This country is 'a medical weed wonderland'
Rolling Stone magazine report praises Israel for its pioneering cannabis research and production.
There's a place where the use of pot as medicine is not only permitted, but encouraged. Combine that with state-of-the-industry equipment, optimal climate, vast agricultural space and know-how, and a light regulatory burden, and you've got the perfect recipe for a highly successful and promising medical marijuana movement.
But it might be a little farther away than you were hoping. Let's say, about ... 5,600 miles away.
It's been kind of an inside-baseball phenomenon that Israel is at the forefront of research and production of medical cannabis. And now, with a deep dive into the industry's promising growth via Rolling Stone Magazine, the world is finally catching wind of this small Mediterranean country's very big contribution.
"We can store enough in this warehouse to supply medical marijuana for the whole United States," Breath of Life CEO Tamir Gedo told Rolling Stone when a reporter visited his greenhouse, which is said to be the world's largest medical marijuana facility.
An agricultural engineer inspects marijuana plants at the BOL (Breath Of Life) Pharma greenhouse in Israel in 2016. The previous year, doctors prescribed the herb to about 25,000 patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress and degenerative diseases in Israel. (Photo: Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images)
Despite only being recognized recently as an industry leader, Israel has actually been researching, producing and prescribing medical marijuana for more than 50 years. It's illegal for recreational use, but it's regularly dispensed as a symptom reliever for thousands of patients suffering from all kinds of ailments, from cancer to epilepsy to post-traumatic stress. The country even has periodic distribution drives where cannabis is handed out free of charge to the sick.
A Tikkun Olam volunteer helps patient Alex Barak smoke cannabis at the company clinic in Tel Aviv, Israel, as part of a widespread distribution of cannabis for medicinal purposes in 2011. (Photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images)
Knowing what a difference medical cannabis makes to its users is one thing. Knowing exactly how it's improving their health and relieving their symptoms – on a biological level – is entirely another, and that's where Israeli chemist Raphael Mechoulam comes in. He's widely known as the "Grandfather of Medical Marijuana," and at 86 years old, he's still teaching at Hebrew University, working in his lab in Jerusalem and helping American companies develop new cannabis-based drugs and delivery methods.
"It turned out that the cannabinoids in the plant actually mimic the compounds that we form in our brain," said Mechoulam, who's spent decades researching and testing which combinations of cannabis compounds work best to relieve a specific ailment.
He's considered a key reason facilities like Gedo's Breath of Life are possible. In a rural town called Kfar Pines between Tel Aviv and Haifa, the BOL facility encompasses 23 acres of agricultural fields, a 35,000-square-foot production plant and 30,000 square feet of grow rooms and labs that will yield about 80 tons of cannabis per year. In describing a tour of the facility, Rolling Stone called it a "medical weed wonderland."
But despite the tongue-in-cheek and often divisive nature of the cannabis movement, its presence in Israel is all business. "The seriousness with which the Israeli scientific community approaches this is incomparable," Charles Pollack, director of the Lambert Center for the Study of Medicinal Cannabis at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, told Rolling Stone. "Israel is a hotbed of quality cannabis research, because they have a much more favorable regulatory climate for doing serious scientific research on medical cannabis."
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