Cannabis may help to manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, providing a better quality of life.
- Cannabis cannot cure Parkinson’s disease but it may help to manage symptoms
- Studies have shown CBD and THC can help reduce anxiety, tremors, pain
- It also helps with sleep and improves quality of life
- The mechanisms for how it improves symptoms are unknown but are linked to dopamine levels in the basal ganglia
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a complex neurodegenerative disease. It is debilitating, worsening as it proceeds. It affects a range of motor and non-motor functions, although the most commonly recognised symptom is the ‘shaking’ or tremors.
- Tremors in arms, hands, jaw, head, or legs (dyskinesia)
- Anosmia (loss of the sense of smell)
- Muscles contract for long periods of time, causing stiffness
- Lack of facial expression/ drooling
- Poor co-ordination and balance
- Slow movements (bradykinesia)
- Skin problems
- Constipation and urinary problems
- Problems swallowing, speaking, and chewing
- Memory and attention deficits
- Lack of ability to plan and carry out tasks
Symptoms can be mild or severe, progress at varying rates, and can affect one side or both.
This affects one to two people every 1000 people, making it the second most common neurodegenerative disease in the world. Because it generally affects people more than 60 years old, it’s expected the number of people suffering from Parkinson’s disease will increase as longevity increases.
There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, and while about 10% of cases are genetic, there’s no known cause. However, there are current medicines that can treat symptoms.
Scientists have found that Parkinson’s disease mostly affects an area of the brain called the basal ganglia. Your brain uses neurotransmitters to communicate. But Parkinson’s decreases levels of dopamine levels in the brain, which is one of the main neurotransmitters. When the brain tries to send signals that fine-tune movements, the signal gets lost. So, modern therapy uses a pharmaceutical called Levodopa, which makes dopamine. Often, Carbidopa is taken to manage the side effects caused by Levodopa, such as nausea, vomiting, and restlessness.
There are other treatment options, including:
- Occupational and physical therapy
- Exercises to strengthen muscles
- Massage therapy
- Deep brain stimulation where implanted electrodes activate specific parts of the brain
There are also several experimental treatments, including stem cell transplants, neuron repair treatments, and gene targeted therapies.
Cannabis for Parkinson’s
While it’s not known how CBD helps Parkinson’s, it appears to provide some respite from symptoms. In general, we know that cannabis can help you sleep better, ease symptoms of depression, encourage appetite, and reduces pain. This helps with general health and can increase quality of life.
However, medicinal cannabis also seems to improve both motor and nonmotor symptoms which are specific to Parkinson’s, which reduces the need for other medications.
- A 1:1 CBD to THC tincture resulted in 87% of patients noticing an improvement in their PD symptoms, including cramping, pain, spasticity, lack of appetite, dyskinesia, and tremors.
- A meta study looked at 23 studies and showed that cannabis can help alleviate tremors, anxiety and pain, improve sleep quality, and help make quality of life better.
- A self-report study found that some people reported symptom improvement, but many did not. Many Parkinson’s sufferers also did not even try cannabis due to lack of official guidelines. The study suggested that having formal guidance in regards to dosage and CBD/THC ratio may help it be a more effective treatment.
- THC has been shown to improve hand-eye coordination in animals.
Why Does Cannabis Help Alleviate Parkinson’s Symptoms?
There are some theories as to why cannabis offers some relief for sufferers.
The endocannabinoid system is complex, and it modulates and manages a number of functions in humans. A lot of cannabinoid receptors are found in the basal ganglia, the area implicated in degeneration related to Parkinson’s. Endocannabinoids are known to help manage concentration, thinking, pain, appetite, movement, and sensory perception.
THC is psychotropic, and partially binds cannabinoid receptors. CBD has neuroprotective qualities, it is known to be anti-anxiety, and anti-psychotic. CBD completely binds cannabinoid receptors. It also manages the side effects of THC, helping users tolerate it more and improving the therapeutic value of the drug.
Managing cannabinoid receptors is an important part of the effectiveness of cannabis in Parkinson’s. Cannabis influences the signals the brain is sending or receiving, which can help with things like motor control. A study found that a loss of cannabinoid receptors (type 1) results in the decreased motor skills that are a symptom of Parkinson’s. It’s proposed that CBD can help by activating these receptors and protecting against lesions.
Should You Take Cannabis for Parkinson’s Disease?
If you’re struggling with your Parkinson’s symptoms, and you want to try and improve your quality of life, cannabis could be worth trying. While the evidence for improvement is mixed, and it doesn’t resolve the cause or reverse the existing damage, it can offer relief. We typically start with a low dose and work upwards, reaching a point where it offers therapeutic benefits without adding side effects. Contact us today to talk about your Parkinson’s, and if you could benefit from a medicinal cannabis prescription.