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Articles > Israel: A World Leader in Scientific Research Focused on Medical Marijuana

Israel: A World Leader in Scientific Research Focused on Medical Marijuana
February 1, 2015

Medical marijuana has not only been a hot topic in the United States but in other countries as well. Israel began to research the medical uses of marijuana 50 years ago and is now a world leader in the field. Investors have begun to express interest in their “botanical high-tech” medical cannabis industry.

In May 2014, MedReleaf, a Canadian medical marijuana producer, entered into a partnership with an Israeli producer, Tikun Olam, for a strain of cannabis that benefits epileptic children. The non-euphoric strain, called Rafael, helps reduce the number of seizures that such children have; in Israel it is available in oral doses.

“Tikun Olam shares their 10 years of data, so we can say, ‘Our Israeli partner has treated 817 patients with Crohn’s or Colitus or Alzheimer’s, and they know that this variety with this dosage, is the optimum,” said Neil J. Closer, MedReleaf’s chief executive.

Innovation around the world

PhytoTech Medical, an Australian medical cannabis company that recently went public and raised $6 million through its public offering, announced a deal Monday with Yissum, the technology transfer arm of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, to develop precisely dosed pills for the mainstream pharmaceutical market.

On Thursday, Israeli marijuana producers will hold an investors conference called Canna Tech Israel. The conference will feature Dr. Alan Shackelford, Charlotte Figi’s doctor. Charlotte has suffered from Dravet’s Syndrome and the strain Charlotte’s Web is named after her.

“Israel is a bastion of cannabis research,” said Shackelford, who is now the chief science officer for One World Cannabis, publicly traded as OWC Pharmaceuticals.

After seeing U.S. drug laws block clinical studies into promising applications that treat illnesses that conventional medicine cannot treat, Shackelford, a Harvard-trained physician, began to conduct research in Israel. This year, Shackelford will lead studies on chronic pain, skin disorders, seizure disorders, several types of cancers, migraine headaches, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“I went to Israel because I was frustrated,” he said. “Israel is the one place in the world that combines the scientific expertise, world-class universities and scientists. It’s so exciting.”

Syqe Medical will also be featured in the conference on Thursday. The company received a $1 million grant from the state and have developed a metered-dose cannabis inhaler.

Israel leading the curve in marijuana research

Israel has become a world leader in scientific research focused on the medical uses of marijuana. Experts have said that Israeli producers could become major exporters of medical cannabis. The Israeli government, however, does not allow producers to export their product.

Health ministers around the world have visited the country hoping to land a deal with the government, but have not had success in getting a deal to import Israeli cannabis.

Michael Dor, the senior medical adviser in the Israeli Health Ministry’s cannabis unit, said that in ongoing government talks, agricultural officials support the export of Israeli medical cannabis, but top officials in the police force, the army and the executive branch oppose it. Dor said that exports face stringent international legal requirements, and those officials “don’t want Israel to be seen all over the world as a country that exports weapons and cannabis.”

If Israel does not export medical cannabis, there is a risk that “the knowledge will leak outside Israel, and the knowledge is worth a lot of money,” Dor said. “We would like to stay in the forefront.”

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