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Cannabis: A Global Revolution

May 19, 2015 • 5:50 PM EDT
5 MIN READ  •  By Michael Berger
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The history of cannabis dates back thousands of years. Archeologists found cannabis seeds inside Siberian burial mounds from 3000 B.C. Thousands of years ago, the Chinese used cannabis as a medicine. Cannabis had found its way to Colonial America as well. George Washington grew hemp at his house on Mount Vernon.

The “Cult” film Reefer Madness, however, changed everything and cannabis went underground for 70 years. In 1970 the federal government designated cannabis as a Schedule I control substance listed under the Controlled Substance Act. The Schedule I classification is meant for substances that are considered to be highly addictive and have no medical value. This classification prevents scientists from conducting research into the plant.

A marijuana revolution

Researchers are just starting to learn about the medical benefits associated with cannabis, but they have not even scratched the surface. Dr. Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, recently said that preliminary data shows that marijuana can be help treat certain medical conditions.

After Dr. Murthy made these comments, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that marijuana can kill certain cancer cells. Their April 2015 publication noted that recent animal studies showed that marijuana can kill certain cancer cells and reduce the size of others. Evidence from one animal study suggests that extracts from whole-plant marijuana can shrink one of the most serious types of brain tumors.

In mid-April, CNN aired Weed 3: A Marijuana Revolution, which featured a number of people suffering from various illnesses who found marijuana to be the best form of treatment. The program was hosted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta who said on the program that “we should legalize medical marijuana. We should do it nationally. And, we should do it now.”

Currently, 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana and three states have legalized recreational marijuana. For the first time ever, the Gallup poll and the General Social Survey found that a majority of the public favors the legalization of marijuana. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 53% of Americans support legal marijuana.

This revolution is not just taking place in the United States. We are seeing marijuana reform taking place all around the world. Less than a month ago, Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla signed an executive order to legalize medical marijuana. In 2014, Uruguay legalized both medical and recreational marijuana. Israel, Canada, and the Netherlands all have legal medical marijuana programs. Portugal and a number of other countries have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana.


More than 50 years ago, a young Israeli chemist started a movement without even knowing it. In 1963, a young Israeli chemist named Raphael Mechoulam decided to study cannabis in an effort to learn about the plant’s chemical composition. Mechoulam and his team discovered that the principal active ingredient in cannabis was tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). They also found traces of cannabidiol (CBD) in the plant’s structure.

The Israeli cannabis research and development efforts are unmatched by any other country. Israel is now a world leader in scientific research focused on medical marijuana. More than 20,000 patients have access to medical marijuana to treat such conditions as glaucoma, Crohn’s disease, inflammation, appetite loss, Tourette’s Syndrome, and asthma.

Today, Mechoulam is a respected member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and a professor at Hebrew University’s Hadassah Medical School, where he still runs a lab. He is the author of more than 400 scientific papers and the holder of about 25 patents. Although Mechoulam is not in favor of recreational marijuana, but he thinks it should be decriminalized.

Mechoulam said, “Right now, people don’t know what they’re getting. For it to work in the medical world, it has to be quantitative. If you can’t count it, it’s not science.”

In 1992, Mechoulam and his team made one of their most famous discoveries. At the time, Mechoulam was studying the effect cannabis has on the inner recesses of the human brain. He isolated the chemical made by the human body that binds to the same receptor in the brain that THC does. Since then, several other endocannabinoids and their receptors have been discovered.

Scientists have found that endocannabinoids interact with a specific neurological network, similar to the way endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine do. Mechoulam said endocannabinoid play an important role in basic functions like memory, balance, movement, immune health, and neuroprotection.

Typically, pharmaceutical companies focused on developing cannabis-based medicines have sought to isolate individual compounds from cannabis, but Mechoulam believes that in some cases the chemicals work better in concert with other compounds found in marijuana.

GW Pharmaceuticals (GWPH) sells Sativex, a cannabis-based medicine in 27 countries. The drug contains both CBD and THC and it meant for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. Mechoulam plans to study this mystery further.

“We have just scratched the surface,” he says, “and I greatly regret that I don’t have another lifetime to devote to this field, for we may well discover that cannabinoids are involved in some way in all human diseases.”


Manuel Guzmán is a biochemist who has studied cannabis for 20 years and runs a laboratory in Spain. Guzmán and his team were researching the effect that THC has on rats who suffer from brain tumors and the results were astounding. 33% of the tumors in the rats were eradicated and 33% saw a significant reduction in the size of the tumor. 

Guzmán’s brain tumor research has captured the interest of pharmaceutical companies. Now, a clinical trial is taking place at St. James’s University Hospital in the UK where neuro-oncologists are treating patients who have aggressive brain tumors with temozolomide and Sativex.

Guzmán is concerned that his breakthrough may provide false hope to many cancer patients. He said, “The problem is that mice are not humans. We do not know if this can be extrapolated to humans at all.”

Guzmán’s lab also studies how chemicals in cannabis protect our brains against various types of insults, such as physical and emotional trauma.

Guzmán said, “Our brain needs to remember things, of course, but it also needs to forget things—horrific things, unnecessary things. It’s much like the memory in your computer—you have to forget what is not necessary, just like you need to periodically delete old files. And you have to forget what is not good for your mental health—a war, a trauma, an aversive memory of some kind. The cannabinoid system is crucial in helping us push bad memories away.”

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Authored By

Michael Berger

Michael Berger is Managing Partner of StoneBridge Partners, LLC and Founder of Prior to entering the cannabis industry, Michael was an Equity Research Analyst at Raymond James Financial covering the Energy Sector. Michael has been featured in publications such as The Street, Bloomberg, US Money News, and hosts various cannabis events across North America.


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