Israel at the Forefront of Medical Marijuana Research
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
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As medical marijuana gains acceptance around the world, Israel is drawing interest from investors for its "botanical high-tech" medical cannabis.According to Michael Dor, the senior medical adviser in the Israeli Health Ministry's cannabis unit, Israel's agricultural leaders support the exportation of cannabis, while police, army and executive branch members are opposed to it, afraid of being known as exporters of "weapons and marijuana.


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"It may come as a surprise that the THC — the active element in cannabis — that has been used for investigations by the National Institutes of Health in Washington, DC, was imported from Israel at a time when no American scientist could hope to receive funding for research involving marijuana.




Charlotte's Web is a form of medical cannabis processed into a marijuana extract that is high in cannabidiol (CBD) content. It does not induce the psychoactive "high" typically associated with recreational marijuana strains that are high in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In September 2014, the content was measured at 0.3% THC and it was classified "as a hemp-derived food product".




Charlotte's Web is named after Charlotte Figi, born October 18, 2006 (age 8), whose story has led to her being described as "the girl who is changing medical marijuana laws across America." Her parents and physicians say she experienced a reduction of her epileptic seizures brought on by Dravet syndrome after her first dose of medical marijuana at five years of age. Media coverage increased demand for Charlotte's Web and similar products high in CBD, which has been used to treat epilepsy in toddlers and children. While high profile and anecdotal reports have sparked interest in treatment with cannabinoids, there is insufficient medical evidence to draw conclusions about their safety or efficacy.




Families who say they have run out of pharmaceutical options have moved to Colorado to access Charlotte's Web. The demand has spurred calls for more research to determine whether these products actually do what is claimed. While many U.S. states have legalized the use of medical marijuana products, including Charlotte's Web, within their borders, the nationwide legal status of Charlotte's Web is less clear. CBD-only legislation in several states is aimed at legalizing use of this particular form of medical marijuana, even though other uses of cannabis are still forbidden in those states. Federal legislation is under way which will affect the legal status in the whole country.




In a greenhouse in the mountains of the Galilee, a technician in a lab coat is coddling a marijuana seedling that is coveted for life-saving medical benefits for epileptic children, doctors say — without the high. Named "Rafael," for a healing angel called upon by Moses, this varietal of cannabis is for people who don't want to be under the influence, and it is available in oral doses in Israel.




Israel has become a world leader in science on the medical uses of marijuana, and its producers could become major exporters of medical cannabis, experts say. But so far, the government has allowed them to export only their knowledge — not the actual product.Even without being exported, Israel's medical cannabis research and development is drawing global interest. PhytoTech Medical, an Australian medical cannabis venture that just raised $6 million in a public offering, announced a deal last week with Yissum, the technology transfer arm of Jerusalem's Hebrew University, to develop precisely dosed pills for the mainstream pharmaceutical market.




In February, 2015, Israeli producers held a Jaffa investors conference, called Canna Tech Israel, featuring Colorado doctor Alan Shackelford, whose patient Charlotte Figi experienced a dramatic decrease in her severe epileptic seizures after being treated with a medical cannabis, dubbed "Charlotte's Web," triggering a wave of American interest in the medical potential of marijuana.



"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.




Another participant, Syqe Medical, has developed a metered-dose cannabis inhaler — with the help of a $1 million state grant. "It could be huge," said Aharon Lutzky, the chief executive of Tikun Olam, a leading medical cannabis producer whose Galilee greenhouses spawned Rafael and other strains. "There is demand all over the world."




For now, the inability to export is setting limits on the industry's ambitions. When the health minister from the Czech Republic visited in 2014, he was unable to get a deal to import Israeli cannabis. If Israel does not export, 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." A government spokesman declined to comment on the export restrictions. "Israel is truly at the forefront of medical marijuana," said Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance in Washington. "Why would Israel want to forgo its leadership?"




Several American states are pushing ahead with marijuana legalization for medicinal and recreational use, but U.S. laws make clinical research difficult or impossible. Israel, on the other hand, began cannabis research 50 years ago and studies its medical uses in a growing public-health program, although it has not legalized recreational use. Shackelford, a Harvard-trained physician, said he is conducting research in Israel after seeing U.S. drug laws block clinical studies, even into promising applications for illnesses, such as ALS, that conventional medicine cannot help. This year, he will lead studies in Israel on pain, skin disorders, seizure disorders, several types of cancers, migraine headaches and post-traumatic stress disorder. "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."




