The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development will finance research in the field of medical cannabis, in what it says is a pioneering step that will allow researchers to do basic and applied research to develop the tools and infrastructure for a new generation of medical cannabis products.

In collaboration with the Health Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry has allocated a NIS 8 million budget ($2.1 million) to finance research in the field of medical cannabis growth, biochemistry and medicine.

Thirteen projects have been chosen, the ministry said, among which are the identification of new strains of cannabis; the use of cannabis to improve vision, fight intestinal cancer and boost the body’s acceptance of transplanted organs; the improvement of watering and fertilizing of the cannabis plant; and the development of ways to combat cannabis plant diseases and pests..

The use of medical marijuana is gaining popularity around the world, the ministry said, with research backing up its beneficial effects. The growth of the plant, however, must undergo strict quality control and research in the sector is essential, the statement said.

An Israeli agricultural engineer inspects marijuana plants at the BOL (Breath Of Life) Pharma greenhouse in the country's second-largest medical cannabis plantation, near Kfar Pines in northern Israel, on March 9, 2016. (Jack Guez/AFP)

An Israeli agricultural engineer inspects marijuana plants at the BOL (Breath Of Life) Pharma greenhouse in the country’s second-largest medical cannabis plantation, near Kfar Pines in northern Israel, on March 9, 2016. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Medical cannabis is provided to patients for relief from symptoms and pain, as well as physical and mental stress. The international medical cannabis market is forecast to be worth approximately $20 billion within a decade, and some 1% of the global population are estimated to become potential medical cannabis users at some point during their lifetime.

Israel is well-known as a pioneer in medical cannabis. Last summer, the government approved a plan initiated by Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) to relax some of the medical cannabis requirements. The plan aims to expand the number of doctors who can issue cannabis prescriptions, remove limits on the number of marijuana growers, make cannabis available at approved pharmacies, and possibly eliminate the requirement for a permit from the Health Ministry so that just a doctor’s prescription will be sufficient.

Prof. Raphael Mechoulam, previously at the Weizmann Institute and now at Hebrew University, is largely credited as the father of medical cannabis for identifying and identifying tetrahydrocannabinol (commonly known as THC) in 1964. THC is the active compound in marijuana that produces the “high” sought after by recreational users. Another main active compound in marijuana is cannabidiol (CBD), which has medical benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties.