Israeli company takes the 'high' out of medicinal marijuana

An Israeli company has taken much of the "high" factor out of the medicinal marijuana it grows on its massive plantation, in a country that is a world leader in using the drug to treat symptoms of chronic conditions.
A worker trims a cannabis plant at the Tikun Olam plantation in Israel, where the company is growing medicinal marijuana with a fraction of the active ingredient THC that gets people stoned. (Baz Ratner/Reuters)

A company that owns the largest facilities in Israel for growing medicinal marijuana says it's cultivating a strain of the plant with little ability to get patients stoned.

The company, Tikun Olam, was founded in 2004 by retired biology teacher Dorit Cohen, who began her business by cultivating marijuana (cannabis) in two rooms of her home to help cancer patients.

Tikun Olam's website says it is the first and main licensed grower of medicinal marijuana in Israel, which has become a world leader in the use of the plant for medicinal purposes. More than 10,000 patients have government licences to consume the drug for relief of the symptoms of cancer, Parkinson's and other diseases and conditions that cause chronic pain.

Central in the company's growing efforts is a new strain of cannabis that contains minimal traces of  tetrahydrocannabinol (THC),  the active ingredient in cannabis that puts people in a relaxed state and gets them "high."

The company says the new strain — dubbed Erez, after one of the first patients who received medicinal marijuana and who has since died — has enough THC to have beneficial effects for medical purposes, while not getting people stoned and allowing them to maintain clear heads to perform everyday activities.

Free medicinal marijuana to patients in need

Tikun Olam is in a secret location near Zfat in northern Israel, where the altitude and climate are best suited for cultivation of cannabis. Its website says that at first, the company was providing medicinal marijuana to 20 people, but that number has grown to more than 1,500.

The plantation measures 11,000 square metres, and is highly guarded by Israeli police, the company says. The facilities include:

  • Two greenhouses.
  • A cloning facility.
  • A dehydration facility.
  • A harvesting facility.

The company doesn't give a cost for either growing medicinal marijuana or providing it to patients, but its website says, "We believe that financial problems should by no mean prevent patients from having access to their medical treatment. We support our patients and supply free of charge to patients who cannot afford to pay for their medicine."