In this interview, Dr. David “Dedi” Meiri discusses his important work at Technion, challenges and opportunities in cannabis research, and a preview of his upcoming presentation for CSC East.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with our 2022 Cannabis Science Conference East Plenary Speaker, Dr. David “Dedi” Meiri. Dr. Meiri is an assistant professor at the Faculty of Biology at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and a member of the Technion Integrated Cancer Center. Dr. Meiri heads the Laboratory of Cancer Biology and Cannabinoid Research at Technion, and is the founder of Cannasoul Ltd. In this interview, Dr. Meiri discusses his important work at Technion, challenges and opportunities in cannabis research, and a preview of his upcoming presentation for CSC East.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Technion Israel Institute and your work at the Laboratory of Cancer Biology and Cannabinoid Research?
Dr. Dedi Meiri: The Technion is the Technology Institute of Israel, a little bit like Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States. At Technion we offer computer science and engineering, but also medicine and biology. Biology for many years was kind of like the stepson at Technion. But in 2005, the biology group won two Nobel prizes, so we have since become a very important faculty group, which I am part of. I’m part of the Technion Integrated Cancer Center (TICC). But in the last few years, my lab became more multidisciplinary when I started to work with cannabis. So, we are doing a lot with the plants and other indications on top of cancer.
Your talk at Cannabis Science Conference East is titled “Matching the Right Flower to the Right Bride.” What do you hope our audience will take away from this presentation, and can you share some of the key topics that you’ll be covering?
Dr. Meiri: People have used plants as a medicine for thousands of years. However, we are treating plants as a medicine very differently than how we treat traditional types of medicines. In plants, we are looking kind of at the whole plant, not even just cannabis. We’re seeing the same things with gingko, echinacea, and valerian as a whole. But what is valerian? There are many types and each one of them contain different compounds—the same is true for cannabis. Even more than that though, cannabis is affecting the endocannabinoid system in our body, every cell in our body is harboring the endocannabinoid. There are many receptors and cannabis has many active compounds—the cannabinoids—and it’s very wide.
Cannabis is actually effecting every cell in our body and every system, but what we need to determine is which type of cannabis will improve sleep, which will reduce pain, which will affect nausea, which will affect your mood, and so on. We don’t know enough yet.
Then we are going to more specific diseases such as epilepsy, Crohn’s, and colitis, and so on. We’re trying to be more and more specific. Again looking at which strain of cannabis or which type of cannabis. In my lab only, I have more than 1000 different types of cannabis, which one of them or which combination of molecules is effecting disease treatment.
For instance, a lot of people use cannabis and say it is improving their quality of life—a little bit improving sleep, a little bit reducing pain, and a little bit improving the mood, and altogether, you get something complete. Many types of cannabis can be effective. But when we’re starting to look at specific illnesses and somebody has insomnia, now I’m looking for a strain that’s improving sleep and for that, we try to match which cannabis or which compounds effect which disease. This is the major question in our field, and my lab is trying to close these gaps.
You’ve been a leader in cannabis research for many years now. What are some of the major differences you have seen while performing your research in Israel as opposed to other countries like the US that might be more restricted as far as cannabis laws?
Dr. Meiri: As a scientist in Israel, I have no restrictions at all. I need to have a license to do research and I need to renew this license every year, but it's very simple. And from that, I don’t have any restrictions. I can get cannabis from all the growers in Israel. I can do any type of science or research, and I think this is the major difference.
On top of that, 50 minutes from here, I have Raphael Mechoulam, who was the godfather of this field. He defined the cannabinoids in 1964 and 1965. And for that, he did a huge amount of research. He is 92 this year, but still he’s working and still active, and I have the privilege to be quite close to him, and to learn a lot of the methods and the things that he did.
There are few people in Israel that are worthy students and work on that, so the group and the support of each other is big. But also, Mechoulam was always an important scientist in Israel. He wasn’t a scientist that nobody paid attention to. He actually was the dean and director for Jerusalem University, which is the biggest in Israel, so he wasn’t just another scientist.
This has also opened things up for the government, healthcare, and people for this field. It wasn’t as a scientist. I’m not talking about the recreational side. I’m talking about the science side, and the health side of cannabis. I think because of Mechoulam, it was very easy for us to step in.
Do you find yourself in situations where you’re able to work with researchers that could add value, but they might be based in the US and are not able to conduct research here? Do you ever have situations where you’re able to kind of cross borders and collaborate?
Dr. Meiri: I think this is the major obstacle or barrier. It’s very difficult to work with scientists abroad. I have many friends in the US and Canada that are working in similar research areas, but transferring material has always been an obstacle.
