HomeMedicineThe five greatest benefits of cannabis for Parkinson’s disease.
December 16, 2020
The five greatest benefits of cannabis for Parkinson’s disease.
Self-medication with cannabis is becoming increasingly popular among Parkinson’s patients. In fact, scientific research started the spread of self-medication. The results are conflicting, but overall, many patients report relief of various symptoms after using medical cannabis.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the central nervous system, causing the destruction of dopamine-producing cells in an area of the brain known as the substantia nigra. Usually, motor functions are affected first, and cognitive degeneration, dementia and depression can also occur in the further course of the disease. Anecdotes about successful self-medication have inspired research on the use of cannabinoids in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Many users have reported using cannabis oil as a treatment for Parkinson’s symptoms, and as this information has made its way into the scientific community, more research has been done on the effects of THC and CBD on Parkinson’s symptoms.
What is Parkinson’s disease?
One of the main symptoms of Parkinson’s disease is deterioration in motor skills, which can be divided into three main symptoms: involuntary shaking of body parts (tremors), slow movement, and muscle stiffness. Tremor is by far the most prominent and well-known of the motor symptoms, but there are many other specific motor symptoms that patients may experience.
In addition to movement symptoms, there are also neuropsychiatric symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, which can include impairment of certain cognitive functions, mood disorders, or behavioral disorders. These disorders manifest mainly in the form of problems with concentration, memory, speech, and visual skills. A gradual decline in cognitive ability can lead to a much more severe form of dementia in the long term.
Since the 1970s, stimulated by frequent reports of self-medicating patients, the scientific community has been able to focus its research on cannabinoids for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. The number of studies conducted on this topic remains relatively small, despite recent renewed efforts in this direction due to the frequency of cases reported by patients with Parkinson’s disease.
1. Cannabis can be antidyskinetic.
Dyskinesia is a common symptom of Parkinson’s disease. This term refers to involuntary muscle movements. Symptoms can manifest as uncontrolled twitching or tremors, resulting in extremely slow (or even complete absence) movement.
Patients with Parkinson’s disease who are treated for a long time with levodopa (a natural precursor of dopamine that increases dopamine levels in the brain) may develop a specific form called levodopa-induced dyskinesia. This form can lead to chorea (“dancing” movements of the legs and arms), dystonia (constant muscle contractions that lead to curvature, poor posture), ballism, myoclonus, or a combination of both.
Cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system are located close to each other. They are connected in a region of the substantia nigra called pars reticula, which is essentially involved in the transmission of dopamine signals to the striatum of the basal ganglia. The area of the basal ganglia is primarily responsible for the regulation of voluntary motor activity. Cannabinoid receptors are also found in large numbers in the basal ganglia themselves. The natural transfer of endocannabinoids is believed to play a role in these fundamental and related processes. Various studies have shown that the use of cannabinoid receptors by administration of exogenous cannabinoids can help reduce levodopa-induced dyskinesia and other movement disorders in patients with Parkinson’s disease. A 2002 study on non-human primates found this to be true, as did a 2007 rat study using the synthetic agonist WIN 55,212-2.
However, human studies have not yet yielded results. A small clinical study of seventeen people conducted in the UK in 2004 found that there was no objective or subjective improvement in dyskinesia (caused by levodopa). In contrast, a 2014 observational study in 22 patients showed improvements in tremor, stiffness, and bradykinesia (slow movements).
2. Cannabis to combat apoptosis.
Abnormal apoptosis of dopamine-producing neurons in the compact part (another large part of the substantia nigra) is believed to be the main mechanism underlying Parkinson’s disease. It is not known exactly how and why this phenomenon occurs, but it has been repeatedly shown that treatment with dopamine receptor agonists can have a beneficial effect, since they compensate for the loss of neurons by stimulating the rest of dopamine production.
The endocannabinoid system is known to be actively involved in the regulation of natural processes of apoptosis, a form of controlled cell death that is an integral part of normal metabolic function. In some cases, cannabinoids have been shown to induce apoptosis (for example, in various types of cancer), but there is also evidence that they may have a protective effect and reduce the excessive rate of apoptosis in certain diseases.
