Israel pushing ahead in medical marijuana industry

Associated Press Modified: November 2, 2012 at 6:46 pm •  Published: November 2, 2012
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This year, the company also developed a marijuana strain used by a quarter of its customers, said to carry all the reported medical benefits of cannabis, but without THC, the psychoactive chemical component that causes a high. The cannabis is instead made with high quantities of CBD, a substance that is believed to be an anti-inflammatory ingredient, which helps alleviate pain.

"This is just the tip of the iceberg. It's the future," says Zach Klein, head of research and development at Tikun Olam, whose logo reads "This is God's doing, and it's marvelous in our eyes."

Itay Goor Aryeh, director of the Pain Management Center at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, noted that THC was first isolated in marijuana by Israeli scientists in 1964. "So we are really on the cutting edge of not just the growing and distribution, but also on the basic science of cannabis," he said.

He said legalizing medical cannabis allows authorities to conduct more research and learn more about how to regulate its use.

"It has to be researched more, it has to be regulated more, so we know what exactly we're giving the patient, which strains are better," Aryeh said. "If you don't allow it, you will never know."

Aryeh and other proponents say medicinal marijuana is cost-effective and dramatically reduces patients' needs for other pain medications, like morphine, that can produce unwanted side effects.

Ruth Gallily, a professor of immunology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has been studying the supposed anti-inflammatory effects of CBD for the past few decades. "We're finally reaching the stage where it's becoming accepted, and not thought of as 'bad,' but we still have a ways to go," she said. "Now the next challenge may be the major drug companies accepting the plant."

Inbal Sikorin, the head nurse at Hadarim Nursing Home, said the benefits of cannabis for her patients are undeniable.

"We know how to extend life, but sometimes it's not pleasant and can cause a great deal of suffering, so we're looking to alleviate this, to add quality to longevity," she said, while administering cannabis to a patient using a vaporizer. "Cannabis meets this need. Almost all our patients are eating again, and their moods have improved tremendously."

Rute, the nursing home resident, said the cannabis may not change his reality, but makes it easier to accept.

His small room at the residence is adorned with pictures of his deceased wife and figurines of chickens, which he collects because he sees them as a symbol of pain and hope from his years in hiding during the Holocaust.

"I've been a Holocaust child all my life," says Rute, recalling how his father died at the Buchenwald Concentration Camp in Germany, and how nights were cold in the barn where his neighbor kept him and his several siblings safely hidden.

"I'm now 80 and I'm still a Holocaust child, but I'm finally able to better cope."



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