As the trend toward legalization continues worldwide, Israel’s universities and start-ups are poised on the cutting edge of medical marijuana research.
The objective is simple: develop a purified form of the drug.
The only thing that gives the place away is the pungent smell of marijuana in the air. Otherwise, it looks like a military base: barbed wire, armed guards, security cameras, even a moat.
On the outskirts of a quiet north-Israel village, 230 varieties of cannabis are grown in a facility which houses a total of 50,000 plants. It’s the nation’s second largest medical cannabis plantation.
Inside the fortified premises of BOL (Breath Of Life) Pharma are laboratories and greenhouses. Each plant is carefully monitored by software that remotely controls its biochemical parameters.
“For cannabis, we are in the promised land with a good climate, 300 days of sunshine each year and perfect levels of humidity,” said Tamir Gedo, head of BOL Pharma. BOL Pharma is a company authorized by the Israeli health ministry to grow and distribute medical cannabis.
Recreational forms of marijuana are still illegal in Israel. But over the past decade its therapeutic use has been both permitted and encouraged.
Last year, doctors prescribed the herb to about 25,000 patients suffering from cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress and degenerative diseases. The purpose is not to cure them but to alleviate their symptoms.
Like in the United States, there’s still considerable debate among researchers, doctors, and healthcare professionals as to the use of cannabis to treat psychological issues and behavioral problems.
Everyone agrees there’s still much research to be done.
But that research is advancing much faster in Israel, which has the benefit of being able to conduct human clinical trials, unlike many other nations.
Entrepreneurs, investors, and researchers are increasingly entering the business and searching for the holy grail of medicinal marijuana: a purified form of the drug. A purified form would come with minimal side-effects and would be easy to administer in accurate doses.
With strong backing from the business and medical sectors of the economy, Israel could quickly transform into a world hub in the field of medical cannabis.
Israel is concentrating on marketing its agronomic, medical and technological expertise in the hope of becoming a world leader.
The prestigious Hebrew University of Jerusalem has just opened a cannabis research center joining 19 other teams from local academic institutions.
About 200 industry players gathered in Tel Aviv this month for Canna Tech, an international conference on the industry.
Some startups are focused on the plant’s by-products, others on user accessories, but a few have bigger ideas.
“We’re not going to miss this opportunity, and seeing what the first investors are putting on the table, we feel that it is going to be very big.”