(04/16/19) BATON ROUGE, La. — The LSU AgCenter has awarded the first cannabis-related research funds from an agreement with GB Sciences Louisiana, the company working with the AgCenter to produce therapeutic cannabis, said Ashley Mullens, AgCenter coordinator of external and governmental affairs.
In 2015, the Louisiana Legislature passed the Alison Neustrom Act, which paved the way for the production, recommendation and use of therapeutic cannabis. The AgCenter is currently operating its Therapeutic Cannabis Program in partnership with GB Sciences Louisiana under one of the two licenses in Louisiana. Under the terms of the agreement with GB Sciences, the AgCenter will receive $3.4 million or 10 percent of gross revenue, whichever is greater, over five years and as well as annual research investment.
“GB Sciences provides $500,000 per year as part of our agreement to fund cannabis-related studies,” Mullens said.
Chris Green, an AgCenter researcher, is using tiny zebrafish in his quest to develop treatments for people suffering from epileptic seizures. Green has spent the past two years developing the zebrafish model.
Through this award, Green will look at the possibility of using various components of the cannabis plant — including cannabidiol, or CBD, oil — to treat epilepsy.
Cannabidiol is a substance extracted from the flowers and buds of marijuana or hemp plants. It does not produce intoxication like a marijuana “high,” which is caused by the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
Green’s background is in the field of applied reproductive fish physiology and endocrinology, with a focus on freshwater and estuarine aquaculture species.
He and graduate student Courtney Murr feel they are making progress in developing the model needed to advance this research to the next level.
Part of Murr’s work involves videoing the fish to track their behavior as they experience the induced seizures.
“The software that we use tells us the total distance the fish move and the speed at which they move,” she said.
The results are used to determine when the fish are having seizures, and the researches can look at the different treatments to tell which has a greater effect.
“I started trying to do some pilot studies just with developing the seizure model itself,” Green said. “I think that using a biomedical model like a fish was a good way to start.”
Green said because of his background in fish physiology and fish biology, it fit nicely. “I’ve worked with zebrafish for a couple of years now to develop a baseline for what seizures are in these animals,” he said.
Recently, Green has been able to take small compounds like CBD and apply them to his seizure model and see possible beneficial results.
“Epilepsy is a very complex disorder, and it doesn’t affect every patient the same,” he said. “And it’s the same with the different medicines currently available. They don’t work the same for everybody.”
In addition to the cannabinoids, other compounds, such as terpenoids, will be considered for seizure behavior.
“A recent paper that also looked at zebrafish found that a small amount of CBD in the presence of a larger amount of THC actually made that THC more absorbed in the body,” Green said.
Because these fish are so small, it only takes very small amounts of THC and CBD to test in their bloodstreams.
“The amounts of the product needed for the research would amount to the analytical standards used for calibrating lab equipment,” he said.
Several things make zebrafish work better than traditional lab animals.
“These fish are very small, but they have a large number of babies. They are inexpensive, and they have some of the same receptors in their brains that we do,” Green said.
Research as far back as the 1970s and 1980s show components of cannabis used to treat epilepsy in rats, Green said.
Green hopes to use the zebrafish to conduct other types of research using CBD, such as for treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mullens is excited about the research potential these funds will provide to the LSU AgCenter.
“We hope that this is the first of many projects that researchers at the LSU AgCenter will conduct to further the understanding of the cannabis plant and its efficacy for treating certain medical conditions,” she said.
LSU AgCenter researcher Chris Green examines zebrafish that are being used to study the effects of medical cannabis in the treatment of epilepsy. The fish are used because their size reduces the cost of the research, and they have the same receptors in their brains that people do. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter