By Marguerite Arnold
“The Scientist,” released on July 29, 2015, and recently screened in the United States, is a documentary film about one of the most important modern medical pioneers in the field of cannabis research.
Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, originally a Bulgarian Jewish refugee who travelled to Israel after World War II, is the man who not only discovered THC as the first identified active compound in cannabis sativa, but whose work has also led the way in finding modern, appropriate medical uses for the plant.
As a result, “The Scientist,” directed by Zach Klein and produced by Y.Klinik Productions in association with Fundación Canna, is a whimsical, wonderful, Israeli film, which tells the fascinating, and often funny, story of a highly trained scientist who managed, through decades of intense research and examination, to start shedding light on the scientific, medical uses of the cannabis plant.
An obviously modest man who has spent his life in academic and scientific study rather than leading the charge from a more public pulpit, Mechoulam says of his inspiration early in the film, “A scientist should try to find topics of importance and I thought this was a topic of importance.”
He describes going to the administrative director of the Weizmann Institute where he was a young researcher in 1963, and asking for his help in obtaining police-seized hashish coming into the country from Lebanon. It was at the time totally destroyed, as it was considered useless.
He took the bus to his first meeting with the police department, whereupon he was given an initial five kilos. On the bus home, the passengers on the bus began to ask questions about the unusual smell in the vehicle. The interviewer, obviously amused, points out that Mechoulam is probably “the only person in the world to pick up 5 kilos of hash from the police to get away with it.”
Mechoulam smiles gently but with a devilish twinkle in his eye. “Well, probably, yes,” he replies. “It turned out that the police were not allowed to give us cannabis. I did not have the permit from the Ministry of Health, therefore I had broken the law.”
To Americans, particularly those who are older than Millennials, the often charming, informal way Mechoulam was able to get around issues which have stumped researchers ever since, certainly in the United States, is also a fascinating look at the way the world’s main researcher of cannabis sativa conducted this work for close to 50 years. The film also looks at how the grandfather of THC conducted world-changing research that now has the potential to open up the cannabis medicine chest for people who suffer terrible diseases that cannabis can be used to treat.
The film also examines more personal aspects of Mechoulam’s life, including his 60 year marriage, his relationship to his colleagues and how he began to publicize the findings of his work. In one of the few places in the film where he expresses emotion beyond that of the proud pioneering scientist, Mechoulam discusses the amazing lack of response, for 34 years at this point, to his findings that THC immediately and positively affected epileptics. He also expresses his distress that the drug was withheld from children with cancer after the mid-1990s. The film also gives attention to the broad, scientific, therapeutic impact cannabinoids have on a range of conditions, from cancer prevention to its effect on movement disorders and Alzheimer’s.
Overall, as a result, “The Scientist” is a captivating, entertaining and educational documentary film about the impact of cannabis’ most important scientist, and a look at the way his research has fundamentally shaped the field today.
The film just had its West Coast premiere in Las Vegas, sponsored by Tikun Olam, the largest supplier of medical cannabis in Israel. It was shown in conjunction with a distinguished panel of scientific researchers associated with ongoing research conducted by the company.