It’s fitting that The Scientist starts with: “You are about to witness history in the making.” Dr. Raphael Mechoulam is an Israeli researcher known as the father of cannabinoid research. His contributions to the field are unparalleled, starting with his discovery of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in 1964. This discovery is just one of Dr. Mechoulam’s accomplishments.
The documentary by Israeli documentarian Zach Klein is the most extensive biography of the doctor, with an entertaining mix of history, science, personalities, and humor.
The Scientist is a remarkably elegant summary of Dr. Mechoulam’s life. Early in the film, it describes his upbringing in Bulgaria and his travels with his mother and physician father. They were forced to move around frequently due to anti-semitic laws, and the father even survived imprisonment in a concentration camp. In 1949, the family immigrated to the newly formed country of Israel, where Dr. Mechoulam has lived ever since.
Dr. Mechoulam Discovered More Than Just THC
Throughout the film, which can be watched for free below, the gravity of Dr. Mechoulam’s discoveries and accomplishments are adequately conveyed. He did not just stop with the isolation of THC; he continued to study the nature of the plant and eventually the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a physiological network present in all vertebrates that helps maintain homeostasis. Anandamide, an endogenous THC-like molecule, is one of the chief signaling compounds of the ECS. It was discovered by Dr. Mechoulam’s research team in 1992.
In addition to Dr. Mechoulam, several other colorful characters are interviewed for their perspectives on the doctor’s life or cannabis science. Two of his closest colleagues, Dr. William Devane and Dr. Lumír Hanuš, spoke about their interesting experiences leading to the discovery of anandamide, among other anecdotes. Getting to know the personalities of these doctors greatly humanizes the field of cannabis research.
It is all too easy to see researchers as faceless figures who spend their entire existence in a lab quietly working on projects with complex technology most of us will never understand. But every researcher is a human being as well, with all the character and baggage that being human entails.
Overall, The Scientist achieves its goal of educating the public about Dr. Mechoulam’s life. More than that, it is a fascinating insight into his life and the lives of those around him, and is truly enjoyable to watch.