It is believed that Parkinson’s disease may occur due to the presence of a compound called oxidopamine, which differs slightly in structure from dopamine as it also contains a hydroxyl (-OH) group. Its structural similarity allows it to be transported into the compact part via the dopamine reuptake transporter, after which it deliberately destroys dopaminergic (dopamine-producing) neurons.
A study published in 2005 showed that administration of oxidopamine to the brains of mice significantly reduced dopamine levels and that administration of delta-9-THC, CBD, and the non-selective synthetic cannabinoid HU-210 had sustained neuroprotective effects.
The fact that CBD had such an effect suggests that the mechanism is based on CB2 receptors (since CBD has little affinity for the CB1 receptor), which mediate the anti-inflammatory effects of the compounds and protect cells from excessive apoptosis.
3. Cannabis as a sleeping pill.
Patients with Parkinson’s disease often have sleep problems that can negatively affect the immune system and limit the patient’s ability to fight the progression of the disease. The disease usually affects the elderly, who often suffer from insomnia, even if they are not patients with Parkinson’s disease.
In fact, insomnia in Parkinson’s disease often differs from typical age-related insomnia. Parkinson’s patients usually do not fall asleep, but it is very difficult for them to sleep through the night and in the meantime to fall asleep again after waking up. Some patients report increased frequency of nightmares and overly vivid dreams, and some also report excessive daytime sleepiness.
Cannabis is known to cause fatigue and has been used for this purpose in various cultures since ancient times. In addition, one of the main symptoms of cannabis withdrawal in drug addicts is insomnia. Both delta-9-THC and CBD are thought to play a role in regulating sleep. CBD is thought to specifically induce sleep, while delta-9-THC induces residual sedation (i.e., feeling sleepy upon waking). While these effects of THC can be harmful for people with excessive daytime sleepiness, they can help people who have trouble sleeping at night to fall asleep again.
4. Cannabis has antidepressant properties.
Up to 50 percent of people with Parkinson’s disease have symptoms of depression, which can negatively affect the progression of the disease in various ways. It is believed that there is a genetic predisposition to depression in people with Parkinson’s disease. Polymorphism in the CNR1 gene, which encodes CB1 receptors, may play a fundamental role.
A study published in the journal Nature in 2005 showed that people with a certain polymorphism, which consists of two long-chain alleles in the CNR1 gene, are less likely to develop depression as a symptom of Parkinson’s disease. It was also found that patients with sedentary Parkinson’s disease (rigidity and loss of movement) were more likely than patients with Parkinson’s tremor or mixed types.
In addition, various studies have shown that depression is often accompanied by changes in the levels of endogenous cannabinoids such as anandamide and 2-AG in the prefrontal cortex, an area that is actively involved in mood regulation and decision making.
Although more research is needed to determine the exact relationship between Parkinson’s disease, CNR1 expression and depression, there is clear therapeutic potential in manipulating the endocannabinoid system to reduce the symptoms of depression in patients with Parkinson’s disease.
5. Cannabis as a pain reliever.
The discovery of pain as a symptom of Parkinson’s disease is relatively recent. Although musculoskeletal pain is the most common form, accounting for 40 to 90 percent of reported cases, it has not yet been strongly associated with the disease. This pain is often so severe that it outweighs other symptoms in severity and can cause long-term psychological effects such as depression and anxiety.
Pain can be a direct result of movement disorders, such as pain resulting from persistent muscle stiffness, or even pain associated with dystonia, posture problems and, less commonly, directly in the cervical region.
This 2012 study, published in the Journal of Pain, looked at twelve different genes known to be implicated in pain overall in a group of 229 Parkinson’s patients. The researchers then discovered that these genes respond to pain in recognizable ways. In particular, FAAH has been linked to pain in Parkinson’s disease, which is interesting because FAAH is an enzyme that metabolizes endogenous cannabinoids, including anandamide.
The researchers recommended further research to optimize possible treatments based on individual patient gene mapping characteristics.
At this point, modern science can only confirm that more research is definitely needed to treat Parkinson’s disease with cannabinoids. Most preclinical studies suggest the potential of cannabis and warrant more research in this area.