform both basic and applied research for five years, developing the tools and infrastructure “that will lead the next generation of medical cannabis products.”
“It is our privilege to fund these studies, which are likely to save many patients,” Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel said on Monday. “This is further proof that agriculture is an important foundation for every field of life, including life-saving medicines, and I welcome this step.”
While the subject of medical cannabis is still relatively young and controversial both in Israel and around the world, its use for therapeutic purposes is continually gaining popularity, a statement from the ministry explained.
Numerous studies have been published confirming the positive effects of cannabis on one hand, and the potential risks and damages on the other hand, the ministry said.
“The growth of the cannabis plant for medical use must comply with strict and appropriate quality demands from an agricultural perspective, which are suitable for a plant product intended for medical use,” the statement said. “Therefore, agricultural research is the first critical step toward characterizing and creating agricultural methods for implementing the growth of cannabis for medical use.”
After publishing a call for research proposals in collaboration with the country’s Health Ministry, Agriculture Ministry chief scientist Avi Perl selected 13 projects to receive funding.
Seven of the projects are in the fields of biochemistry and medicine, covering topics like the detection and characterization of new materials in strains of medical cannabis, the involvement of cannabis in both visual function and colon cancer and the use of strains in treating multiple sclerosis. Other projects explore the effect of cannabis on metabolic syndrome, the ability of cannabis to prevent organ rejection after transplants and the use of the plant to inhibit the development of harmful bacteria.
In addition to financing the research in biochemistry and medicine, the Agriculture Ministry funds will go to six projects aiming to improve the growth of cannabis plants.
These projects involve developing technologies for optimal irrigation and fertilization, combating diseases and pests specific to cannabis and honing methods for planting and reproducing cannabis.
Also receiving funding is work on the biotechnological and genetic engineering aspects of cannabis growth, as well as the establishment of a national genetic database for medicinal cannabis plants.
Around the world, medical cannabis use is becoming increasingly popular and is only expected to rise in years to come. A recent study conducted by the Dublin-based Research and Markets firm indicated that the global legal marijuana market is likely to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 37.4% from 2016 to 2020.
In Israel, doctors have prescribed medical marijuana to about 25,000 patients.
While Monday’s Agriculture Ministry announcement indicates the first government- backed financing of medical cannabis studies in the country, such research has long been taking place in both private and public settings.
About three years ago, at the Agriculture Ministry’s own Beit Dagan campus, Dr. Nirit Bernstein, a senior research scientist at the Agricultural Research Organization’s Volcani Center, began working to perfect cannabis cultivationpractices.
In her lab, Bernstein is aiming to determine how to direct cannabis plants to produce the most effective ingredients for specific medical conditions – what she describes as “a safer cannabis for the patient.”
Meanwhile, another Volcani researcher, Dr. Hinanit Koltai, is looking into the plant’s development as a medicine for inflammatory bowel diseases.
The Volcani Center is also in the process of building a National Center for Research in Medical Cannabis.
Medical cannabis is the subject of numerous other studies in Israel, as well as the focal point of a variety of start-ups developing technologies related to both plant growth and drug administration.
Yet as far as the new government- funded projects are concerned, the ministry’s chief scientist stressed the important role that this latest step will play in shaping the country’s medical cannabis industry.
“This is really great news,” Perl said.
“This is the time to do research in this field in Israel, which will enable the development of treatment methods and chemical preparations based on cannabis, and help patients find relief and heal from their illnesses.”
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