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Cannabis, a plant used globally for a millennia or more, drew the attention of modern scientific study at the end of the 19th century. The most recent century of research has come in fits and starts, but slowly the world is putting politics aside in favor of scientific exploration.
It was only a century ago that scientists outlined the chemical structures of several cannabinoids, including cannabinol (CBN), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and cannabidiol (CBD). By the 1960s, cannabis researchers had begun examining the pharmacological aspects of the plant. But the War on Drugs put a damper on the study of cannabis and its direction. It wasn’t until the turn of the 21st century that real scientific research got underway again.
Cannabis Researchers: The People Behind The Scientific Renaissance
Today, the sector’s top cannabis researchers still face significant regulatory barriers, but they also enjoy more interest and supportive policy than at any time in the previous 60 years. The cannabis scientists of today are driven, passionate, and eager to investigate the plant’s potential. Thanks to their hard work and perseverance, cannabis is legal in a growing number of states and countries.
So, who are these passionate cannabis researchers focused on one of the world’s most fascinating medicinal plants?
Dr. Ethan Russo
Russo is a board-certified neurologist, psychopharmacology researcher. He is also the Medical Director of PHYTECS, a biotechnology company conducting R&D into the human endocannabinoids system. As a psychopharmacology researcher, he initially broke into the industry by working as Senior Medical Advisor at GW Pharmaceuticals during their Phase III trials of Sativex.
Arguably, Russo’s 2011 paper, “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects,” popularized the use of the Entourage Effect of cannabis. He is currently one of the most voracious researchers, publishing several key thought pieces a year. In 2020, he has already participated in three published studies, exploring applications for pain and ALS, as well as cannabis inflorescence more broadly.
In the Spring of 2020, Russo launched into a new venture: CReDO Science. This new initiative is working to make cannabis better and safer through the commercialization of patented products based on their investigation.
Dr. Raphael Mechoulam
Dr. Raphael Mechoulam is an Israeli researcher who many have called the Grandfather of Cannabis. Born in 1930, Mechoulam began working with cannabis in the 1960s, just as pharmacological interest kicked off. He discussed in an interview with the journal Addiction his reason for getting into cannabis in the first place: “On reading the old literature on cannabis, I was surprised to note that from a modern point of view the field was ripe for a reinvestigation.” As he noted, the field of cannabis research in the ‘60s was almost entirely abandoned.
To this day, Dr. Mechoulam’s crowning scientific achievement was the isolation, structure elucidation, and total synthesis of both THC and CBD. As of the last count, he has more than 400 publications under his name and is still going. He continues to push our understanding of cannabinoids and the endocannabinoid system deeper. He still teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Dr. Sue Sisley
Dr. Sue Sisley is a psychiatrist and physician practicing internal medicine in Arizona. She is currently the serving president and principal investigator of Scottsdale Research Institute (SRI), and a faculty member with Colorado State and Humboldt State Universities. For years, she has been dedicated to cannabis advocacy, fighting to make cannabis research funding more accessible.
In partnership with the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), Dr. Sisley fought long and hard to study medical cannabis for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for military veterans. Her efforts fighting for cannabis research resulted in her termination from the University of Arizona (and subsequently spawned a massive industry against the organization).
Her near-decade-long fight resulted in the first federally approved phase II study of its kind. The multi-year study is ongoing, although Sisley has continued to voice concern about the quality and potency of the federally supplied cannabis approved for use in the trial.
In 2019, Sisley sued the federal government for its failure to execute the new and improved cannabis cultivator program. Although the government announced the program more than three years ago, it still does not exist today. Throughout her career, Sisley has remained a powerful and outspoken voice as both a scientist and a cannabis advocate.
Dr. Jeffery Chen
Dr. Jeffery Chen has become the darling of today’s cannabis research initiatives. At only 29 years old, he established the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative. As Director, he guides faculty members from 18 different departments on cannabis and hemp-related research, education, and policy projects. Media coverage of Chen and his research has helped change the public perspective on cannabis, thanks to widespread coverage with popular publications like VICE, CNN, Rolling Stone, and The Wall Street Journal.
Cannabis Researchers Now Moving at Unprecedented Speed
These names, of course, are just the tip of the iceberg. With the rise of the legal sector has come an urgent need to understand the plant from root to flower to patient. Although cannabis researchers may have kicked off in 1975, the sheer volume of work published since 2000 is astronomical. As outdated regulations slowly evolve, there has never been a more excellent time to work with this captivating plant.