Could Cannabis Help Parkinson's Disease Patients?
Parkinson’s Disease is a debilitating condition, and one that needs an answer quickly. Scientists are now investigating whether cannabis could hold a potential for treatment.
Parkinson’s Disease (PD), is the contemporary name for a degenerative brain disease that has been recorded by humans since the dawn of written history. In ancient India, the practitioners of the medical system Ayurveda called it Kampavada. In 175 AD, it was recorded by Galen of Pergamon, the prominent Greek surgeon and philosopher, as "The Shaking Palsy ". In 1817, London physician Dr. James Parkinson wrote "An Essay on the Shaking Palsy," detailing a condition he observed in several of his patients and local acquaintances. Towards the end of the century, following the extensive scientific investigation, neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot acknowledged the importance of Parkinson’s work and named the condition after him. Long have we battled this disease, with modern treatments being less than ideal. Some scientists now believe cannabis could help, and are actively investigating its potential.
First, let’s take a look at the disease itself.
WHAT IS PARKINSON’S DISEASE?
A chronic and progressive movement disorder that generally affects older persons, PD involves the malfunction and death of vital nerve cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. Some of these dying neurons produce dopamine, a hormone the brain uses to communicate with other parts of the brain that control movement and coordination. The damage caused affects motor skills, making it hard to function. Over time, there are more neuronal deaths, meaning less dopamine is being produced, and the condition worsens.
The specific symptoms vary from person to person but the primary indicators are:
• Tremors of the hands, arms, legs, the jaw and face
• Bradykinesia or slowness and unsureness of movement
• Rigidity and stiffness in the limbs
• Postural instability or poor balance and coordination
There are also non-motor symptoms caused by the build-up of clumps of the protein alpha-synuclein in the olfactory bulbs and brain stem, which affect sleep regulation and the sense of smell.
There is no known cause for PD and no cure. After years of intensive study, pharmaceutical drugs like Levodopa have been developed. These drugs can help manage the condition, but not reverse the severity of some of the symptoms. Unfortunately, the long-term use of Levodopa and similar types of pharmaceuticals can lead to side effects such as dyskinesia, loss of appetite and sleeplessness.
CANNABIS AND PARKINSON’S DISEASE
It is worth noting, in-depth clinical studies are still yet to be carried out to assess the therapeutic effects of cannabis compounds on PD sufferers. However, there is a large body of pre-clinical evidence voluntarily supplied by PD sufferers who use cannabis. For example, 45.9% of the cannabis users afflicted with PD reported some form of beneficial effect from using marijuana when answering a questionnaire at the Prague Movement Disorder Centre in 2004.
These benefits included reduction of resting tremor, alleviation of bradykinesia and Levodopa induced dyskinesia, stimulation of appetite, and also imbued sleep.
Other research has looked to broach the observable clinical effects of cannabis in patients already using medical cannabis. 17 PD sufferers were observed by a team of researchers to assess how cannabis use affected the symptoms of PD. It was found that cannabis use significantly improved motor skills, as well as reduced perceived pain, 30 minutes after cannabis use. This research was much too small scale to be considered definitive; however, it does lay the ground work for much more in-depth research.
There is still much to learn about the complexities of the brain, and about the medical effects of cannabis. There is existing scientific evidence that indicates that cannabinoids have an important role to play in neural health in both prevention and treatment of degenerative brain disorders, like PD.
It is not farfetched to think that cannabis can play a positive role in the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease. The region of the brain that PD affects is swarming with cannabinoid receptors. Other disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s Disease have been shown to be benefited by the introduction of exogenous cannabinoids.
The development of treatments to slow or halt Parkinson’s Disease is imperative to alleviate the suffering of patients. More research is surely on the cards. It is only a matter of time before the true potentials of cannabis are documented in thorough clinical trials.