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Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects nearly 1 million people in the U.S. Studies have shown cannabis can slow the disease’s progression and help patients manage the symptoms associated with the disease.
Overview of Parkinson’s Disease
Research suggests that cannabis could be beneficial for managing symptoms and slowing the progression of Parkinson’s disease, a chronic, progressive disorder of the nervous system. Affecting more than 10 million people worldwide, Parkinson’s disease (PD) causes the malfunction and eventual death of cells in the brain.
PD mainly affects dopamine-producing neurons that control movement. As neurons die and the amount of dopamine in the brain decreases, movement and coordination are subsequently affected.
Symptoms commonly associated with Parkinson’s disease include tremors, bradykinesia (slowness of movement), rigidity (stiffness), and postural instability. The disease also often leads to depression, cognitive problems, sleeping difficulties, fatigue, swallowing problems, and pain. Sometimes psychosis, a severe impairment in thinking and emotion that causes one to lose contact with reality, also occurs.
There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease. Today, treatment efforts focus on helping control symptoms. Medications can increase the release, or mimic the action, of dopamine to help manage movement, tremor and walking problems. In some cases, surgery may be required to regulate certain regions of the brain.
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Evidence suggests that cannabis could be beneficial in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease by inhibiting its progression and managing its associated symptoms. Studies have found the cannabinoids possess neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties that help protect the health of brain cells7. These neuroprotective effects are shown in the form of excitotoxicity suppression, glial activation, and a reduction in oxidative injury — all of which are processes responsible for the degeneration of dopamine-releasing neurons2,4. Studies also indicate that cannabinoids improve the function of cell’s mitochondria and activation of cellular debris clearance, which further promotes the health and viability of neurons13.
Research also shows that cannabis is potentially beneficial for helping patients with PD manage their symptoms. In one study,cannabis significantly improved tremors, rigidity, bradykinesia, motor impairments, sleep, and pain in PD patients5. Additional studies have confirmed cannabis’ ability to reduce bradykinesia and tremors2,4. Most recently, a clinical trial found that cannabis significantly reduced pain and motor symptoms in Parkinson’s disease patients after 30 minutes8.
Survey findings suggest that PD patients prefer cannabis to other types of treatment modalities. A questionnaire survey of 339 PD patients found that 45.9 percent of PD patients that had taken cannabis reported some type of benefit11. In another, despite only 4.3 percent of PD patients responding that they used cannabis, it ranked as the most effective of all treatment options out of vitamins, prayer, massage, art therapy, music therapy, and relaxation for symptom relief1.
- Finseth, T.A., Hedeman, J.L., Brown, R.P. 2nd, Johnson, K.I., Binder, M.S., and Kluger, B.M. (2015). Self-reported efficacy of cannabis and other complementary medicine modalities by Parkinson’s disease patients in Colorado. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2015, 874849. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4363882/.
- Garcia-Arencibia, M., Garcia, C., and Fernandez-Ruiz, J. (2009, December). Cannabinoids and Parkinson’s disease. CNS & Neurological Disorders Drug Targets, 8(6), 432-9. Retrieved from http://www.eurekaselect.com/93569/article.
- Javed, H., Azimullah, S., Haque, M.E., and Ojha, S.K. (2016). Cannabinoid Type 2 (CB2) Receptors Activation Protects against Oxidative Stress and Neuroinflammation Associated Dopaminergic Neurodegeneration in Rotenone Model of Parkinson’s Disease. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 10, 321. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4969295/.
- Lastres-Becker, I., and Fernandez-Ruiz, J. (2006). An overview of Parkinson’s disease and the cannabinoid system and possible benefits of cannabinoid-based treatments. Current Medicinal Chemistry, 13(30), 3705-18. Retrieved from http://www.eurekaselect.com/58342/article.
- Lotan, I., Treves, T.A., Roditi, Y., and Djaldetti, R. (2014, March-April). Cannabis (medical marijuana) treatment for motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson disease: an open-label observational study. Clinical Neuropharmacology, 37(2), 41-4. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/clinicalneuropharm/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2014&issue=03000&article=00001&type=abstract.
- Parkinson’s disease. (2015, July 7). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/parkinsons-disease/basics/definition/con-20028488.
- Sagredo, O., García-Arencibia, M., de Lago, E., Finetti, S., Decio, A., and Fernández-Ruiz, J. (2007, August). Cannabinoids and neuroprotection in basal ganglia disorders. Molecular Neurobiology, 36(1), 82-91. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12035-007-0004-3.
- Shohet, A., Khlebtovsky, A., Roizen, N., Roditi, Y., and Djaldetti, R. (2016, October 10). Effect of medical cannabis on thermal quantitative measurements of pain in patients with Parkinson’s disease. European Journal of Pain, doi: 10.1002/ejp.942 [Epub ahead of print]. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ejp.942/full.
- Sieradzan, K.A., Fox, S.H., Hill, M., Dick, J.P., Crossman, A.R., and Brotchie, J.M. (2001, December 11). Cannabinoids reduce levodopa-induced dyskinesia in Parkinson’s disease: a pilot study. Neurology, 57(11), 2108-11. Retrieved from http://www.neurology.org/content/57/11/2108.long.
- Song, L., Yang, X., Ma, Y., Wu, N., and Liu, Z. (2014). The CB1 cannabinoid receptor agonist reduces L-DOPA-induced motor fluctuation and ERK1/2 phosphorylation in 6-OHDA-lesioned rats. Drug Design, Development and Therapy, 8, 2173–2180. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4226453/.
- Venderová, K., Růzicka, E., Vorísek, V., Visnovský, P. (2004, September). Survey on cannabis use in Parkinson’s disease: subjective improvement of motor symptoms. Movement Disorders, 19(9), 11-2-6. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/wol1/doi/10.1002/mds.20111/full.
- What is Parkinson’s Disease? (2015). Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.pdf.org/about_pd.
- Zeissler, M.L., Eastwood, J., McCorry, K., Hanemann, C.O., Zajicek, J.P., and Carrol, C.B. (2016, July 19). Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol protects against MPP+ toxicity in SH-SY5Y cells by restoring proteins involved in mitochondrial biogenesis. Oncotarget, 7(29), 46603-46614. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5216821/.