“Sometimes the high is not always what they need. Sometimes it is an unwanted side effect. For some of the people, it’s not even pleasant,” said Zach Klein, head of development at Tikun Olam, the company developing the plant.
Cannabis has more than 60 constituents called cannabinoids. THC is perhaps the best known, less for its medical benefits than for its psychoactive properties that give people a “high” feeling.
But cannabis also contains cannabidiol, or CBD, a substance that some researchers say has anti-
inflammatory benefits. Unlike THC, it hardly binds to the brain’s receptors and can therefore work without getting patients stoned.
“CBD plants are available in different forms all over the world,” said Klein, adding that his are THC-free and very high in CBD.
Tikun Olam began its research on CBD-enhanced cannabis in 2009 and about six months ago came up with a strain called Avidekel, Klein said. It contains 15.8 percent CBD but only traces — less than 1 percent — of THC.
Recreational marijuana is illegal in Israel, but medicinal use has been permitted since 1993, according to the health ministry. It is used to treat 9,000 people in Israel suffering from illnesses such as cancer, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder.
In some countries, Britain’s GW Pharmaceuticals sells an under-the-tongue spray called Sativex that is designed to minimize highs by manipulating ratios of active ingredients.
Raphael Mechoulam, a professor of medicinal chemistry at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said Avidekel is thought to be the first Israeli-developed CBD-
enriched cannabis with no THC.
Ruth Gallily of the Hebrew University, who works for Tikun Olam and has been studying CBD for more than 12 years, said she has found that the substance has impressive anti-inflammatory qualities. She has been testing the company’s CBD-enhanced cannabis on mice and expects clinical trials to begin in a few months.
Avidekel is a new strain of a plant that is already permitted for medical use, so there is nothing stopping patients who are already being treated with marijuana from trying it. About 10 patients have begun using it, Klein said.
“The cannabis plant, enriched with CBD, can be used for treating diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, colitis, liver inflammation, heart disease and diabetes” with no side effects, he said.
“It’s a huge advantage,” said one 35-year-old patient. “I can smoke during the day, function with a lot less pain and still be focused, work and drive. It is a great gift.”
The woman began suffering chronic pains after a tumor was removed from her spine. She began using regular THC-containing marijuana eight months ago. Two months ago, she tried Avidekel.
“The difference is huge. Before, I would only smoke at the end of the day and stay in pain.” Now, she said, with the doctored marijuana, “my life is so much better.”