Tulalip Tribes hope cannabis can combat heroin addiction

A $2 million grant funds studies into opioid abuse and Alzheimer’s disease at Stanford University.

Stanford University bioengineering professor Annelise Barron, a Washington native, is co-leading the $2 million medical research studies funded by the Tulalip Tribes using cannabis extracts to treat addiction and Alzheimer’s disease. (Contributed photo)

Stanford University bioengineering professor Annelise Barron, a Washington native, is co-leading the $2 million medical research studies funded by the Tulalip Tribes using cannabis extracts to treat addiction and Alzheimer’s disease. (Contributed photo)

TULALIP — The Tulalip Tribes opened a cannabis store last year with a high-tech approach to pot.

Their interest goes beyond herbal remedies of the recreational kind.

And in this case, the consumers are rodents, not people.

The tribes are funding medical research in plant cannabis extracts and purified THC/CBD to treat heroin addiction and Alzheimer’s disease.

The two 30-month, $2 million projects at the Stanford University School of Medicine’s Behavioral and Functional Neuroscience Laboratory are co-led by bioengineering professor Annelise Barron, director of the California campus site and a Washington native, and Mehrdad Shamloo, a neurosurgery professor. The study began in May 2018.

“It’s a good place to do this kind of work. This research requires behavioral testing of rats, a specialized field,” Barron said. “This will just be the beginning.”

Tribal board of directors members Bonnie Juneau, Teri Gobin and Les Parks toured the Stanford facility a few years before the August 2018 opening of Remedy Tulalip, the first cannabis shop on tribal land in Snohomish County.

“Tulalip Tribes is committed to developing cannabis-derived medicines with the potential to treat opioid addiction. We are proud to sponsor this cutting-edge research,” Gobin said in a news release. She was elected tribal board chairwoman earlier this month.

Carmen Miller (left) helps Ezekiel Engle make a selection at Remedy Tulalip on Aug. 22. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Carmen Miller (left) helps Ezekiel Engle make a selection at Remedy Tulalip on Aug. 22. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

“Like so many communities across the nation, we are deploying an ever-increasing amount of resources to fight this epidemic,” she said. “We decided a new approach was necessary. As sovereigns, we have a unique responsibility to our people, and providing a natural remedy to the opioid epidemic is our priority.”

Barron said other studies have shown cannabis products as promising for heroin addiction.

“It is very challenging to receive funding to study positive effects or benefits of cannabis because it is a Schedule 1 drug federally,” Barron said. “And the definition of a Schedule 1 drug is that it has a risk of harm and, moreover, that it has no medicinal benefits.”

She noted there have been strides in the government acceptance of some forms.

“The FDA has recently approved a cannabis-derived drug for the treatment of epilepsy,” Barron said.

The Alzheimer’s research uses mice. The addiction study uses rats that self-administer heroin.

“The rat can press a lever and dose itself with heroin. We essentially allow the rat to self-addict to heroin,” she said.

“Then we look at the effects of treating them with cannabis oil extracts during a period of abstinence to see how that affects heroin-seeking behavior after abstinence. So when the drug is available again, will they be more or less likely to seek heroin?”

The researchers seek to “isolate a novel cannabinoid within cannabis oil which is nonpsychoactive and nonaddictive, because that would be the ideal treatment for heroin addiction,” she said.

“That’s our moonshot goal.”

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

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