In Jerusalem in the year 1992, Ananda, the Sanskrit word for bliss, named a newly identified molecule. Anandamide was given as name to the cannabinoid molecule first discovered being produced in the human body, that is, the first endocannabinoid. This revelation solved a decade’s old mystery. The discovery of anandamide and the receptor system it stimulates has greatly changed and grown our knowledge of the structure and functioning of our human bodies. What has been learned already offers to better our health and well-being.
A mystery and a great discovery.
The great discovery begins wrapped in a mystery: In the mid 1960’s researchers in Israel identified the active component of the plant Cannabis Sativa. Then, over a quarter century later, in 1990, researchers indentified natural receptors activated by this plant cannabinoid. The discovery of these receptors found them first in the brain, then throughout the human body.
The mystery: Why should human beings have a natural receptor system triggered by molecules from the flowers of a plant?
The discovery of the human cannabinoid receptor system and the natural substances that activate this system extends our knowledge of human body and its workings. The beneficial properties associated with the activation and modulation of this newly found system are profound: They offer a whole host of beneficial physiological functions including preventative and curative effects for many commonly afflicting diseases. Medicine in the 21st century will be fundamentally altered by the discovery of this system and the natural molecules we produce to manage it.
Jerusalem is sacred ground in many ways. It is central to three of the world’s most influential religions, and home to many of their key relics, both present and long past. The Wailing Wall, The Dome of the Rock and the Garden Tomb keep uneasy company with each other and with the ghosts of ancient structures, such as the Second Temple, twenty centuries ago burned to ash by the legions of Rome.
During all these thousands of years of Jerusalem history, back 1,000 years to the Crusades, back 2.000 years to the time Christ walked the city’s streets, and much further back, thousands of more years back, something else was constant in the land. Down these long centuries, humans were cultivating, trading and using a weedy plant across the Middle East of which Jerusalem is the center. The fast growing cannabis sativa provided its cultivators with useful fiber, nutritious seeds, potent medications and perhaps even helped stoke their spirituality.
Dr. Raphael Mechoulam’s discoveries began when he undertook the investigation of the active components of cannabis sativa, the plant so long used in the Middle East for relieving aches and pains, inflammation and a score of other ails, and for enjoying its bliss-giving properties. He began by securing a chunk of hashish, concentrated products of the flowering female plant. In 1964 at the Weissmann Institute of Science at the Rehovoth campus of Hebrew University, he and his team discovered the major active ingredient in cannabis, THC.[i]
But that is the story of a later post.
[i] Gaoni, Y.; Mechoulam, R. Isolation, structure, and partial synthesis of an active constituent of hashish. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 1964, 86, 1646-1650.