World’s Most Prominent Weed Chemist has Never Smoked the Stuff

Raphael Mechoulam delivers a speech to participants at the CannaTech conference, an international summit for accelerating cannabis innovation, in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv on March 7, 2016.
(Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

culture | 01.01.2022

The World’s Most Prominent Weed Chemist Has Never Even Smoked

Raphael Mechoulam is an Israeli scientist has spent 50 years of his life studying cannabis and has presumably been around some pretty dank nugs.

The scientific understanding of cannabis and its potential wouldn’t be where it is if it weren’t for Raphael Mechoulam. The Israeli scientist, now in his 80s, began researching pot back in the 60s, back when most of the scientific community wouldn’t touch the stuff due to social stigma. Fascinated by cannabis, Mechoulam pulled some strings to acquire kilos of hashish from police. For scientific purposes, you can be sure. Because despite spending 50 years of his life around the green, Mechoulam has never once smoked the stuff.

Mechoulam is credited with discovering THC and endocannabinoids, the chemical compounds inside pot that gets us high and the receptors in the brain that respond to them. Though retired, in more recent years the scientist has pushed the community to investigate cannabis effects on cancer recovery. What shocked Raphael initially is how the compounds of marijuana and the receptors in our brain seem to fit like a glove, a phenomenon he’s always sought to investigate, though not experience first-hand.

In an interview with Culture magazine, Mechoulam ad  mitted that at no point in his decade-spanning career has he smoked marijuana.

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Mechoulam is a leading figure in the medical cannabis research and serves today as the chairperson of the CannaTech conference. (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

“I am still interested but as I did research and we had official supply of cannabis,” said Mechoulam in the interview, “obviously if we had used it for non-scientific reasons if people had come to know about it that would have stopped our work. Basically, neither I nor my students were interested.”

Mechoulam knew that using cannabis recreationally as a professional who handles cannabis in a scientific capacity could land him in hot water. It is only in recent years that the public stigma about the plant begun to collapse. That said, there is conflicting information on Mechoulam’s status as a holdout. The researcher has never used cannabis recreationally, but what about in the name of science?

One of Mechoulam’s most famous experiments was performed in 60s. He gave his wife a supply of THC to bake into a coffee cake and serve to a sample group of close confidants. Half the party ate the magic cake, the other half abstained, and Mechoulam documented the reactions of the group. Some got weird, some got paranoid, some swore they felt nothing but spoke a hundred miles a minute. According to a Vice profile on Mechoulam from 2016, the scientist partook, and it was the first and only time he experienced the effects of THC himself.

Outside of that one slice of cake, Raphael Mechoulam will pass on the joint.

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