The world’s first multidisciplinary center for marijuana has been opened at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, with the purpose of exploring the plant’s therapeutic potential.

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The medicinal properties of cannabis have been touted for a long time, and yet we know surprisingly little about what cannabis can actually do inside the body. Up until a few decades ago, it was merely classified as a recreational drug, but recent research has shown that the hotly-debated plant might have a lot of potential — but it’s hard to explore it to the maximum, due to laws and regulations. Getting all the required paperwork for cannabis studies is insanely difficult in most parts of the world, and obtaining funding for such a study is simply an ordeal. But marijuana research just got a big boost with the new (and first) center dedicated to it.

“There is so much interest in cannabis at the moment, but a lot remains unknown about its mechanism of action,” Dr. Joseph Tam, the director of the center, told JTA. “My belief is that our multidisciplinary center will lead global research and answer these questions.”

Tam’s team encompasses researchers working in agriculture, chemistry, drug delivery, pharmacology, and chemical development — all the areas connected to medicinal marijuana. They will analyze all aspects related to marijuana, from growing, to harvest, to drug development and biophysical interactions with the body. They will focus especially on cancer, pain, inflammation, immunity, metabolism, and stress management. For starters, there will be a total of 27 full-time researchers working on the project, but the center hopes to draw more specialists in time, including in the fields of nanotechnology, pain science, and brain science. They also have plans to collaborate with scientists and biotech companies around the world.

“We feel incredibly fortunate to team up with a vast number of scientists working together on this expanding field of medicine with the significant potential to discover new therapies based on cannabinoids,” Tam said.

It makes a lot of sense for this to happen in Israel, as the country has long been a pioneer in cannabis research. In 1964, Raphael Mechoulam basically kickstarted the field when he identified THC as the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis. He then went on to identify the endocannabinoid system upon which cannabinoids act on the body and at 86 years old, he is still an active researcher and of course, a part of this new center.

The favorable political climate in Israel also helps. Unlike most countries, Israel significantly invests in this type of research and backed legislation to decriminalize recreational marijuana use. However, this won’t affect Tam, who claims to have never smoked a joint in his life.

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