“My vision is that cannabis will be a legitimate medical tool in treatment and even a cure. Already today, we can see cannabis saving lives, or significantly helping patients. However, medicine still doesn’t know how to match the type of cannabis to the type of disease, and that’s our goal,” explains Prof. Dedi Meri, a world-famous researcher and head of the laboratory for biology of cancer and research of cannabinoids at the Technion.
“My laboratory is researching two aspects within the realm of cannabinoids: First, the cannabis plant. It is made of hundreds of different components that have yet to be decoded. Second, the endocannabinoid system in our bodies. That’s a regulatory system that sits on top of the body’s other systems and is responsible for adjusting various feelings of ours such as pain, hunger, or the pleasant feeling that follows running. The substances released from the cannabis are picked up by the endocannabinoid system, and through it they influence us.”
With the knowledge that Prof. Meiri and his staff of 40 accumulate at the laboratory, they are creating the necessary infrastructure for clinical testing of the cannabis plant. For the sake of more efficient treatment of diseases by means of the plant, they identify its active ingredients and try to understand which ingredients have an effect on which diseases.
“By understanding the components of the plant, we also learn how to improve our efficiency in using cannabis-based materials,” Prof. Meiri explains. “Today, for example, no one knows the shelf life of cannabis, where best to store it, or the best temperature. Those are all questions we’re trying to answer.”
At the laboratory, more than 700 different types of cannabis are being examined. “Each type contains different compounds. We can’t yet say which combinations have an effect on which receptors in the body, or on which patients. We are still at the stage of collecting information.
"When we know the active ingredients of cannabis well enough, we will also know how to best match the exact ingredient to the disease. When that happens, I believe we will boost the success rate in treating diseases like Crohn’s, epilepsy, cancer, and Alzheimer, be it in cures or be it in significantly improving the patients’ quality of life.”
Regarding cancer, Prof. Meiri says that cannabis greatly improves the patient’s quality of life but we are still far from knowing whether it actually can combat cancer. “Cancer is an overall name for hundreds of different diseases, and each of them has completely different characteristics. We see successes and hopefulness in pre-clinical trials with certain types of cancer — that is, in treating cancer cells in a test tube or in a mouse — but from there to treating human beings is a long, complicated journey.”
Prof. Meiri currently heads the world’s largest and most advanced laboratory researching this topic, and he emphasizes his belief that in years to come, certain types of cancer will be treated with cannabis. As for other diseases, Meiri says in conclusion: “I have no doubt that cannabis will continue to be an off-the-shelf product and a significant treatment in the tool box of man physicians. Is it the best treatment for Crohn’s disease, or for pain relief? Not necessarily, but it’s certainly a legitimate treatment.”