With medical marijuana now legal in 39 states, experts in the Parkinson’s community are expanding their research on how marijuana, also known as cannabis, can help treat PD symptoms.
The impact of cannabis on Parkinson’s is so far inconclusive, but a number of promising studies indicate that cannabis may be a viable treatment for both non-motor and motor symptoms of Parkinson’s.
How Does Cannabis Work?
There are over 100 chemical compounds in the cannabis plant known as cannabinoids. Interestingly, the human body produces its own form of cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids that send nerve impulses to the brain inducing varying effects on the body. Endocannabinoids help to regulate memory, pleasure, movement, concentration, and pain, to name a few.
Because cannabinoids and endocannabinoids are so similar in nature, the brain recognizes them and allows cannabis to impact behavior, mood, coordination, and more.
Of the 100+ types of cannabinoids, THC and CBD are the most highly studied and utilized in medicine today.
THC vs. CBD
THC is known for some of the more infamous side effects of cannabis. These include a euphoric high, impaired memory, increased appetite, and altered sense of time.
CBD on the other hand has a calming effect with some research suggesting that it may relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and diminish anxiety.
In general, medical marijuana consists of purified combinations of these two cannabinoids in varying ratios.
Cannabis and Impacts on PD Symptoms
Research on the effects of cannabis on Parkinson’s disease is in its early stages and only just starting to reveal its potential in the medical community.
Many clinical studies conducted so far have included limited numbers of participants, and some may have been predisposed to bias. Although promising results have been achieved, more comprehensive research is needed to fully understand the impact of cannabis on symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Nonetheless, some evidence indicates that cannabis may have a positive impact on common Parkinson’s symptoms.
Benefits of Cannabis Use
One major reported benefit is the positive impact on both non-motor and motor symptoms of PD. These include relief of anxiety and depression, and reduction of tremors, rigidity, chronic pain, and even levodopa-induced dyskinesia.
In a study of 85 individuals with PD, 46% reported relief of symptoms after taking half a teaspoon of cannabis leaves daily for over a month.
Another clinical trial of 22 individuals with Parkinson’s disease revealed that the use of medical cannabis improved motor symptoms such as bradykinesia, resting tremor, rigidity, and pain, and non-motor symptoms including sleep and pain.
Additionally, epidemiological studies indicate that daily or weekly marijuana users exhibit a better mood compared to non-users. Keeping in mind the impact of endocannabinoids on mood and behavior, it is possible that the use of cannabis could alleviate the depressive symptoms experienced by 50% of those with Parkinson’s.
Risks of Cannabis Use
Cannabis is known to cause cognitive impairment and memory loss, though this is a temporary side effect. Regardless, researchers issue caution against the use of cannabis by those with PD. This is because Parkinson’s can impair the executive function (the ability to make plans and limit risky behavior) and cannabis may compound this effect.
Future of Cannabis in PD Treatment
While cannabis products are readily available to those with PD, more controlled clinical trials are vital to precisely evaluate the impact of cannabis use.
As researchers expand their studies of the PD community, cannabis could potentially be harnessed as an effective treatment for many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s. We always recommend consulting with your physician before incorporating cannabis into your treatment routine.
PCLA works continuously to stay up to date on breakthroughs in research and treatment options for PD. Check our resources page regularly for updates from the scientific community and upcoming programs and events.