However, within the last three years, Israel has started to allow the export and import of cannabis. So in that respect, it has become easier. So let’s say in Australia for example, I have collaborators that we send materials to and we receive materials and goods from Canada. In the US, it’s still very, very strict. And even though I have a lot of friendsin the US—including some big names such as Ethan Russo and Dr. John Abrams, among others—it’s still limited to just sharing data and knowledge. We cannot really work on the same projects together.
Another hurdle is that we can’t apply for funding together, which is what I can usually do in other types of research. If we can’t transfer materials then we can’t work on the same thing, so this is a huge obstacle still with the US. People often ask me what will create a big change or when will there be an increase in the data, I think when the US becomes more open regarding the science we will see change. When they allow scientists to work in freedom and to collaborate in other countries, that will be the difference.
I can say that the Technion is very important and it’s like MIT, but it’s not the same as MIT. The big institutes and the leading institutes in research in the world are still in the US in terms of budget and smart people. I think allowing free research in the US will be the change. So, we are waiting for you guys!
What is the legality of cannabis in Israel? Is it just legal for medical use? Is it legal for adult use? What does the landscape look like there?
Dr. Meiri: It’s legal just as for medical use. It’s actually under our healthcare system. The big difference in Israel compared to other countries is that since 2007 cannabis has been under healthcare, and healthcare in Israel is universal. Medical insurance is compulsory, so we are paying for our healthcare, but it’s deductible from our salary. Every citizen—it doesn’t matter if you work or not work—must have government insurance. When we go to a physician or get medicines, we are not paying for that. It’s already been covered—and that includes cannabis. Actually, patients in Israel get a prescription for cannabis and buy it in the pharmacy under a prescription with their healthcare that is subsidized. The cost is low. We have 115,000—almost 120,000—patients that are getting cannabis. It’s the most prescribed medicine in Israel.
So, if you think that the population is around seven or eight million people, so you understand as a percentage that it’s a huge population of patients that are getting medical cannabis, and this is also changing the stigma. For instance, if your grandma is getting cannabis because she has cancer, or your nephew that has epilepsy is getting cannabis, and the autistic kids that you see are getting cannabis—you don’t think any more about that as a drug or just for a stoner—sorry for using that terminology, but medical use has made cannabis become more acceptable.
So, if you see somebody in Israel using cannabis, people will likely think “They probably have PTSD, Crohn’s, or colitis,” or something like that. The concept is totally different here.
Five or six years ago when I started to work in cannabis, I would give talks in hospitals at least once a week. I think at this point, there are no hospitals or even departments in hospitals that I didn’t share my results with. So at that time when I would share my data, physicians would say things like “Over my dead body, that we will prescribe cannabis.” Well . . . there should be a lot of dead bodies in Israel today because they are all prescribing cannabis now. But, you don’t hear comments like that anymore. There is no department, there is no physician in Israel that’s not thinking about it as a medicine and prescribing it if their patient needs it, and this is a huge change of concept.
You have been a longtime friend of the Cannabis Science Conference, what is your favorite thing about the show and what keeps you coming back?
Dr. Meiri: It’s a tricky question to answer because you are asking it. It would be easier for me to answer to somebody else because it would look more reliable. But honestly, it’s the best conference that I participate in. (And again, it’s not because you’re asking me.) You can see me saying this at other conferences. I think there is only one that I consider similar, and it’s in Australia.
But literally, Cannabis Science Conference is a big show with a lot of good science. The major people in the industry come, but there is also a mixture of industry science physicians that are really coming to learn. There are a lot of conferences like that also in Israel, but I don't think they succeed to reach the point, which is the top-notch people coming and collaborating together.
I also learn a lot at these conferences. I participate in a lot of conferences, but I am not learning a lot from them. But there are few cherries, like yours, that are always fun, but also I’m coming back with knowledge, partners, collaborations, and ideas. It’s just so important for science and for moving forward. I think it’s extremely important.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more with Dr. Meiri please visit: https://www.cannabissciencetech.com/view/dr-dedi-meiri-on-plant-medicine-matching-the-right-flower-to-the-right-bride.
Josh Crossney is the columnist and editor of “Cannabis Crossroads” and a contributing editor to Cannabis Science and Technology® magazine. Crossney is also the founder of Cannabis Science Conference and now serves as Director of Cannabis Events at MJH Life SciencesTM. Direct correspondence to: JCrossney@mjhlifesciences.com.
J. Crossney, Cannabis Science and Technology® Vol. 5(6), 26-28 (2022).