The atmosphere is different in Israel. The country’s approach to supply, production, and research on medical cannabis is in sharp contrast to that in the United States.
For starters, Israel has legalized access to medical cannabis since the early 1990s, with the government approving a complete set of guidelines and managing supply in 2011. In the US, of course, the story is much different.
Israel’s scientists, politicians, and even its military have all taken a more liberal approach to cannabis than their global counterparts. Israel’s approach is one worth replicating, with their decades of experience studying cannabis, cannabinoids, and medical applications.
A Brief History of Medical Cannabis in Israel
As far back as the early 1990s (the exact start date remains largely unreported), Israelis could use cannabis to treat specific chronic conditions, including cancer, Parkinson’s, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
However, during this time, medical cannabis was only provided by private suppliers. There was not a program managed or supervised by the Israeli government.
The Israeli military announced it would begin trials of THC, the active and intoxicating cannabinoid contained in cannabis, to treat PTSD.
According to a statement reported in the Telegraph, “The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) medical corps, in cooperation with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is introducing the use of THC, the active agent in the cannabis plant, which helps relieve post-traumatic stress disorders, on an experimental basis.”
Israel became one of the first countries globally and the first in the Middle East to formalize its medical cannabis program. This included the creation of guidelines, supervision, and supply of cannabis for patients and research applications. In a statement issued by the Cabinet at the time, “This is in recognition that the medical use of cannabis is necessary in certain cases.”
Interestingly, this was one issue that united an extremely partisan government, which at the time was intensely oppositional.
The Israeli government began a process of decriminalization of adult-use cannabis. (By the end of 2021, it remained only a partial attempt.) According to Cannigma, charges for possessing small amounts of cannabis go largely unprosecuted.
By 2020, Israel had the highest number of medical cannabis patients per capita, hitting approximately 71,500 patients. In addition, there were 31 licensed producers, and the country became the global leader in terms of cannabis imports, hitting 8,818 lbs (4,000 kg) by mid-2020.
Earlier, US News had reported that Israel not only had the highest number of reported cannabis consumers in the world — 27 percent —but also had the highest percentage of funding devoted to medical cannabis research.
2022 and Beyond
Since 2019, there has been an increased number of physicians approved to prescribe cannabis, translating into more patients registered in the program. According to The Israeli Ministry of Health, more than 100,000 patients are now registered.
This means that the country is one of the most exciting markets globally, valued at $264 million in 2021. It’s a market size that is nearly equivalent to the entirety of Europe’s. In 2021, Israel consumed more than 43 tons of cannabis.
With one of the most welcoming regulatory environments, a well-funded research sector, and a society primed for cannabis as medicine, Israel is the market to watch.
Israel has Pushed Cannabis Research Forward Since the Very Beginning
The modern era of cannabis research began with an Israeli scientist in the 1960s. Raphael Mechoulam, who is now widely known as the father of cannabis research, isolated CBD in 1963. One year later, Mechoulam and his team isolated other cannabinoids, including THC.
Stemming from Mechoulam’s initial investigations, Israel has become a destination for cannabis research, thanks to its more liberal and accessible system. In the words of a 2015 Nature article, Israel allows for “Research without Prejudice.”
At 86 years young, Mechoulam is still profoundly focused on pushing the boundaries of cannabis knowledge. He is still launching studies and guiding clinical trials to this day.
Since 1964, research programs in the country have made some incredible, valuable discoveries about the nature of cannabis and its many possible medicinal applications. There are now several Israeli-based but globally-renowned research centers focused on cannabis, including the Multidisciplinary Center for Cannabinoid Research. This center works on cancer-related projects, drug delivery, inflammation and stress, neurochemistry, and much more.
Since the center’s founding in 2019, they have had dozens of scientific papers published every year, covering the gamut of topics including cannabis and autism, CBD and schizophrenia, oral-cannabinoid drug delivery platforms, CBD for depression, and much more. In particular, they are advancing our understanding of the neurological effects and chemistry of cannabis.
Israel: A Progressive Approach to Cannabis Research and Medicine
From the very beginning, when Mechoulam isolated the primary cannabinoids of cannabis, Israel had always been at the forefront of cannabis research. More than half a century later, they are still leading the way, pushing the needle forward, to lay the foundations for other researchers in more restrictive markets.
Israels’ well-established medical cannabis program and well-funded research environment have meant that this tiny Middle Eastern country has become a world leader on cannabis. It’s time that other countries, the US included, take a page out of their book for a more progressive approach to this burgeoning field of science and medicine.
In January 2022, RYAH Group, Inc. (CSE:RYAH) announced it had entered into a memorandum of understanding with Bazelet Pharma Ltd.. Bazelet is the largest medical cannabis processing company in Israel, serving thousands of patients.
The collaboration is aimed at servicing Bazelet’s patients using the RYAH Smart Inhalers and data analytics, once certified as a medical device in Israel ,with the goal of providing safe and accurate patient inhalation therapies in plant medicine in Israel.