How Medical Marijuana Can Help Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating condition that affects millions of people worldwide. In the United States, there are approximately 500,000 patients that have been diagnosed with the neurodegenerative condition. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, in 2023, there may be as many as 1 million Americans affected by Parkinson’s disease.
There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, and the therapeutic focus remains on helping patients cope with symptoms through every stage of progression. One option to help treat Parkinson’s symptoms is doctor-supervised medical marijuana use.
Suppose you are a patient receiving Parkinson’s treatment or a caregiver. In that case, there is much to learn about the disease and how it impacts the central nervous system and immune system functioning. The function of the endocannabinoid system plays a big part in symptom management for all neurodegenerative disorders.
This means that medical marijuana could be one of the treatment options worth exploring to help provide relief of pain, anxiety, muscle spasms, and other symptoms. Schedule your appointment with our marijuana doctor in Georgia and explore other states where DocMJ provides medical card evaluation services.
When Was Parkinson’s Disease Discovered?
An English physician named James Parkinson was the first to document the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease in 1817. Dr. Parkinson wrote “An Essay on the Shaking Palsy,” which led to Parkinson’s disease being recognized as a diagnosed medical condition.
A French Neurologist named Jean Martin Charco furthered interest and research into Parkinson’s disease sixty years later. Charco named the condition after Dr. Parkinson while developing two stages of Parkinson’s disease: tremor and rigidity.
In the 1880s, another physician named William Gowers wrote “Manual of Diseases of the Nervous System,” which included case studies of eighty (80) patients he treated who were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Understanding Parkinson’s Disease: A Brief Overview
When people think of Parkinson’s disease, some associate it with one symptom: dementia. Cognitive decline is one of many different stages of the neurological disorder. Parkison’s begins with the loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain (substantial nigra area). Dopamine is responsible for coordinated muscle movements and mood regulation.
For patients living with Parkinson’s disease, one of the first signs is rhythmic shaking movements in the hand, progressing to other extremities over time. Muscle rigidity develops, creating movement disorders and making coordinated muscle control more difficult (bradykinesia) and slower. This can develop into problems with posture, balance, and a shuffling gait when walking as the disease progresses.
Muscle impairment increases as the condition progresses. This leads to problems with digestion, bowel movements, swallowing, and major organ functioning is also compromised over time. Irritability, anger, depression, and anxiety can develop as a result of declining dopamine levels in brain cells.
Causes and Risk Factors for Parkinson’s Disease
Researchers are still not sure about the exact cause of Parkinson’s disease. However, clinical studies suggest that it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Mutations in the SNCA, LRRK2, and Parkin have been linked to hereditary causes of Parkinson’s disease.
Exposure to certain environmental toxins and chemicals may also cause Parkinson’s disease. Industrial chemicals like pesticides and herbicides like paraquat and rotenone have been linked to the development of Parkinson’s. There are higher rates of Parkinson’s disease diagnoses in urban communities, where exposure to agricultural chemicals may cause increased risk.
Parkinson’s disease is more often diagnosed in patients over the age of sixty (60) years, and men are more likely to develop the condition than women. Researchers are unsure why the prevalence is higher in men, but it may be related to occupations and jobs that expose patients to industrial chemicals.
Some other suspected risk factors for Parkinson’s disease include:
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI).
- Hormonal factors.
- Changes in gut microbiome and gastrointestinal health.
Some studies suggest that patients who smoke tobacco or consume high levels of caffeine may have lower risks of developing Parkinson’s disease. However, in the case of tobacco use, the health risks significantly outweigh the benefits.
What Are The Stages and Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?
There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, and patients who are diagnosed with the condition will progress through five different stages of development and symptoms of impairment. Some people may advance more slowly or quickly through each of the five stages, experiencing the adverse effects of Parkinson’s disease at different rates of progression.
The five stages of Parkinson’s are marked by the symptoms that develop, the severity of impairment through the peripheral nervous system, and the presence of cognitive decline.
