Now that marijuana has been legalized in many states across the US and CBD has been changed to a schedule five drug, research on marijuana has increased dramatically. Accessibility and understanding of marijuana are growing as well, and researchers are starting to find new pathways and mechanisms to target, leading to treatments and therapies for some of the most common diseases in humans. Recently, Parkinson’s disease (PD) has become a major talking point, and plenty of exciting stories and articles have been shared and spoken about, but is it all true? To answer that, we will first have to describe what causes PD and its symptoms.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition. A neurodegenerative condition is a condition that causes a progressive loss of cells in the brain or spinal cord. In the case of PD, the loss of specific cells in the area of the brain called the substantia nigra results in tremors, rigidity, and difficulty walking. Other symptoms of PD include difficulty sleeping, speech problems, and emotional problems. Dementia can also occur later, as the condition progresses. More information on living with Parkinson’s can be found at the Parkinson’s Foundation website.
The cause of PD is still unknown, but genetics, environment, and diet all seem to play a role . Age and gender also seem to be contributing factors, with risk increasing with age and men being more likely than women to be diagnosed with PD. Both the Mayo Clinic and the American Parkinson Disease Association offer in-depth information on possible causes and factors for developing PD.
The cells affected by the condition are dopaminergic cells, meaning they release dopamine in the brain, and their death results in low dopamine levels. This is why many of the drugs used to help those with PD are converted to dopamine in the body (such as L-DOPA) or are dopamine agonists themselves. As PD progresses and more neurons die, however, these drugs start to become less effective, as there are less cells and receptors to act on.
There is no known cure for PD, but certain treatments and therapies can alleviate some of the symptoms. Surgically implanted electrodes used to stimulate certain brain regions and the previously mentioned drugs can help smooth movements. Some people have found relief through dietary changes and other treatments as well.
Can Marijuana Help Those with Parkinson’s Disease?
As a quick introduction, medical marijuana provides its benefits by working on the endocannabinoid system. The chemical compounds, cannabinoids in marijuana are able to bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and across the body to produce changes in behavior, the immune system, and other body systems. More information on the endocannabinoid system and what it does can be found on the DocMJ blog.
To start, there are many studies that have shown an improvement in the quality of life of those with PD after using medical marijuana. For example, a 2017 study of forty people diagnosed with PD who had been given medical marijuana showed an improvement in pain relief, tremors, muscle stiffness, and sleep . Another study of twenty-two patients between 2011 and 2012 also showed an improvement in tremors, rigidity, and movement speed after taking medical marijuana .
PD has also been shown to affect the endocannabinoid system . In early stages on PD, likely before cell death and symptoms begin, cannabinoid receptor numbers begin to drop and become less sensitive. During the later stages of the disease, however, the receptor’s responses are upregulated. This has also been shown in animal models . These changes suggest a possible link between PD and the endocannabinoid system.
Another possible benefit of medical marijuana is that is has been shown to help protect neurons. The antioxidative properties of marijuana may provide a layer of defense from PD. It has also been shown that inflammation can play a role in the destruction of neurons in PD , and marijuana has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects .
However, it is important to note that these studies have not yet explicitly shown a mechanism by which marijuana can help PD. More studies are required to get a deeper and more complete understanding of how PD can be influenced by marijuana, as the body of research is still relatively small and often contradictory. While some studies, such as those previously mentioned, have shown promising results, others have shown both no change in symptoms  and worsened symptoms .
It is also important to keep the risks of medical marijuana in mind as well, especially for those with PD. Marijuana can slow reflexes, cause dizziness, and change mood and behavior. It is crucial to speak with a certified medical marijuana physician about any questions or possible problems you may have.
Medical marijuana may provide relief to those suffering from PD. While it is still unclear whether marijuana could yield a cure or perhaps even a preventative measure, many people with PD claim that marijuana can ease their symptoms and increase their quality of life. You must keep the pros and cons in mind, however, when considering medical marijuana, and as always speak with a doctor before undergoing any changes in medication.
If you live in Florida and are seeking a physician to talk with about medical marijuana, DocMJ is here to help! We offer a quick and simple eligibility survey, where you can find if you pre-qualify for a medical marijuana recommendation.