Israel first approved medical cannabis for a patient in 1992, for severe asthma. In 2007, the Health Ministry implemented a comprehensive medical cannabis program, and now 20,000 patients are permitted to use cannabis — a number that rised to 30,000 by 2016. 

Marijuana Health Benefits


Israeli doctors use it to treat ailments including Crohn's disease, basal cell carcinoma, psoriasis, Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis and PTSD in Israeli military veterans, and the pain of cancer patients and the elderly. Its doses are available in cookies, caramels, chocolates, oils, and leaf form for smoking or vaporizing. 


Medical marijuana cultivation


One of Canada's leading producers, MedReleaf, is tapping Israel's expertise, in a partnership it signed in May 2014 with Tikun Olam, whose name means "Healing the World" in Hebrew. MedReleaf now produces strains including the non-intoxicating varieties, with high concentrations of cannabidiol, or CBD — a powerful anti-inflammatory with no narcotic effect — and low tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, which creates the "high" typically associated with marijuana. "Tikun Olam shares their 10 years of data, so we can say, 'Our Israeli partner has treated 817 patients with Crohn's or colitis or Alzheimer's, and they know that this variety, with this dosage, is the optimum,' " said Neil J. Closer, the chief executive of MedReleaf.




For the past year, Dor has collected clinical data from Israeli doctors, hospitals and universities to develop national cannabis treatment guidelines, which he said he has shared with the Jamaican health ministry, among other interested parties. One contributor was Timna Naftali, a gastroenterologist at Meir Hospital, who said she was skeptical in 2011 when she prescribed cannabis to 30 patients with Crohn's disease. But "the results were dramatic," she said. "They didn't need steroids or surgery or hospitalization." 




Neurologists who have been monitoring 67 children with intractable epilepsy at four medical centers reported "promising" results last week at an epilepsy conference in Tel Aviv. Avigael Ka'atabi said her 15-year-old epileptic son, Eden, once suffered continual seizures so severe that he needed a helmet. After Eden's neurologist prescribed cannabis oil in May, his seizures dropped by half, she said. "It's like a whole new life for us," Ka'atabi said at a Tel Aviv clinic. Researcher Ruth Gallily, a professor emerita of Hebrew University, said there also are indications that cannabis can lower the incidence of diabetes and can reduce permanent damage following heart attacks. "In the right hands, it could really help a lot of people," she said.



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Medical marijuana in the U.S. - Statistics & Facts:  Since California first passed a proposition legalizing marijuana for medical purposes in 1996, medical marijuana has seen a rise in state and public support and has become a growing and prosperous industry. Marijuana, also known as cannabis, has been approved for medical use in 29 states, as of April 2017, and is used to treat symptoms associated with diseases such as AIDS, cancer, and glaucoma.


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Although the topic of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes might have been considered controversial in the past, there has been an increase in evidence for the medical benefits of marijuana, such as fewer drug doses being prescribed as a result of its legalization. In addition, some of the possible negative consequences of medical marijuana legalization that were often used to argue against legalization have been found to be unsubstantiated.


Medical cannabis demonstration


Medical marijuana laws, usage, and prices vary from state to state. Not only can prices differ dramatically by state there can also be significant differences in medical marijuana prices between cities within the same state.


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Nevada Dispensary for Recreational Marijuana



As some states have more relaxed medical marijuana laws than others, and some have even recently legalized marijuana for recreational use, the number of medical marijuana dispensaries open in each state is also quite varied.


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Medical Marijuana Dispensary in Denver, Colorado


The number of medical marijuana patients and caregivers can also fluctuate depending on the state. While Colorado had a legal medical marijuana patient rate of 19.8 per 1,000 residents in 2016, Nevada had a rate of only five.


For Medical Use Only


If current trends persist, medical marijuana will continue to grow as an industry and public support with it. According to surveys from recent years, public approval of medical marijuana has indeed increased, remaining above 77 percent since 2011. Medical marijuana patients seem to also be satisfied with the treatment they experience, with a majority reporting that they would be highly likely to recommend medical marijuana to friends or family for treatment.