Stage 1 (Early)
Mild symptoms are experienced in stage one of Parkinson disease, and they may not be noticed right away by the patient or family members. Symptoms can include small tremors in hands or feet and stiffness, usually isolated to one side of the body.
Stage 2 (Moderate)
Symptoms become more noticeable in stage two of Parkinson’s disease, and both sides of the body are typically affected. Patients may experience bradykinesia (slow movement), increased tremors, and muscle stiffness. The majority of patients are formally diagnosed at this stage of the disease, and medications that supplement dopamine are often prescribed to slow symptom progression.
Stage 3 (Mid-Stage)
At this stage, motor impairments become very evident and are significant. Balance issues and falling incidents are common, and patients may require mobility aids (walker, cane, or wheelchair). Some independent activities of self-care, such as bathing, may be compromised, and the patient will need assistance.
Stage 4 (Advanced Stage)
Muscle rigidity and bradykinesia are prominent at stage four of Parkinson’s disease, which results in severe motor functioning impairment. Assistance is required for activities of daily living, and in stage four, patients experience quality-of-life challenges due to an inability to provide independent self-care.
Stage 5 (Severe)
Patients with end-stage Parkinson’s disease can experience severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. The immune system is compromised, and they are more susceptible to infections. Agitation of Parkinson’s disease refers to the emotional and cognitive decline and onset of dementia. The patient may also experience states of paranoia and hallucinations.
People who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease aged 60 years or older have an average lifespan of sixteen (16) years post-diagnosis. However, patients who are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease early (around age thirty) have lived up to forty (40) years with the disease.
The Search for Effective Symptom Management
For patients living with the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, exploring different methods of managing symptoms is the priority. Muscle spasms and rigidity caused by increased inflammation result in chronic pain symptoms. Nerve cells are also impacted, which causes neuropathy, particularly in hands, arms, feet and legs.
Pain relief for people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease can be difficult because of the neurological sources of discomfort. Reducing muscle spasms is another therapeutic goal, as well as managing mental health needs to address symptoms of depression, anxiety, or agitation of Parkinson’s disease.
Cannabis Safety and Side Effect Considerations for Patients
There are many different medications that can be prescribed for PD symptoms. Levodopa is the most common medication provided to help with slow movement and muscle rigidity. The compounds in Levodopa are changed to dopamine in brain cells to help offset the effects of declining dopamine production. A side effect that some patients experience is Levodopa-induced dyskinesia.
Some medications that are commonly used for symptom management may conflict with Parkinson’s disease prescriptions, including:
- Chlorpromazine (Largactil).
- Gluphenazine (Modecate).
- Perphenazine (Fentazin/Triptafen).
- Haloperidol (Serenace/Haldol).
Several clinical studies suggest medical cannabis may be one of the effective treatment options considered by patients with Parkinson’s disease. In “Pros and Cons of Marijuana in Treatment of Parkinson’s Disease,” the researchers stated that:
“Marijuana not only improves motor and non-motor activities, but also has neuroprotective properties, and helps in improving symptoms of PD as well as delaying its progression.”
When completing a medical cannabis health check, prescription medications are reviewed for conflicts, and a treatment plan with symptom management goals can be created with the cannabis healthcare provider.
Can I Get a Medical Marijuana Card for Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s disease is an accepted qualifying health condition that can make a patient eligible for doctor-supervised medical marijuana. Because of the degenerative nature of the disease, combined with the chronic neuropathic pain symptoms, most patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease are approved for a medical card.
Dr. Rothman is a diplomate of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. He has received multiple special awards and recognitions, including Physician of the Year, from the Pinellas County Medical Association (2014 – 2015) and the President’s Service Award from the Pinellas County Medical Society.
He attended medical school at State University of New York Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, New York, where he also completed his Obstetrics and Gynecology residency. In addition to practicing medicine, Dr. Rothman’s professional career includes being an Assistant Professor at the University of South Florida and Clinical Instructor at the University of Tampa’s College of Nursing.
Dr. Rothman received his Florida Medical Marijuana Physicians Certification in 2016 and was one of the first recommending physicians through DocMJ in the state and is loved by many of those early patients today.