How Cannabis Helps Treat Parkinson’s Disease

At its heart, Parkinson’s disease remains a mystery. We understand how it behaves and progresses, but no one yet knows the cause, nor how to prevent it. Parkinson’s usually begins with a slight tremor. Over time it develops to cause stiffness and and slowing of movement. Ultimately, it can reduce mental capacity and shorten life.

One thing we do know is that Parkinson’s causes dopamine-producing brain cells to stop functioning and to deteriorate. It is the cessation of dopamine production that causes the tremors, rigidity, spasms, problems with sleeping and balance, and in some cases, memory loss and dementia.

Well-known actor and advocate Michael J. Fox has suffered from Parkinson’s for more than two decades. In an interview with CNN Chief Medical Advisor, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Fox explains:

It’s that stuff that fires to tell you to pick up a glass. It’s firing to tell me that something is required of me, and my mind can’t tell my brain what it is.

When Fox is still, he can keep his tremors under control. But when he begins to reach for a glass, his whole body begins moving in an attempt to respond to the stimulus. He says:

By the time my pinky started twitching, 80% of the dopamine cells were already dead.

There are medications that treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s. As time goes by, however, they become less effective. One promising new development is the use of cannabis as a treatment for Parkinson’s. Interestingly, doctors sometimes gave Cannabis Indica tincture to patients during the 19th century, long before anyone knew about dopamine.

Modern observational studies confirm that cannabis is effective with Parkinson’s. In a 2014 study, scientists at Tel Aviv University treated 22 patients at a motor disorder clinic, by having them smoke cannabis. First they established a baseline performance prior to smoking, then 30 minutes afterwards they tested them again.

Results were measured on the Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale, which takes into consideration a wide variety of factors, including:

Evaluation of behavior, mood, and mental activities
Evaluation of speech, handwriting, dressing, hygiene, and other daily activities
Motor skills
Severity of Parkinson’s
Therapy complications

Pain and sleep quality were also evaluated. After smoking cannabis, patients exhibited significant improvement in motor abilities. Tremor, rigidity, and bradykinesia (slow movement) were all better. The subjects also reported improvements in sleep and pain levels.

If you are interested in using cannabis for Parkinson’s, but don’t want to smoke marijuana or to alter your consciousness, there is another option. THC is the chemical in cannabis responsible for its positive effects on the disease. Researchers believe marijuana’s non-psychoactive relative, known as CBD, may also provide an effective treatment. Like THC, CBD also halts neurodegeneration, and one study found it helped to repair damaged brain cells.

Medical cannabis is now available in a variety of forms, including an inhaled vapor and an oil. The oil can be put in a capsule, under the tongue, or mixed with food. Both high-CBD and high-THC varieties of cannabis oil are available in the states that permit medical marijuana.