Can Weed Help Parkinson’s Disease?

If there’s one thing to know about Parkinson’s Disease (PD), it’s this: no one knows much about Parkinson’s Disease. Though the cause of this disease remains a mystery, cannabis is pioneering new areas of research. Studies show that may find some tremor relief in the endocannabinoid system. Even more miraculous, some research is showing that medical marijuana may even slow the progression of the disease. So does cannabis help Parkinson’s Disease?

Does cannabis help Parkinson’s Disease?

It may sound surprising, but using marijuana to ease tremors been done before. Two centuries ago.

That’s right. Doctors prescribed Cannabis Indica tincture to Parkinson’s patients in the 19th century. Long before scientists knew about dopamine and its effect on motor function, cannabis tinctures were given to patients to ease constant trembling. Though tinctures were once the norm, many patients now find that smoking the herb effectively calms tremors. The beautiful video above is a perfect example of this.

Modern day observational studies confirm the intuition of the 19th-century doctors and PD patients alike. In 2014, researchers at Tel Aviv University attempted to clear the air over some conflicting Parkinson’s research. So, they treated 22 patients at a motor disorder clinic with smoked cannabis in an observational study. They tested them prior to smoking to get a sense of their baseline performance. They then tested them again 30 minutes after cannabis treatment.

Parkinson’s and the endocannabinoid system

Observational studies only get you so much credit in the science world. While cannabis appears to improve Parkinson’s symptoms, how does the herb actually work? It’s a tough question and one that we’re only just beginning to understand. But, there is good evidence that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) may play a part in the development of PD. The ECS is the largest cell receptor system in our bodies.

The ECS is an incredibly large cell receptor system. When you consume cannabis, compounds called cannabinoids engage this network. This causes a cascade of effects. The endocannabinoid system regulates everything from our immune system and mobility, to our appetite, sleep, and memory. That’s a lot of ground to cover!

In a 2010 review of Parkinson’s studies, researchers confirmed that the ECS was affected as dopamine cells died. Dopamine is manufactured deep near the center of the brain. Surprisingly, there is a large concentration of endocannabinoid receptors in the basal ganglia. The basa ganglia is a region of the brain responsible for mobility, and it’s implicated in Parkinson’s Disease.

The CB1 receptor is most abundant in this region. The CB1 receptor is where marijuana’s psychoactive THC binds in the brain. Our bodies also produce natural chemicals that bind to these receptors. These chemicals are called endocannabinoids. As early as 2000, researchers found that levels of these chemicals skyrocket in those without the ability to move muscles.

These findings present strong evidence that a potential treatment for Parkinson’s might like somewhere in the endocannabinoid system.

This idea is supported by a 2011 study published by Spanish scientists at the Complutense University of Madrid. The authors tested the effects of THC on rats and mice affected with Parkinson’s-like motor diseases. The results were promising.

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Weed may limit the progression of the disease

THC not only inhibited the death of brain cells in rodents but eased Parkinson’s symptoms as well. But that’s only the beginning.

Research from 1998 found that both THC and non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) are neuroprotective. They are strong antioxidants, protecting neurons from damage and revitalizing aging and damaged brain cells. These neuroprotective properties mean that cannabinoids may be able to slow the progression of the disease.

A study published last year found that these nifty little plant chemicals improve a cell’s ability to get rid of toxins and waste products. This is crucial for Parkinson’s, in which neurotoxin buildup is thought to contribute to the condition. Cannabinoids help keep cells healthy via improved mitochondrial function. Mitochondria are the powerhouses and project managers inside your cells. Additional studies in animal models have found that cannabis reduces oxidative stress in brain cells, protecting them from damage and slowing neurodegeneration.

The neuroprotective properties of cannabis are even thought to help those with traumatic brain injuries. In a 2014 study, California researchers examined the mortality rates of those who had experienced a brain injury. They compared patients who had used cannabis after their injury to patients who had not. THC was associated with a greater likelihood of survival.

I don’t want to become intoxicated?

Research on psychoactive THC is compelling, but the mind-altering nature of the compound might be a turn-off for some patients. Fortunately, there’s another option.

A handful of studies have examined THC’s effect on Parkinson’s, but many researchers believe the chemical’s non-psychoactive sibling holds the key to safe and effective treatment. Scientists at the Complutense University of Madrid think that CBD is a great prospect for slowing down the disease. Like THC, CBD seems to put a damper on neurodegeneration.

Research from 2009 found that CBD can be helpful in treating psychosis associated with Parkinson’s. A more recent study published in December of 2015 found that CBD eliminated a neurotoxin thought to be a primary contributor in PD. The researchers also found that CBD prevented brain cell death and increased neuritogenesis. Neuritogenesis is the process of repairing damaged brain cells.

Regardless, CBD has been proven to improve the quality of life in Parkinson’s patients. Both THC and CBD are helpful at eliminating the pain and mental health issues faced by targets of this maddening disease. Yet, if you’re hoping to avoid the psychoactive nature of the plant, it looks like CBD is fairly potent on its own.

What if I don’t want to smoke?

The nice thing about medical cannabis? The herb now comes in a variety of forms. For those adverse to smoking or inhaling cannabis vapor, concentrated oil is a great option. Cannabis oils are the method of choice for parents giving pediatric cannabis to children. They are easy to consume, and you can simply put a dollop of oil in a capsule, under your tongue, or mixed into some food.

Cannabis oil was the method of choice for now-famous activist Rick Simpson, who applied the oil topically to rid himself of skin cancer. Amazed by the success of the oil, he was inspired to create the film Run From The Cure about his experience. Since that time, dozens of people with extreme medical conditions have Rick Simpson to thank for overhauling their health.

You can find both high-CBD and high-THC varieties of cannabis oil.

The summary

When it comes to treating Parkinson’s, patients don’t have a lot of options. There’s evidence that marijuana may be able to help, but scientists really aren’t sure exactly how or why. It’s up to you to decide which option works best for you.

Treatment for Parkinson’s is different for everyone. For some, procedures like Deep Brain Stimulation are the best options. Others may prefer a “nutritious vegetable extract.” What we do know is that marijuana shows some very promising signs in the world of PD medications. To close with some final words of wisdom from Mr. Fox, Parkinson’s:

…is a gift that keeps on taking, but it’s a gift. It’s really opened me up to being a more compassionate, curious, and risk-taking person.” After all, “whatever we have in our lives, we find ways to deal and move forward. -Fox

We can help those with the disease by making sure patients are informed of their options. We encourage you to send this article to someone who would appreciate this article.

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