Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN — In the early 1960s, a young postdoctoral student stumbled onto something that puzzled him.
After reading the literature on cannabis, he was surprised to see that while the active compound in morphine had been isolated from opium poppies 100 years before and cocaine isolated from coca leaves around the same time, the active component of marijuana was still unknown. This simple observation launched his life’s work.
That young Israeli researcher, Raphael Mechoulam, is now a heavily decorated scientist, recently nominated for the prestigious Rothschild Prize. More than 50 years ago, however, he had trouble starting his scientific journey.
For starters, he needed cannabis to study and didn’t know how to obtain it. Eventually, he obtained his research supply from friends in the police department. The young scientist was in a hurry, and didn’t want to wait to cut through the red tape required by Israel’s Health Ministry.
“Yes, I broke the law,” he told me when I met with him in Tel Aviv last year, “but I apologized and explained what I was trying to do.”
There are more than 480 natural components found within the cannabis plant, of which 66 have been classified as “cannabinoids.” Those are chemicals unique to the plant, including delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiols. Here is the important point. Mechoulam, along with many others, said he believes all these components of the cannabis plant likely exert some therapeutic effect, more than any single compound alone.
While science has not yet shown the exact role or mechanism for all these various compounds, evidence is mounting that these compounds work better together than in isolation: That is the“entourage effect.”