There’s something of a cannabis revolution going on around the world and David (Dedi) Meiri’s Israeli lab is at the forefront of it.
While cannabis, known more commonly as marijuana, was once widely considered to be an illegal drug that was consumed only for its intoxicating properties, today, there is increasing recognition of its medicinal value. Canada licenses medical marijuana producers and on July 1, 2018, the federal Liberals have pledged that recreational cannabis use will become legal in this country.
Israelis have been at the forefront of research into cannabis, dating all the way back to the 1960s, when Prof. Raphael Mechoulam first investigated the therapeutic and psychoactive properties of the drug.
Today, Meiri heads the Laboratory of Cancer Biology and Cannabinoid Research at The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, where researchers focus on the effects of cannabinoids, the chemical compounds found in marijuana, on the movement and growth of cancer cells in the body.
Meiri was in Montreal and Toronto recently, as a guest of Technion Canada. He addressed the organization’s annual general meeting in Montreal to update the group on his work in Israel and then flew to Toronto to meet supporters of the research institute.
Technion, which is located in Haifa, is considered to be one of the world’s top science and technology research universities.
But before opening a lab in Israel, Meiri lived and worked for a time in Toronto. From 2009 to 2013, he conducted post-doctorate research at the Ontario Cancer Institute, which is associated with the Princess Margaret Hospital. His research looked at the migration and movement of cancer cells in the body.
Building on that work – and that of a Japanese group, which looked at the affect of cannabinoids on impeding the movement of cancer cells in breast cancer patients – he opened a lab at Technion with a total of five researchers.
Today, with a team of 34 researchers, his lab is one of the largest at Technion, he said.
Investigating the medicinal benefits of cannabinoids has attracted top people and research money, he noted.
Right now, researchers are looking into the various chemical components of cannabinoid plants, comparing various strains of the plant and their effectiveness in treating illnesses, Meiri said.
The research takes a multi-pronged approach, looking at the individual chemicals involved, which diseases they are best suited to address, whether they are more effective if ingested as a pill or smoked and whether they work best in combinations with other cannabinoids, he said.
‘There’s something of a cannabis revolution going on around the world.’
The therapeutic potential of cannabinoids could be used in treating people suffering from cancer, epilepsy and diabetes, Meiri said.
There’s even the potential of cannabinoids being used to help autistic kids, by relieving their anxiety and aggressiveness, and by improving their ability to communicate, he added.
At the same time, the lab is operating a cannabis database project to collect information about patients, the cannabis extracts they are using and their effectiveness.
In the end, the research could end up being commercialized, but that is not a consideration for Meiri. It’s science, knowledge and a better understanding of how cannabinoids can help people suffering from various illnesses that interests him.