Parkinson’s Disease and Medical Cannabis Treatment
The progressive nervous system disorder of Parkinson’s disease (PD) brings on depilating conditions over time. What first begins with a slight hand tremor can turn into slurred speaking, according to the Mayo Clinic, adding the disease is incurable but treatable with medication and surgery.
PD awareness began after A-lister Michael J. Fox started showing signs of the condition. The actor had made great strides in fighting the disease since 1991 when he was diagnosed with young-onset PD when he was 29. Second to Alzheimer’s disease as the most common degenerative neurological disorder, PD affects 1% of the population of adults over the age of 60, according to Parkinson’s Disease Health Information and Community.
One of the most promising reports that medical cannabis eases the condition is from The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) for Parkinson’s Research, reporting that “pre-clinical work, including several studies funded by MJFF, shows that cannabinoids may protect brain cells through antioxidant and anti-inflammatory mechanisms.”
Parkinson’s Disease Causes, Symptoms & Treatments
Though no information on how to cure PD is known, it is sure that it is caused by genes and environmental triggers, according to the Mayo Clinic. The risk of developing PD increases with age. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, just 4% of people with PD are diagnosed before the age of 50.
Several complications arise from PD, including sleep disorders, problems chewing and swallowing, bladder issues, and constipation. Symptoms of PD worsen over time. After initial signs of hand tremors, slowed movement, rigid muscles, impaired posture, and speech and handwriting changes follow.
According to Mayo Clinic, PD cannot be cured, but medications like levodopa are available to help manage the symptoms. In severe cases, patients can undergo surgeries such as deep brain stimulation (DBS) to aggressively combat symptoms.
Leveraging Cannabinoids for Parkinson’s Disease
While medical cannabis has already shown that it can ease some symptoms of PD, including movement disorders, inflammation, and sleep disorders, research has been performed to show that cannabis can ease the condition itself. A 2019 study published in Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience showed that medical cannabis could have medicinal efficacy in PD.
“Endocannabinoid receptors exist throughout the nervous system and are documented to influence receptors affecting a wide variety of areas,” reports the study. “Neuroprotective aspects might be induced by cannabis exposure that might yield benefit against the nigrostriatal degeneration of patients with Parkinson’s disease.”
The Parkinson’s Foundation notes that medical cannabis is high on the list for effective treatment methods, reporting several studies to confirm the favorable plant properties. “In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial (n = 7), the authors demonstrate that the cannabinoid receptor agonist nabilone significantly reduces levodopa-induced dyskinesia in PD,” according to the foundation.
Lastly, the American Parkinson’s Disease Foundation breaks down cannabis’ effects on both the brain and endocannabinoid systems. “More research needs to be done, but based on what is known about the biology of cannabis, one could hypothesize that THC and/or CBD may be helpful for aspects of PD such as tremor, stiffness, insomnia, dystonia, pain, dyskinesias or weight loss,” according to the foundation.
The following are some additional areas of PD found to be potentially lessened by cannabis:
- Improved motor and non-motor symptoms: A study published in 2016 demonstrated that cannabis was effective in alleviating motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, including bradykinesia, rigidity, tremors, sleep problems, and pain.
- Bradykinesia: One of the hallmark signs of Parkinson’s is bradykinesia, which is a slowing of movement or even muscle freezing. This study found that cannabis was most effective in alleviating the symptom of bradykinesia.
- Hand-eye coordination: This study conducted on animal models with Parkinson’s disease found that cannabis was effective in improving both activity and hand-eye coordination. The same study also found that there was improved REM (rapid eye movement) behavior in sleep problems.
- Calming effect: Patients with Parkinson’s disease reported a “calming effect” concerning their tremors and dyskinesia in this study.
- Reduced disability: A study found that cannabis leads to a lower level of disability in cannabis users in comparison to those who do not smoke cannabis. The same study also found that cannabis had a positive effect on memory, mood, and fatigue in individuals with Parkinson’s disease.
- Depression: Depression is a common symptom of Parkinson’s disease, with a prevalence of up to 50%. Often this depression goes undiagnosed or untreated, according to this study. However, the same study found that cannabis assisted the body’s endocannabinoid system with regulating mood and behavior, which ultimately led to a significant reduction in depression.
With study upon study showing the benefits of medical cannabis on PD and its symptoms are finding hope in a better quality of life.