Parkinson’s disease (PD) is an issue many today are struggling with. Patients and doctors are trying to find new ways to treat or help combat its symptoms. As we progress into an era where more countries are legalising cannabis, there’s finally an increase in scientific studies using the cannabis plant to try to treat numerous diseases. In recent years, cannabis has shown promising results with people who suffer from PD, which opens new doors for patients all over the world. Marijuana is an ancient remedial plant used over centuries but has more recently been forgotten. It has taken us up to the 21st century to rediscover its potential benefits and healing properties, now let’s see how far we’ve come!
Parkinson’s disease is common during the latter years of an individual’s life and considered as a neurodegenerative disorder. It's a slow-developing disease, and its impact throughout its development can vary for different people. The most common symptoms experienced are:
- Tremor (most commonly in hands)
- Bradykinesia (Slowness of movement)
- Limb rigidity (inflexibility of limbs)
- Gait and balance problems (Difficulties with coordination, balance and gait)
It’s believed that PD is primarily the result of deteriorating or missing dopamine which is caused by the impairment of neurons in the substantia nigra. This is the part of your brain that is primarily responsible for reward and motor movement.
So, how does cannabis come into play?
Well, in several studies, medicinal marijuana has exhibited improvements in the motor symptoms common in PD – Tremor, limb rigidity and bradykinesia. Not only that, it has helped non-motor symptoms such as pain and sleep disorders which some PD patients suffer from as well. Cannabidiol (CBD) found in medicinal cannabis has also demonstrated compelling results in treating psychosis and sleep disorders experienced by PD patients.
One study reported that among 62 PD patients (aged 71±10 years), 77% experienced improvements in PD motor symptoms such as gait instability, tremor and spasticity. Improvements in rigidity, dyskinesia and bradykinesia were also encountered. Over half of them also reported improvements in non-motor symptoms: anxiety, nausea, depressed mood and sleep deprivation.
PD patients have also reported a 'calming effect' experienced after the use of marijuana on their tremor and up to 30% improvement in patients’ dyskinesia.
Research is continuously being undertaken to understand how cannabis may help PD patients. Cannabis effectiveness comes from its relationship with the endocannabinoid system. This system has been indicated to play an important role in PD, most notably due to its interaction with the dopaminergic system, where neurons will start to deteriorate as PD progresses.
Is CBD oil any different in treating PD than medicinal marijuana?
The main difference between medicinal marijuana and CBD oil is that CBD oil does not contain any (or at least very little) Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Because it doesn’t share the same benefits of THC, CBD oil will respond differently to PD patients. It still remains a great alternative as it contains other cannabinoids that help reduce anxiety, relieve pain and offer neuroprotective properties. Medicinal cannabis for PD remains the most studied. Still, CBD oil trials have started to pick up a lot of momentum.
Quality of life was reported to improve amongst those patients who were given CBD instead of Placebo alternatives. Reduced rigidity was reported to significantly decrease after the use of CBD oil amongst PD patients as well. It has also helped patients combat insomnia, reduce inflammation and most importantly delay disease progression due to CBD’s antioxidant properties.
Why don't we see medicinal marijuana as a more widespread therapeutic alternative to PD?
While research into cannabis and PD has come along way, the plant still continues to fight against societal prejudice. Marijuana is still considered illegal in many parts of the world, including Australia - for now. There are apparent side effects researchers are wary of when it comes to cannabis use and distributing them to PD patients. Medicinal marijuana has clear therapeutic benefits, however continuous use or increased use of the plant may result in addiction, respiratory illness and decline in cognitive processing. Some researchers are also suggesting that other damaging impacts may include working memory deficits, abnormal social behaviour, susceptibility to mood and anxiety disorders.
Although this might sound frightening to think of the side-effects, it’s largely based on symptoms found in people who use the plant in high dosages recreationally over a long period. In clinical studies, the most common side-effects experienced were disorientation, dizziness and drowsiness. These were resolved by adjusting the dosage amount, with one study having only 4 patients discontinuing the used out of the 26 who reported the side-effects. Cannabis distribution to PD patients would be regulated with pre-cautions to the individual’s own health issues.
Cannabis has an abundance of benefits humans haven't explored properly. PD patients are finally becoming aware of their options, and many are open to trying anything that may elevate their everyday struggles. However, cannabis still remains illegal in many parts of the world which makes it harder to access it. By reading and spreading knowledge of the plant we can all, one day, make a significant difference to a sufferer of Parkinson's disease.
Do you want to speak to a medical professional about how to obtain a prescription for CBD oil in Australia? Reach out to us here and we can put you in touch with the right people.