Medical marijuana has come into its own academically, with the establishment by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem of a Multidisciplinary Center on Cannabinoid Research.The center will serve as one of the world’s leading institutes for conducting and coordinating research about cannabinoids (a class of compounds that alter neurotransmitter release in the brain), endocannabinoids (cannabinoid receptors located in the brain and throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems) and medical cannabis and to promote collaboration and disseminate information.The center’s research will focus on cancer, pain, inflammation and stress management, immunity, metabolism, drug delivery and nanotechnology, pharmaceutical chemistry, neuroscience and plant science and genetics.Staffed by some of the world’s leading scientists and physicians from HU and its affiliated Hadassah- University Medical Center, the multidisciplinary center is already supporting innovative research. Last February, it awarded funding to three research projects on: The effects of cannabidiol (CBD), one of at least 113 active cannabinoids identified in cannabis, on traumatic brain injury; the anti-angiogenic (inhibiting the growth of new blood vessels) and anti-cancer activity of cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2) agonists (chemicals that activate receptors to produce a biological response); and the effect of a cannabis extract on acute radicular pain and on analgesics.
“The establishment in Israel of the Multidisciplinary Center on Cannabinoid Research is of great relevance at this time, since both academic institutions and pharmaceutical companies worldwide are channeling enormous efforts to basic and clinical research in this field,” said Dr.Joseph Tam, the center’s director and head of the obesity and metabolism lab of HU’s Institute for Drug Research in the Medical Faculty.Until very recently, the cannabis plant and its extracts (popularly called marijuana, hashish, weed and grass, among others) were mostly frowned upon as purely recreational drugs. However, over the last 50 years, Prof. Raphael Mechoulam at the Hebrew University has spearheaded a new scientific era of Cannabis research. Mechoulam with his colleagues isolated the active constituent of the Cannabis plant, tetrahydrocannabinol, elucidated its structure and synthesized it.Later he identified the endogenous cannabinoids (formed in the mammalian body) and thus pioneered the field of cannabinoid research.“We feel incredibly fortunate to team up with a vast number of scientists working together on this expanding field of medicine with the significant potential to discover new therapies based on cannabinoids,” Tam said.“It has been shown that modulating endocannabinoid activity has therapeutic potential in a large number of human diseases; hence research on cannabinoids may lead to very significant advances, not only in basic science but also in therapeutics,” said Mechoulam, head of the multidisciplinary center’s academic committee and the Lionel Jacobson professor emeritus of medicinal chemistry in the Medical Faculty. “Our multidisciplinary center addresses many aspects in this promising area, such as cancer, head injury, addiction, bone formation, obesity and others, he added.
Medical marijuana in Israel , use of medical cannabis in Israel (credit: REUTERS)