Israel Is At The Forefront Of Medical Cannabis Research
The world is changing its attitude towards CBD
CBD’s widespread use had been gaining slow, but steady acceptance. However, thanks to a critical review of the cannabinoid undertaken by the WHO, global efforts have seen a marked increase.
The comprehensive review is the first in many stages that could ultimately lead to the de-classification of CBD, thus unlocking better research opportunities, proper regulation, and more straightforward accessibility for mainstream markets.
While we patiently wait for the impact of the critical review to make its way onto the global stage, the picture of CBD and medical cannabis legality still shows significant variation. In Europe, legislation surrounding medical cannabis is relatively behind other areas of the world. This isn’t a purposeful attempt to block progressive research. Instead, it is a by-product of all the different nations and their unique viewpoints. Each country's individual stance needs to be taken into consideration before a unanimous decision can be reached on medical cannabis.
Being behind the curve on cannabis regulation does have a distinct advantage though. It allows the insight gained by countries outside the EU to be taken into consideration. What has worked, what is safe, and what, if anything, needs a greater depth of review. One of the countries commonly invoked for its progressive approach to the substance is Israel.
Israel - the holy land of medical cannabis
Israel isn’t just at the forefront of medical cannabis research. It is out in front by some margin. Not only is it home to Raphael Mechoulam—one of the men responsible for first discovering the endocannabinoid system—but the centre of his activities, Jerusalem's Center for Research on Pain, was also the first to isolate the cannabinoids THC and CBD. It hardly seems surprising then that medical marijuana has been permitted in the country since the early 1990s.
Being one of the most progressive nations for medical marijuana research comes courtesy of the government's involvement. Not only do they sponsor the majority of clinical trials, but the Israeli military has endorsed the cannabinoid THC as part of a treatment programme for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
2017 saw more than 110 clinical trials take place. Their topic of study included cannabis as a treatment for Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis (MS), Crohn’s disease and several other forms of chronic pain. Thankfully, Israel's domination of medical marijuana research shows no signs of waning. Plans for the sector include the building of a one-million-square-foot grow house and research centre in southern Israel. The government-sponsored company, Breath of Life, is responsible for the building of such an ambitious project.
The investment will make the project one of the world's most extensive medical cannabis research and development facilities in the world.
Medical cannabis research underway in Israel
With the future of medical marijuana research firmly within Israel's grasp, let’s review what is currently underway within the pioneering nation. Each study is at different stages in how effective cannabis is as a treatment. However, the broad nature in which the plant could be utilised is encouraging to both patients living in Israel and the watchful eyes of other countries.
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and cancer
Starting with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), researcher Hinanit Koltai leads a joint effort between her own laboratory, the Dept. of Ornamental Horticulture and Biotechnology, and a subsidiary of Israel Plant Sciences. They aim to examine “the effect of cannabis extracts and compounds on tissue from colon biopsies”. The tissue will be provided by Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba and hopes to form of the basis of a possible IBD treatment.
For cancer research, the Laboratory of Cancer Biology and Cannabinoid Research, led by David (Dedi) Meiri, is examining the sophisticated relationship between the dozens of different cannabinoids and various forms of cancer. Meiri and his team are currently examining the impact by mapping the results using a rodent model. Prof. Meiri comments that “even the compound extraction method makes a difference” in how effective cannabinoids can be.
Parkinson’s and insomnia
Dozens of Israeli companies are currently focusing on several elements of medical cannabis. ICD Pharma, Talent Biotechs, Bazelet, and CannRx are among those with an active interest. The latter, CannaRX, is pursuing medical study in both Parkinson's and insomnia.
Autism, epilepsy, fractures, and diabetes
In 2016, Dr. Adi Aran, director of Neuropediatrics at Shaare Zedek Medical Centre, led the world’s first open-label trial involving CBD and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The positive results showed that further study was needed. This prompted Dr. Adi’s latest “double-blind controlled trial on the efficacy and safety of cannabis for autism”. Although this large-scale trial has concluded, analysis of the results will take several months to document. Acting as a consultant to the Health ministry for medical cannabis, Dr. Adi’s studies also extend to the effects of medical cannabis on epilepsy.
Further study at Assaf Harofeh Medical Center showed that CBD drops developed by Tikun Olam had a high rate of success in participants with ASD. 74.5% of patients manifested improvements in social communication skills and reductions in self-injury, hyperactivity, sleep disturbance, and anxiety.
Other developments include those of scientists in a joint effort between Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They measured the healing ability of CBD on thigh bone fractures in lab rats. The results showed that “CBD significantly enhanced healing”.
Finally, Ananda Scientific is also exploring the possibilities of CBD controlling and even preventing diabetes.
Pain, PTSD, and asthma
In typical scenarios, pain, both acute and chronic, is managed with opioid medication. However, opioids are known for their high rate of addiction and significant side effects. Many patients are unhappy about having to rely so heavily upon opioid medication to make symptoms manageable. The opioid crisis is the driving force behind one of Israel's most comprehensive studies into cannabis as an alternative treatment for pain.
Research published in the March 2018 issue of the European Journal of Medicine showed the effectiveness of cannabis treatment over a six month period. When it was used in over 2,700 patients aged 65 or older, overall improvement in pain was noted by 93.7% of them. Patients reported “less use of prescription pain medicines including opioids”.
Back pain is one of the most commonly experienced types of chronic pain. The Therapix Biosciences of Tel Aviv was recently awarded US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for an investigation in using a synthetic cannabinoid as a treatment for back pain. The drug, THX-100, will be part of advanced clinical trials.
The pioneer of cannabis research Dr. Mechoulam is also leading a team investigating the benefits of non-psychoactive cannabis compounds on asthma and other respiratory disorders. Operating out of the Hebrew University Multidisciplinary Centre on Cannabis Research, the study was commissioned by CiiTech.
Tourette syndrome and sleep apnea
The same synthetic cannabinoid THX-100 is also being used for the treatment of both Tourette syndrome and sleep apnea by Therapix. Plans for THX-100’s efficacy include a “randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Additional synthetic cannabinoids are also being tested, including THX-130, THX 150 and THX-ULD01. They are being utilised in the treatment of a variety of conditions”.
Isreal is proving to be a hub of activity, one that the world watches in quiet anticipation. The depth and passion for research undertaken by this aspirational nation is a welcome change. Especially when the rest of the world has yet to make up its mind on the benefits of cannabis and all its parts.