CBD and Cannabis: A Natural Treatment For Parkinson’s Disease

A natural treatment for Parkinson's Disease, CBD and medical cannabis

Image Credit: By molekuul_be on Shutterstock

Parkinson’s disease is a gradual declension of the nerve cells in the part of the brain that controls movement. It mostly affects seniors, but it can develop in younger adults as well. Nothing about this illness is merciful. From the trembling hands to the feelings of weakness to depression; Parkinson’s is not for the faint of heart. Perhaps one of the most well-known sufferers of Parkinson’s disease is the actor Michael J. Fox. Known for his humor and lightheartedness, Fox strives to continue seeing life through rose-colored glasses despite suffering from an oftentimes debilitating disease. Fox has been quoted saying:

I don’t have any choice whether or not I have Parkinson’s, but surrounding that non-choice is a million other choices that I can make

With this outlook in mind, Fox has started the Michael J. Fox Foundation, which is dedicated to researching and finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease. There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s, and certain treatments can only keep the symptoms at bay for some patients, but not all. Cannabis and CBD could revolutionize Parkinson’s treatments and offer far superior results for many who are suffering. As Michael J. Fox says, having Parkinson’s disease is certainly not a choice for anyone; it is simply an inevitable fact of life for those who have the disease. The choice of treatment should not be so limited. Cannabis has worked in treating Parkinson’s disease symptoms. The research is available to prove it. What we need to do now is buck up, put the negative stigma of marijuana behind us, and open our eyes to what could be the next best thing for Parkinson’s disease.

A Day In the Life with Parkinson’s

Picture this: It’s morning time. You wake up, take a shower, grab a cup of coffee, eat breakfast, maybe read the paper, and head off to work. You don’t really take a second thought when you’re doing most of these tasks and so many things you simply do out of habit. This is a typical morning routine for many of us. Now let’s take this same routine, but replace you with the Parkinson patient who is just waking up. They are tired from tossing and turning during the night. Thrashing during dreaming is a common occurrence with Parkinson’s disease. They get up stiff and sore. They wonder if their day will be a good one or a bad one; it’s always hard to tell.

They give themselves ample time to get dress and ready, as it takes much longer than it did before the disease struck. They choose carefully what they’ll wear, making sure that buttons, zippers, and laces are scarce from their wardrobe. Brushing their teeth and hair, taking a shower, shaving or putting on makeup: all of these things take up ample time and energy, but at least they can do it, for now.

Picking up the paper to read might be a little harder to manage, and reading it can take up cognitive supply, which is scarce for the patient these days. Work is most likely not an option, as the mental space is just too limited for that now. Parkinson’s disease isn’t just about tremors and shakes. Being able to write anything without shaking isn’t the only thing that this disease affects. Not by a long shot. Simple things like buttoning a button or remembering when to do what becomes nearly impossible as cognition is a primary victim of Parkinson’s disease.

However, Parkinson’s doesn’t start off strong. It starts subtly, and grows from there. The very first signs of this disease can often be barely detectable—maybe a little weakness or stiffness, or a slight shaking in one hand. Nothing seems to be cause for alarm at first. However, eventually, these symptoms worsen and spread. Sooner or later that small tremor will become very noticeable and the muscles will become stiffer. Balance will begin to be affected and coordination will start to fail. Once the disease gains momentum, depression and other mental issues will start to present themselves as well.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s are many, and medications can begin to add up as the different effects of Parkinson’s appear.

Prescribed Medications Include

Cholinesterase Inhibitors: These drugs help to treat thinking changes in Alzheimer’s. They can also help with dementia in Parkinson’s patients.

Antipsychotic Drugs: This is a treatment consideration for those who have behavioral symptoms like the ones that occur in Alzheimer’s patients. These drugs should be used with extreme caution as serious side effects may occur. Some side effects may include impaired swallowing, hallucinations, acute confusion and the worsening of Parkinson’s diseases symptoms as a whole.

L-DOPA: These drugs are often prescribed to increase dopamine levels. However, these drugs can come with harsh side effects that are similar to antipsychotic drugs.

