Many of us have seen the astonishing videos on the internet showing Parkinson’s patients before and after taking cannabis. These anecdotal stories can seem like miracles.
The endocannabinoid system and digestive imbalance play major roles in Parkinson’s disease. Research on CBD, THC, and THCV has demonstrated that cannabis medicine may help to manage PD symptoms. The anecdotal evidence is strong, but the world certainly needs to see further studies in order to fully buy in.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Classed as a neurodegenerative disease of the central nervous system, Parkinson’s affects roughly 6 million people worldwide, most of whom are over 60. No one knows why it begins. There could be a genetic predisposition, while exposure to pesticides and serious head injuries are also stated as possible causes.
Symptoms come on slowly over time and are most commonly related to the motor system, such as shaking, rigidity, slowness of movement, or shuffling. But they can also be accompanied by cognitive and emotional disturbances, as well as difficulties sleeping.
In other words, your brain can no longer tell your body and limbs how to move. This turns out in many different ways for each person. Unfortunately, we still don’t know why this happens. And because we don’t know why it happens, there is not necessarily something we can do about it. We don’t have a treatment, and the options for relieving your symptoms are not ideal.
Here are some of the main symptoms you may experience with Parkinson’s disease:
- Shaking limbs and hands
- Hard-to-move, rigid muscles
- Sleep problems
- Muscle spasms
- The loss of your balance
- Dementia and memory loss
- You may also lose your cognitive function, and this may become progressively worse with time.
There is no cure, but there certainly are ways to make your life bearable despite your diagnosis.
What causes Parkinson’s?
One theory that is gaining favor among medical scientists traces the earliest signs of PD to the enteric nervous system (the gut), the medulla (the brainstem), and the olfactory bulb in the brain, which controls one’s sense of smell. New research shows that the quality of bacteria in the gut – the microbiome – is strongly implicated in the advancement of Parkinson’s, the severity of symptoms, and related mitochondrial dysfunction.
Defined as “the collection of all the microorganisms living in association with the human body,” the microbiome consists of “a variety of microorganisms including eukaryotes, archaea, bacteria and viruses.” Bacteria, both good and bad, influence mood, gut motility, and brain health. There is a strong connection between the microbiome and the endocannabinoid system: Gut microbiota modulate intestinal endocannabinoid tone, and endocannabinoid signaling mediates communication between the central and the enteric nervous systems, which comprise the gut-brain axis.
Viewed as “the second brain,” the enteric nervous system consists of a mesh-like web of neurons that covers the lining of the digestive tract – from mouth to anus and everything in between. The enteric nervous system generates neurotransmitters and nutrients, sends signals to the brain, and regulates gastrointestinal activity. It also plays a major role in inflammation.
The mix of microorganisms that inhabit the gut and the integrity of the gut lining are fundamental to overall health and the ability of the gut-brain axis to function properly. If the lining of the gut is weak or unhealthy, it becomes more permeable and allows things to get into the blood supply that should not be there, negatively impacting the immune system. This is referred to as “leaky gut.” Factor in an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and a paucity of beneficial bacteria and you have a recipe for a health disaster.
The importance of a beneficial bacteria in the gut and a well-balanced microbiome cannot be overstated. Bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, for example, has been associated with worsening PD motor function. In a 2017 article in the European Journal of Pharmacology, titled “The gut-brain axis in Parkinson’s disease: Possibilities for food-based therapies,” Peres-Pardo et al examine the interplay between gut dysbiosis and Parkinson’s. The authors note that “PD pathogenesis may be caused or exacerbated by dysbiotic microbiota-induced inflammatory responses … in the intestine and the brain.”(4)
So what can CBD do? If Parkinson’s disease has no cure, what’s the point in taking CBD? Don’t lose hope — keep reading. There is some good news in the mix.
How cannabinoid therpay may help Parkinson’s disease
It’s important that we take a look at the research behind CBD. What do the scientific studies show? What proof do we have about marijuana or the ways it could help ease the symptoms of an illness like Parkinson’s disease?
As more states are working toward legalizing marijuana, an increasing number of researchers are studying the effects of this substance on human health.
In a study published back in 2014, more than 20 participants who suffered from Parkinson’s disease experienced improvement in pain, sleep and tremors within just half an hour of smoking traditional marijuana.
