In recognition of Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month, here is some information about Parkinson’s Disease (PD). In this article I will define the disease, describe its symptoms, its possible causes, and make the case for medical cannabis as an effective treatment option to control the many symptoms of PD. I will also share some cannabis strains which are particularly effective in providing relief.
Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a progressive neurological disease which restricts movement and worsens with time. It begins with subtle symptoms that progressively make daily life increasingly more difficult. Those with the disease experience a decrease in the amount of dopamine in their brains. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is responsible for transmitting messages in the brain that controls movements in the body. Medical cannabis has been proven to control many of the symptoms associated with PD, especially tremors.
PD is the result of the destruction of the pigmented neurons located in the substantia nigra of the midbrain. This leads to a decrease in the availability of dopamine which interferes with the transmission of nerve signals which controls body movements.
It is worthy to note that PD is a very old disease. Historical texts from India and from China, dating as far back as AD 175, make references to symptoms similar to those of PD.
It is estimated that as many as 1 million Americans have the disease which affects 10 million people worldwide. Men are 1.5 times more likely to develop the disease than women. It typically affects those age 50 and up.
Primary Symptoms include:
- Jerking or shaking movements
- A “freezing” of a body part
- Difficulty swallowing
- Muscle aches and pains
- Low blood pressure
- Movement problems including rigid muscles, stooped position and slow or monotone speech
- Anxiety and depression
- Memory loss, confusion, stress and tension
- Sexual dysfunction
There is no definitive test to diagnose the disease, but there is a group of motor symptoms, indicative of the presence of PD.
- Tremor at rest
- Rigidity of muscles
- Bradykinesia or slowed movement
- Postural instability; swaying motion seen when standing or standing up from a seated position
Secondary Symptoms include:
- Lack of facial expression
- Dystonia; involuntary muscle contractions leading to cramping, unusual posture or body position
- Micrographia; increasingly smaller handwriting
- Freezing Movements; unable to move forward with the first step
- Speech Changes; softer voice or slurred speech
- Acceleration problems; movements are sped up and are difficult to control
Earliest precursors that can occur years before the first motor symptoms include:
- Loss of Smell
- Some sleep disorders
The exact cause of Parkinson’s Disease is not fully understood. However there are certain factors that predispose an individual to developing the condition. These include:
- Genetic mutation
- Environmental exposure; including to pesticides and fungicides
How Does Medical Cannabis Help Relieve Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms?
Medical cannabis delivers a 1-2-3 punch as an anxiolytic, an antioxidant and a pain reliever.
Certain natural cannabinoids produced by the brain can mimic dopamine agonists. They act like dopamine by binding to the same receptors, producing the same results as natural dopamine. The area of the brain that controls movement, the basal ganglia, has many cannabinoid receptors. Those with PD typically have fewer cannabinoid receptors than those without the disease.
A 2000 study was conducted by J. Sevak and Karel Masek, at the Institute of Pharmacology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic in Prague, titled Potential Role of Cannabinoids in PD. They believe that PD results from oxidative stress and concluded the following:
Cannabinoids might alleviate the symptoms of PD by their remarkable receptor-mediated modulatory action in the basal ganglia output nuclei. Some cannabinoids act as potent antioxidants that protect neurons from death without the activation of cannabinoid receptors. They may delay or even stop the progressive degeneration of dopamine for which there is currently no means of prevention. It is possible that cannabinoids might have a greater effect when used in conjunction with other drugs currently being used to treat PD.
Medical cannabis can relieve many of the adverse side effects of the most common PD drugs, Levodopa/Carbidopa, typically prescribed together, which increase dopamine levels in the brain. Levodopa causes nausea and vomiting. Other side effects include confusion, hallucinations, dyskinesia and low blood pressure.
A 2004 study found that 46% of patients experienced a mild to significant improvement in their symptoms after using cannabis. Almost 45% had a reduction in bradykinesia and more than 30% experienced fewer tremors. The longer they used medical cannabis, the more improvements they experienced over the course of the 3 month study.
There are numerous studies which substantiate the claim that medical cannabis can reduce anxiety and stress levels in some patients, depending on an individual’s body chemistry. However, some patients report an increase in anxiety after using THC.
Medical cannabis is one of the best and least addictive sleep aids available. Sleep disorders are common in those with PD. The most likely explanation for this is that muscle tension, pain and tics disrupt the sleep cycle.
Cannabis Strains for Parkinson’s Disease and Available at Bloom Medicinals:
Afterburner, Biohazard, Bubba Kush, Rosaberry, G6, and Ghost Train Haze.
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Source: medicalmarijuanadoctors.com, Medical Marijuana For Parkinson’s Disease, Dr Richard Koffler, January 28, 2019
Sevcík, J & Mašek, Karel. (2000). Potential Role of Cannabinoids in Parkinson’s Disease. Drugs & aging. 16. 391-5. 10.2165/00002512-200016060-00001