Antidepressants: Depression is a common symptom of Parkinson’s and antidepressants may be considered. The most commonly used antidepressants for Parkinson’s are serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

Clonazepam: This is used to help REM sleep disorder. Instead of immediately sedating, it has longer lasting effects.

To better understand the life of a Parkinson’s patient, read Helping Your Loved One Manage Parkinson’s Disease.

Developing Parkinson’s Disease

Developing Parkinson’s disease is a relatively slow process with varying symptoms. As noted above, though this disease hits mostly those between the ages of 50 and 65, it doesn’t mean that younger adults cannot develop the disease. There are several known causes of Parkinson’s, and sometimes it can even come down to genetics.

Other Causes Include:

  • Viral Infection
  • Environmental Ioxins
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Metal Manganese
  • A Negative Reaction To Prescription Drugs
  • Stroke
  • Thyroid Disorders
  • Brain Tumor
  • Multiple Head Traumas
  • Encephalitis
  • Hydrocephalitis

However, the majority of cases have causes that are unknown. What is known is that Parkinson’s affects a part of the brain called the basal ganglia. The cells in this region need to be controlled to have a proper balance of two chemicals called dopamine and acetylcholine. If these levels are out of balance, such as with Parkinson’s disease, it causes some abnormal brain activity. Many of the symptoms of Parkinson’s have a decrease in dopamine to blame. If dopamine levels in the brain decrease, this can lead to Parkinson’s. Some other changes in the brain happen when Parkinson’s is present. The main change that occurs is:

The presence of Lewey bodies: These are protein deposits called alpha-synuclein. When these proteins affect the certain chemicals in the brain, it can lead to issues such as problems with thinking.

Along with Parkinson’s symptoms being difficult to live with, they are also unpredictable. This is no ordinary disease, and it doesn’t exactly play by the rules. Sometimes, when considering how this disease will progress, it’s hard to tell what might happen. Two collections of symptoms will possibly occur, however. This includes movement complications such as tumors and rigid muscles. The other collection of symptoms are not motor-skill related and are things like pain, loss of smell and dementia. One Parkinson’s case is not like the other. Some people may have relatively mild tremors, but will be hit hard with dementia. Others may have no problems with thinking, but have intense tremors. Some may get hit with the mother load and suffer from all of the above.

This is one reason that Parkinson’s is such a difficult disease to pin down: it can be very fickle to treat. The specific complications that you may experience with Parkinson’s disease may vary, but often include:

  • Sleep Problems: Parkinson’s disease can have an effect on sleep patterns, and lead to many common problems such as insomnia, daytime sleepiness, restless leg syndrome, nocturne, and sleep apnea. Another issue some deal with is REM sleep behavior disorder. In this disorder, instead of just the eyes moving during the REM cycle, the whole body will act out dreams while sleeping. This can be a danger to the Parkinson’s patient and those around him as thrashing or sleepwalking can occur.
  • Problems with Thinking: Dementia and difficulties thinking are often experienced with Parkinson’s disease. This usually happens during the later stages of Parkinson’s and medications are often ineffective.
  • Urinary Problems: Bladder problems can be either the inability to control urination or finding urination difficult.
  • Constipation: Constipation may be experienced during Parkinson’s mostly due to a slower digestive tract.
  • Depression and Personality changes: Emotional changes may become a challenge with Parkinson’s disease. These changes often include depression, anxiety, low motivation and fear. These are usually managed with medication.
  • Swallowing Problems (Dysphagia): As the disease progresses, swallowing issues can occur, which can lead to drooling.
  • Problems with Sense of Smell: Some may find that they have difficulties identifying smells and being able to differentiate between different smells.
  • Fatigue: Loss of energy is common with this disease, though the cause is sometimes unknown.
  • Pain: Many experience pain in certain areas or all throughout their bodies.
  • Sexual Dysfunction: Sexual desire and performance can decrease in Parkinson’s patients.
  • Blood Pressure Change: Orthostatic hypotension or a sudden drop in blood pressure will sometimes be present. Dizziness or lightheadedness while standing up is often experienced when this happens.