Another 2012 study also revealed that active compounds found in marijuana, called cannabinoids, feature anti-inflammatory properties.
Scientists at the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky have identified a previously unknown molecular target of cannabidiol (CBD), which may have significant therapeutic implications for Parkinson’s Disease (PD).
A poster by Zhao-Hui Song and Alyssa S. Laun at the 2017 meeting of the International Cannabinoid Research Society in Montreal disclosed that CBD activates a G-coupled protein receptor called “GPR6” that is highly expressed in the basal ganglia region of the brain. GPR6 is considered an “orphan receptor” because researchers have yet to find the primary endogenous compound that binds to this receptor.(1)
It has been shown that a depletion of GPR6 causes an increase of dopamine, a critical neurotransmitter, in the brain. This finding suggests GPR6 could have a role in the treatment of Parkinson’s, a chronic, neurodegenerative disease that entails the progressive loss of dopaminergic (dopamine-producing) neurons and consequent impairment of motor control. By acting as an “inverse agonist” at the GPR6 receptor, CBD boosts dopamine levels in preclinical studies.
Parkinson’s affects an estimated 10 million people worldwide, including one million Americans. It is the second most common neurological disorder (after Alzheimer’s Disease). Over 96 percent of those diagnosed with PD are over 50 years old with men being one-and-a-half times more likely to have PD than women. Uncontrolled PD significantly reduces the patient’s quality of life and can render a person unable to care for themselves, trapped in a body they cannot control.
Lesser known cannabinoids show promise
Reducing inflammation is fundamental in the fight to slow down the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Scientists know that activating the CB2 receptors helps to reduce inflammation in the body. So they have turned their attentions to the lesser known cannabinoid, THCV, which has the unique ability to activate the CB2 receptors while blocking CB1 receptors, as well as also being a powerful antioxidant.
A study carried out on animal models with Parkinson’s disease at the Complutense University in Madrid found that administering THCV lessened motor inhibition, reduced brain cell damage from toxins and protected certain neurones. The authors concluded that “THCV has a promising pharmacological profile for delaying disease progression in PD and also for ameliorating parkinsonian symptoms.”
It’s Been Used Before…
In the 1800s, physicians gave to Parkinson’s disease patients prescriptions for the Cannabis Indica tincture. This substance helped to ease their nonstop trembling. It helped to get them to sleep so that they could ease into a state of restfulness and allow their bodies to repair and heal themselves.
Doctors back then didn’t understand dopamine like we do today. But they did know one thing.
Lifestyle Modifications for PD Patients
It is important to treat the patient as a whole – mind, body and soul. The following are a few lifestyle modifications that may provide relief from PD symptoms and improve quality of life.
- Do cardio aerobic exercise: This benefits the body in so many ways, including stimulating the production of one’s endocannabinoids, increasing oxygen in the blood supply, mitigating the negative impact of oxidative stress, and boosting the production of BDNF, a brain-protecting chemical found to be low in PD patients.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables: The old saying “garbage in, garbage out” is so true. The majority of PD patients suffer from chronic constipation. A high fiber diet can be helpful in improving gut motility and facilitating daily bowel movements.
- Get restful sleep: Not getting good sleep can undermine one’s immune function, cognition and quality of life. The importance of adequate restful sleep cannot be over emphasized.
- Reduce protein intake – This may help reduce the accumulation of protein bodies that result in Lewy bodies that appear in the enteric nervous system and the central nervous system and increase the uptake of L-dopa.
- Practice meditation, yoga or Tai Chi: The focus on the integration of movement and breath not only improve mobility but it also improves cognition and immunity. One study showed an increase in grey matter density in the areas of the brain associated with PD. Another showed that yoga improved balance, flexibility, posture and gait in PD patients. Research shows that tai chi can improve balance, gait, functional mobility, and overall well being.
- Consume probiotic food and supplements: Probiotic foods — raw garlic, raw onions, bananas, asparagus, yams, sauerkraut, etc.— are a great source for the good bacteria in your large intestine. Augmenting your diet with probiotic supplements, especially after taking antibiotics, can support the immune system by helping to repopulate the upper digestive tract with beneficial bacteria. Consult your doctor regarding a recommendation for a quality probiotic.
- Drink coffee: The risk of PD is considerably lower for men who consume coffee daily.