Behind closed quarters somewhere in the recesses of the Israeli government’s Agricultural Research Organization, Dr. Nirit Bernstein has been working for the past three years to perfect the practice of growing marijuana. Bernstein, a senior investigative scientist at the Agricultural Research Organization’s Volcani Center, was Israel’s first scientist to obtain a research license from the Health Ministry’s Medical Cannabis Unit.

Currently, the Volcani Center, which works under the broader umbrella of the Agriculture Ministry, is in the process of developing a National Center for Research in Medical Cannabis.

However, an inside launch was already initiated this spring, the National Center, as well as the current and planned medical marijuana study at Volcani, was actually confidential until a few weeks ago; the organization only began to open up about the research after a June 26 government decision to control the medical cannabis space.

While a few investigative researchers are already working within the structure of the National Center, the research will receive a new home in the shape of a NIS 2.5 million building that is said to be complete by the middle -2017. At the moment, the medical cannabis work at Volcani is confined to the labs and cultivating facilities of Bernstein and one other scientist.

As the first person in Israel to perform research on cannabis cultivation, Bernstein said it took her almost more than a year and a half to earn the ability to do so – with the help of Yuval Landschaft, director of the Health Ministry’s Medical Cannabis Unit.

Although patients can obtain a certain number of grams of cannabis with their prescriptions, it is also important to comprehend precisely what is inside of this medicine known as marijuana, according to Bernstein.

Bernstein’s plan is to acquire how to guide the plants to produce the most effective ingredients dealing with specific medical issues – thereby developing “a safer cannabis for the patient,” she explained, adding that many environmental factors go into developing the plant, such as light intensity, the amount of water used, fertilizers and humidity.

“I think we are really at a turning point in terms of usage of cannabis for medical purposes.”

Dr. Hinanit Koltai, who is also researching medical cannabis at Volcani, is looking into the plant’s development as a medicine for inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s and colitis.

With the establishment of the National Center, as well as the June 26 government decision to regulate the sector, the researchers expressed optimism about the future of medical cannabis in Israel.

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