U.S. Chemist Roger Adams Isolated CBD 75 Years Ago

Roger Adams illustration by Ross Marinaro

The name most associated with cannabis science is generally Israeli chemist Raphael Mechoulam, who’s credited with first isolating and identifying THC. But given the current CBD craze, there’s another figure who should receive his due: American chemist Roger Adams, who first isolated cannabidiol. And, by some accounts, he even has a claim to being the person who initially identified its psychoactive cousin, THC.

In addition, Adams grappled with the role of science—and its misuses—in war and totalitarianism during the great world political upheavals in the early 20th century.

A true Boston blue-blood and direct descendant of President John Adams, the precocious scion entered Harvard in 1905 at age 16. In 1913, he travelled on a fellowship to Germany, the world leader in chemistry at that time, and studied at Berlin’s prestigious Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. He returned to the U.S. to take a post at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign just as World War I was breaking out. For the first but not the last time, events on the global stage had an impact on his life, career and research.

In 1917, Adams took a position with the National Research Council in Washington, DC

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