Parkinson's Disease

Does Medical Marijuana Help Treat Parkinson’s Disease? - November 06, 2021

Ever since the medical potential of cannabis became known to the world, several questions followed. Patients across the globe were curious to understand the role of this new herb in improving their medical conditions. From cancer to anxiety, the scope of cannabis was increasing every day. This led many to question if medical marijuana can help treat Parkinson’s disease too.

For years now, cannabis has been widely used as a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to manage several health conditions. And Parkinson’s disease happens to be one of them. 

But, is it really effective? Can it lower the severity of symptoms and be a potential alternative to pharmaceuticals? Let’s find out. 

What Is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease or PD is a neurodegenerative movement disorder. It affects the nervous system, specifically the dopaminergic neurons (produce dopamine) in a substantia nigra area of the brain. PD is a progressive disorder that develops in middle-aged people and the elderly. This medical condition is marked by the gradual onset of motor and non-motor symptoms. 

Parkinson’s disease is very common in the United States. More than 1 million people across the US are living with this degenerative neurological disorder. But since there are no specific tests and high chances of misdiagnosis, it’s not easy to pinpoint the exact number of people suffering from PD. 

Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

As we already know, Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive disorder so the onset of symptoms is very slow but the severity increases over the years. Now, the symptoms can vary from one person to another. But, some of the most common ones are as follows:

  • Tremors
  • Stiffness
  • Limb rigidity
  • Balance problems
  • Bradykinesia (slowness of movement)
  • Impaired posture
  • Speech and writing changes
  • Behavioral changes
  • Memory problems
  • Lack of sleep
  • Impaired coordination
  • Muscle spasms or cramps
  • Lack of expression
  • Chewing and swallowing problems
  • Hallucinations
  • Weight fluctuations and fatigue

In some cases, these symptoms can also be caused by a different medical condition. But, a medical diagnosis is important to identify the cause.  

Can Medical Marijuana Treat Symptoms of Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s Disease has no one definitive cause. It can be inherited or be triggered by some environmental factors like toxins, head trauma, etc. This is the reason why you can neither find a specific test designed to diagnose nor a foolproof cure for this medical condition. PD is a permanent condition and can only be managed using medications, treatments, and even surgeries. 

Amidst the vast variety of medications and treatments available for PD, medical marijuana has made its way as a possible treatment option too. 

What Does the Research Say?

So far, there have not been enough clinical trials and research on the effect of marijuana on PD patients. But, the ones that exist increase the hopes of having a possible alternative treatment for PD. Let’s take a look at some of the data we have today:

  • The German Parkinson Association conducted a survey on PD patients. It included a questionnaire to assess the perception of patients about medical marijuana and their experience of using the same. A total of 1,348 questionnaires were filled nationwide. After careful analysis, it was concluded that about 8.4% of patients used cannabis for PD. And more than 40% of them experienced an improvement in akinesia, anxiety, and other symptoms. 
  • Preclinical studies and research suggest that cannabinoids may provide symptomatic relief and have neuroprotective potential which proves to be helpful against neurological conditions. 
  • Another survey conducted by email in January 2020 revealed a lot of helpful information on the use of medical marijuana for PD. When asked about the efficacy of cannabis in managing motor and non-motor symptoms of PD, almost half of the people reported some sort of improvement. The level of efficacy was higher among those using high THC cannabis compared to those using low THC variety. 

The research is still at its prime. Federal restrictions are one of the primary reasons for such limited research. 

Potential Benefits of Using Medical Marijuana for Parkinson’s

The studies and clinical trials of medical cannabis on PD patients are limited. But, the data that exists gives us some idea about how medical marijuana can help treat motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. 

The potential benefits of using cannabis for PD are:

  • Pain relief
  • Restful sleep
  • Better mood
  • Reduced tremors
  • Lower anxiety
  • Better control of movements
  • Improved muscle stiffness

The positive effects of medical marijuana on PD patients are mainly because of the way it interacts with the body. Cannabis contains cannabinoids that interact with neurotransmitters of the brain and other parts of the body. 

These interactions affect the brain chemicals including the one that PD patients lack – dopamine. By activating the CB receptors, marijuana may improve the levels of dopamine and also deliver anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective effects. All these aspects help cannabis provide symptomatic relief to people suffering from Parkinson’s disease. 

Side Effects of Using Medical Marijuana 

Medical marijuana is natural and offers way fewer side effects compared to prescribed medications. This is the reason why it is popular among patients as an alternative treatment. However, it does not disregard the fact that medical marijuana can have side effects.

This miracle herb affects every person differently. Individual factors like age, metabolism, medications, etc. can change the way cannabis works in the body. In some cases, it may lead to the following side effects:

  • Temporary cognitive impairment
  • Weight gain
  • Impaired alertness
  • Dependence
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Memory problems

Now, the majority of the people using medical marijuana for Parkinson’s disease are doing the same without any professional guidance or recommendation. This could lead to improper dosing which can cause an intolerable high and develop the side effects discussed above. 

You can avoid the side effects of medical marijuana by consulting a doctor. Visit a clinic near you or apply for an MMJ evaluation online. These professional doctors will help you use cannabis in the best way and avoid any side effects. 

How to Use Medical Marijuana for Parkinson’s?

Inhale or Ingest?

The majority of PD patients who use cannabis to manage their symptoms report smokable cannabis to be more effective compared to oral administration. That’s because inhaling cannabis delivers cannabinoids into the bloodstream faster. And in the case of oral cannabis products, it takes time for the cannabinoids to metabolize and reach the bloodstream.

However, your choice of CBD products will depend on the symptom you are trying to treat. For instance, if you have severe anxiety or pain, you need a quick solution and thus smoking is the best option. In case of tremors or mood-related symptoms, oral administration is best as the effects last longer. 

Here are some recommendations:

Oral: tinctures, gummies, beverages, and cooking oil. 

Smokables: Loose flowers, vapes, cigarettes, and pre-rolls. 

Topicals: Cremas, transdermal patches, and lotions

Selection of Products

Medical cannabis is neither federally legal nor FDA regulated. So, how do you ensure that your product is safe to use? Here’s how:

  • Choose the seller carefully. Read customer feedback and check the source of cannabis to learn about the quality of the herb. 
  • Make sure to read lab reports. 
  • Check the THC to CBD ratio. 

While cannabis is not legal federally, it is legal at the state level. Make sure that you are aware of your state laws before opting for medical cannabis as a way to manage PD symptoms. 

Takeaway

Medical marijuana cannot completely cure Parkinson’s disease or any other medical condition. However, looking at the track record of the herb, it’s pretty clear that it can offer symptomatic relief and help in the management of the disorder. Whether it’s anxiety or pain, the combination of cannabinoids can work effectively in providing relief and improving the quality of life. 

So, should you use cannabis to treat PD? We’d recommend consulting a marijuana doctor in your state to find a more precise answer. 

Dheeraj Srivastva

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