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March 23, 2017 7:47 am

As Recreational Use Clears Hurdle, Medical Cannabis Rides High in Israel

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The annual CannaTech event held in Tel Aviv on March 20, 2017.
Photo: Miriam Alster/FLASH90. – Beyond the scent of cannabis drifting through the venue, there was an extra buzz in the air this year at Israel’s third annual CannaTech — a medical marijuana innovation conference that took place in Tel Aviv.

The current excitement from cannabis industry leaders stems from recent changes in Israeli views on marijuana. In February, an Israeli government committee took the first steps toward allowing the export of medical marijuana from Israel, and in March, the Israeli Knesset passed a new law essentially decriminalizing recreational marijuana use nationwide. Given these developments, it was high time for the CannaTech conference.

But amid the attention-grabbing legislation on recreational marijuana, CannaTech largely showcased the ingenuity of Israel’s medical marijuana practitioners. The gathering welcomed medical cannabis professionals and enthusiasts from around the world to network, and enjoy a series of TED-style lectures from industry leaders.

On the heels of the domestic legislative victories for cannabis, this year’s conference was “double the size” of the 2016 summit, according to Saul Kaye, head of the CannaTech conference and the CEO of the iCAN, which runs the conference. iCan’s mission is “to identify, invest, accelerate and showcase cannabis innovation for the global cannabis economy.”

In recent years, Israel has become a hub for the study and distribution of medical cannabis. Hebrew University professor Raphael Mechoulam initially discovered THC, the primary psychoactive compound in the cannabis plant, in the 1970s. Since then, Israeli hospitals have demonstrated a willingness to perform clinical trials on the effectiveness of cannabis in relieving the symptoms of chronic or terminal conditions.

As other markets lag behind in clinical studies, Israel has become an innovator. Asked about plans for the future, Kaye said that iCAN would be releasing “the first cannabis advanced pharmaceutical formulation for sleep,” dubbed “ican.sleep,” in a joint venture with the US-based company CannRx Technology.

“We’ve partnered to take CannaTech global because this voice needs to be heard elsewhere,” Kaye added. “We’re going to London and we’re going to Sydney, and each of those locations are unique based upon the content that each ecosystem requires. Because what we’ve done successfully is essentially build an ecosystem.”

Members of that ecosystem range from medical cannabis patients to agricultural specialists and delivery device developers, many of whom were represented at the conference.

One corporate presenter was Kanabo, a Tel-Aviv based company that specializes in cannabis vaporization technology, in particular the development of vaping formulations for specific illnesses.

“What we’re trying to do is take the most successful recreational cannabis delivery system today, vape pens, and combine it with the purest and most demanded connoisseur cannabis extracts — and make it all medical. It’s a challenge,” Kanabo’s CEO and founder, Avihu Tamir, told

Tamir said that he sees vaporization as the future, calling it the “fastest-growing method for cannabis consumption in the recreational market.” Yet the industry, he said, still needs “a medical device, something we can give patients. If I’m giving them something [that] contains 100 percent cannabinoids and in some cases 90 percent THC, you have to be very precise.”

When asked if Kanabo would market its products outside of the Jewish state, its CEO responded, “The Israeli market is our best market, but our future market is outside of Israel.”

Other companies attending the conference already have a dual presence in Israel and abroad, such as Ilan Bio, an agro-biotechnology company with operations in Israel and California. Liam Gal-On, the CEO of Ilan Bio, explained that his venture specializes in “cloning the DNA and genetics” of the cannabis plant.

“We do exactly the same [thing] in both Israel and California. We are working with clinical trials to identify which strains to clone to target and treat specific diseases, and to determine dosage,” Gal-On told

Moshe Ihea, the founder and CEO of Israel-based Cannabliss, had some of his company’s cannabis-infused products on display at the conference. “We have oils, we have cookies, we have capsules, we have creams, we have suppositories,” he said.

Asked why patients would opt for cannabis suppositories, Ihea said, “It’s not allowed in Israel yet, but it’s going to be allowed and it works really well for treating pain, Crohn’s disease and colitis. We’re currently conducting clinical trials.”

As Israel explores the new frontier of legalized recreational marijuana, it’s clear from the CannaTech conference that — at home and abroad — the Jewish state is likely to maintain its status as a blooming medical cannabis powerhouse.

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