Robert Melamede, the iconoclastic DNA researcher, entrepreneur and international advocate for the therapeutic use of cannabis, died on April 19 from kidney failure related to a stroke that he suffered last year. He was 75.
Melamede, known affectionately by his admirers worldwide as “Dr. Bob,” was not a medical doctor but a genetic researcher and microbiologist whose career included teaching stints at the University of Vermont, New York Medical College and the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. A charismatic and often fiery figure who gained a following for his claims about the curative properties of cannabis, Melamede regularly appeared in the national cannabis press and was often a keynote speaker at international pot conventions.
Melamede was the subject of a Seven Days cover story in 2017, when friends and colleagues reflected on his impact.
“Dr. Bob is about as famous as you can get in the underground cannabis world,” said Dylan Raap, the founder and CEO of Upstate Elevator Supply, a Burlington-based company that makes CBD- and THC-infused products. “He’s universally respected and one of the top names in the industry.”
A New York City native, Melamede was considered an expert on the endocannabinoid system, the complex biological network of neurotransmitters and cell receptors that regulate, like a thermostat, virtually every system in the human body. Because of the role that human-generated cannabinoids play in maintaining homeostasis in the body, Melamede contended that high doses of the plant’s extracts had anti-aging properties.
He also claimed that cannabis could relieve not just the symptoms of many chronic ailments — including cancer, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS and Alzheimer’s disease — but could also slow down and even reverse the underlying conditions themselves. In the 2017 Seven Days profile, Melamede admitted that he ingested at least 200 milligrams of cannabis daily, a dosage that would leave even heavy consumers incapacitated.
Melamede’s views on the seemingly miraculous properties of weed put him at odds with mainstream academia, medicine and pharmacology. In particular, his frequent assertion that high doses of cannabis could “cure cancer” were dismissed by his critics as baseless, if not reckless and irresponsible. Yet Melamede remained undeterred, claiming that he knew of hundreds, if not thousands, of cancer patients whose tumors were shrunk due to cannabis.