We are constantly learning of more and more conditions that might benefit from the use of medical marijuana. Since the discovery of the endocannabinoid system, it has become clearer how marijuana is able to benefit so many ailments. One of the less discussed is Parkinson’s disease.
The only time Parkinson’s gets much attention is when people are referring to celebrities like Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali – other than that, people don’t seem to talk about it much. Sure, there are dedicated scientists out there searching for the best way to medicate the disease, or even cure it – but not nearly enough research has been done on the possibility of cannabis therapy for Parkinson’s.
If you’ve never known someone with Parkinson’s, let me tell you it can get hard to watch sometimes. Knowing that the person’s ability to care for themselves or manage their own bodies will continue to decline, and watching their frustration because they can still think clearly enough that they know what they want to do, but they just can’t ever seem to do it, is heart-breaking.
My point is, these patients deserve to have all options explored, and there are tons of stories of Parkinson’s disease patients who have opted to self-medicate with cannabis, as well as dozens of small studies done that show a positive improvement in multiple areas of a Parkinson’s patient’s life. Multiple states list Parkinson’s on their list of qualifying conditions, and even more allow it under laws extending to “debilitating conditions” or similar wording.
Now, with all these states being able to recommend cannabis for Parkinson’s disease, you would think they would want a little more research done on the subject; in order to gain a better understanding of which what cannabinoids (THC or CBD) effects which symptoms (tremors, shaking, rigidity, pain, depression, etc) and how much medicine a patient needs to see an improvement.
Surprisingly, there have been few large-scale studies done on the effects of medical marijuana on Parkinson’s disease symptoms. However, there is enough evidence, backed up by studies performed by doctors and researchers as well as personal accounts, to convince many to give medical marijuana a chance to help them manage this condition. But for others, the lack of large-scale and controlled testing is enough to allow them to keep their reefer madness mindset guilt free, even if they themselves could benefit from it.
What Do We Know So Far?
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that stems from a dopamine deficiency – current medications that are taken to help reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s generally attempt to replicate the missing dopamine, keeping the symptoms somewhat in check, at least until it’s time for the next dosage.
Currently, there is no known cure for Parkinson’s, but there are researchers who hope that the discovery of the endocannabinoid system could be a sort of “missing link” in figuring out how to stop the progression of this disease. To the surprise of some, studies on cannabis therapy show the potential to slow the progression of the disease, which could one day lead to a cure, with any hope.
A small patient study recognized that THC could be effective in slowing down the progression of degenerative conditions like Parkinson’s. It works by assisting the prevention of damage caused by free radicals and activating a receptor that promotes the formation of new mitochondria. There is evidence that both THC and CBD might be effective in this process.
Another study with 22 patients has found that THC might be beneficial in lessening symptoms such as rigidity, tremors, and other motor-control problems that patients with Parkinson’s live with on a daily basis. It is also shown that it may be helpful to reduce symptoms that stem from the Parkinson’s, such as depression and chronic pain – which also helps some patients qualify for cannabis therapy in states where Parkinson’s is not a qualifying condition but medical marijuana is legal.
There was also a slightly more controlled study which looked into CBD only, with 21 patients broken down into three groups. One group received a placebo, one received 75mg per day and the third received 300mg per day. The results found that the use of CBD made a significant improvement in the quality of life for patients with Parkinson’s disease, with slightly improved motor quality and improved sleep.
An observational study that took place in Israel showed significant improvements in generally associated symptoms, like rigidity, pain and tremors, around 30 minutes after inhaling marijuana. The subjects were all in their 60s and diagnosed with Parkinson’s for more than seven years. Patients claimed that those positive effects generally lasted around two or three hours after the initial onset – about as long as a good marijuana high lasts.
For now, these studies are all small and don’t cover one specific aspect of using medical marijuana in this situation. There is a definite need for more research on the subject, especially with results that even hint at the possibility of improving patients’ quality of life.
What Patients Have to Say
“Marijuana is a miracle plant that helps Parkinson’s patients and benefits people suffering from many other illnesses,” states PD patient and author of, “Marijuana for Parkinson’s Disease”
This statement comes from a blog belonging to Richard Secklin, a previous sheriff in Texas who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at age 50 in 2003. He started treatment with Levodopa, which is the standard medication for Parkinson’s patients. After a while, he decided to use cannabis in addition to the standard treatment.
Since most patients with Parkinson’s suffer from sleeplessness, depression and chronic pain, cannabis can work wonders as a secondary medication for patients due to its ability to successfully treat all of these conditions. According to Richard, he is able to sleep a full 6-7 hours a night and does not need antidepressants at all.
Sadly, stories like his are not published all that often – it was hard enough just to find his story, let alone others. If you or someone you know is treating Parkinson’s with cannabis, please spread your story if you are finding relief – it’s these stories that will prompt more studies on the condition and its responses to marijuana.
“Marijuana should never be thought of as a replacement for dopaminergic and other approved therapies for Parkinson’s disease. Second, though most available large studies have not shown a benefit, that does not mean that there will not be a benefit. Much more research will be needed to understand which patients, which symptoms, and how best to safely administer medical marijuana in Parkinson’s disease, especially over the long-term. It may turn out that non-motor features such as depression, anxiety, and pain respond best, but studies are desperately needed to sort this out.”- by Dr. Michael S. Okun on the National Parkinson Foundation
Currently, Parkinson’s is a qualifying condition in Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico and New York. Under circumstances such as “conditions subject to approval” or “debilitating conditions”, it can also be obtained In Oregon, Washington, Rhode Island and Nevada. In many other states, including Alaska, Arizona, California, you can obtain medical marijuana for depression or chronic pain, which are both symptoms associated with Parkinson’s.
Unfortunately, there is just not as much information as I would have liked to find when researching this subject. After all, the condition is considered a qualifying one in multiple states and patients all over the world are medicating with it – but there are no studies done to give those who have no experience with marijuana a guideline of how to administer such a treatment.