The 4rth CannX International Conference on Medical Cannabis opened last month at the Tel Aviv Expo Center in Israel. About 1,000 people from the entire value chain of the global cannabis industry, including government ministers, entrepreneurs, investors, cultivators, physicians, researchers, medical cannabis companies, pharmacists, and patients participated. The conference was organized by Cann10, which manufactures and markets medical cannabis products and technologies, including the Cannareet brand.

Yossi Bornstein, co-founder of Cann10 stated: “In less than 10 years, the global market for medical cannabis will reach nearly $ 57 billion, significantly reducing the rate of opiate prescriptions and Israel will play a leading role.” CannX is the only medical cannabis conference in Israel recognized as a scientific conference by the European Council for Scientific Education on behalf of the United Nations and is headed by an extraordinary leadership team which includes Tamir Perdue, the former head of the Israeli Mossad and  Chaired by the Godfather of cannabis science himself, Professor Raphael Mechoulam.

In 1925 the use of cannabis was banned in Britain and the territories it controlled which included the lands now part of Israel. By the time of  statehood in 1948, cannabis use was associated with immigrants and the Arab population which had cultural ties to the use of hashish. Similar to the early American cannabis history and association with Mexican immigration post the Mexican War, cannabis was associated with lower classes and was wrongfully associated with madness and violence to castigate its users. In the 1950s, Finance Minister Levi Eshkol described leaders of the “sectarian class” as junkies who were not born in Israel. A decade later, in the 1960s, flower children and hippies re-introduced cannabis to Israel.

The fortuitous confiscation of smuggled hashish in 1962 by Israeli police forces provided a young Bulgarian chemist with the raw material to begin a lifetime of foundational research. In 1963, Professor Raphael Mechoulam of Hebrew University in Jerusalem with colleagues, built upon the 1940’s work of American scientist Roger Adams, who first identified certain chemical compounds in the cannabis plant. Sadly, Adam’s research was quietly but aggressively terminated and subsequently buried by the combined forces of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI and Harry Anslinger’s Federal Narcotics Bureau.

Professor Mechoulam’s team isolated the structure and chemistry of plant derived (phyto) cannabidiol (CBD) in 1963 and then made one of the most recognized scientific breakthroughs in cannabis research history, isolating the psychoactive delta-9-tetrahydra-cannabidol (THC)  structure and which was synthesized in 1964. By the 1970s, while President Richard Nixon was declaring a global “War on Drugs”, despite illegality, cannabis was widely used in the Israeli population and the Israeli Health Ministry quietly began the first global clinical work with medical cannabis and relief for Israeli Defense Forces soldiers suffering from PTSD.  

Professor Mechoulam followed his earlier work with the discovery of the human CB1 and CB2 receptors in the 1980’s, which inspired a search for the human compounds that could activate these receptors, as it was believed that human receptors had not evolved to be able to respond to plant cannabinoids.  Israeli Defense Forces entry into Lebanon in the early 1980s opened a new smuggling route to Israel for cannabis and hashish, which was previously smuggled predominantly from Egypy making acess easier and use even more common. In 1987, Professor Mechoulam and colleagues, initiated one of the first clinical trials with THC with children undergoing chemotherapy for cancer and recognized positive results with the cessation of nausea and vomiting. In 1992, William Devane and Lumir Hanus, fellows in Professor Mechoulam’s lab, discovered that the synthesis of THC in the body activated endogenous brain receptors, the first, arachidonic ethanol­amide (AEA), (a derivative of arachidonic acid), was named “anandamide” (Sanskrit word for supreme joy) and a second endogenous cannabinoid, 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) was identified in 1995. The Mechoulam team subsequently identified the human “endocannabinoid system”, coined the term “entourage effect” and discovered that 2-AG exerted a neuro-protec­tive effect in mice with head trauma.

In 1995, an expert committee was formed to examine the status of cannabis in Israel. The initiator of the committee was the chairman of the committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, former MK Rafael Eitan with The Chair Professor. Meshulam himself.  Among the other members were Boaz Wechtel, an Israeli agricultural and medical cannabis entrepreneur, an activist for legalization, the founder of the Green Leaf Party and its first chairman, as well as public representatives.

Among the committee’s recommendations were the segregation of other drug-types from cannabis as well as allowing patients to consume cannabis for medical purposes.

Despite the committee’s recommendations, the first medical cannabis reform in Israel took another decade after the Ministry of Health began to officially authorize the marketing of cannabis for medical purposes. As part of its recognition that medical cannabis should only be sold under tight regulatory oversight, the new medical cannabis reform became a reality in 2018. That same year the Knesset approved a law authorizing cannabis exports.

After more than 40,000 criminal cases were opened in Israel between 2010 and 2014 for minor cannabis use, Minister of Public Security Gilad Arden in 2019 initiated a new policy era when he stated that,  “opening a criminal case for light drug use is now the last resort and there will be non-incrimination of cannabis users”. Today in Israel, there are approximately 52,000 medical cannabis patients, which represent the largest medical community in the world based upon population.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Uri Ariel opened the CannX conference by stating: “Israel is a medical cannabis power and a global leader in research and development. As someone who promoted the law and proclaimed cannabis as an agricultural crop, I see great importance in exporting medical cannabis and strengthening ties with the countries of the world, which will strengthen the Israeli economy. ” Uri Alfarovitz, CEO of Cann10 shared that “the CannX conference brings together senior members of the global cannabis industry to learn and collaborate on building the promising industry. “

Important topics included “The Painkiller Epidemic”, “The Israeli Model”, Genetic Developments”, “The Impact of Research-Based Cannabis Studies”, “Challenges in Penetrating the Pharmaceutical Industry”, Challenges in the Import of Exporting Medical Cannabis Under Global Regulatory Changes. The formal program concluded with a lively interview of Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak who shared his thoughts on the state of the global cannabis industry and Israel’s present and future role and potential.

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