In the early stages of Parkinson’s disease these common symptoms do not always occur, or if they do the severity is lower than in the late stages. They can be a nuisance, but everyday tasks are still achievable. With motor-related symptoms they usually start out small with perhaps a slight tremor of the hand. This is usually on one side of the body. Heavy feeling legs, posture change, stiffness in the arms or legs and the inability to make certain facial expressions are relatively mild symptoms in the beginning stages of Parkinson’s disease.

Within 3 to 7 years more motor changes may appear such as changes in speech, freezing while walking, trouble swallowing and falling. Depending on the age of the Parkinson’s patient, a more advanced stage may not ever be reached. During the last stage patients are likely to be limited to a wheelchair and won’t be able to live on their own.

Along with motor issues, non-motor issues can occur. In the early stages, this could include trouble sleeping, pain, loss of smell, depression and constipation. Thinking may become difficult as well.

During the later stages, Parkinson’s could take an even bigger toll on mental health. Psychosis and dementia can both show up as Parkinson’s progresses.

Because there is no cure for Parkinson’s, the best that doctors can do at this point is simply treat the symptoms. These treatments may include medications that help to increase dopamine such as MAO-B inhibitors, Levodopa, Mirapex and COMT inhibitors. A healthy diet and exercise could also be recommended to keep symptoms in check.

Surgery could be the last resort for some of Parkinson’s disease. This surgery involves deep brain stimulation by implanting electrodes into the globus, pallidus, thalamus or subthalamic nucleus parts of the brain. Electrical impulses stimulate the brain tissue to help with tremors, rigidity and slow movements. Though this can help with symptoms of the disease, it cannot stop it from progressing.

These medications are often very aggressive and come with some very serious side effects, and surgery is invasive and dangerous.

What if there were another choice?

Cannabis has been successfully used to treat Parkinson’s. Researching the benefits of cannabis and CBD in the treatment of Parkinson’s has opened a lot of doors, and could be the next best treatment for the disease.

For more information on the effects of Parkinson’s read Parkinson’s Could Increasingly Affect Your Daily Life.

A New and Emerging Medicine: Cannabis and CBD

CBD is a newly emerging medicine that is derived from the cannabis plant, but what exactly is CBD?

Cannabidiol or CBD, is one of the 85 chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. Unlike the more popular property of marijuana compound, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, CBD does not have the ability to make its user high. This makes CBD much more desirable in medical situations, as many people want the medicinal effects without the psychotropics stimulant.

CBD has gone through numerous trials and studies for many health benefits. These studies include those for inflammation, anxiety, seizures, depression, drug-related withdrawals and even cancer. Also, unlike THC, evidence has shown that even in high doses, CBD proves to be safe of any adverse neurological reactions for most people.

Taking advantage of the medicinal properties of cannabis isn’t a new idea. In fact, it’s an ancient one.

Cannabis has been seen as a medicine for years, even centuries. The Chinese, Indians, Romans, and the Anglos all have history of using marijuana. Cannabis residue was even detected in vessels discovered from ancient Judea and Egypt. As recently as the 1900s, cannabis was prescribed for conditions of the lungs and loss of appetite. It wasn’t until 1906 when Theodore Roosevelt started the ball rolling on regulating medicines the cannabis began its descent from the medical world.

A list of medicinal substances to be regulated was created and cannabis indica was among them. Shortly after in 1910 (around the time that prohibition made its debut) states began to outlaw cannabis. Until then, it was confidently used in medicines. Most of what was available back then were products high in THC, and therefore they were psychotropic. It is the cannabinoid THC that has made cannabis a target for lawmakers. We are now more aware that there are other compounds in the cannabis plant and know that THC is just one of many important cannabinoids within the plant. One of those cannabinoids is cannabidiol. Since CBD does not produce a high, it could be a much safer option for a cannabis medicine. Its medicinal properties are not few, especially when considering the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

How Does CBD Work In The Brain?

When a cannabinoid enters the brain, be it THC or CBD, that cannabinoid interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system includes receptors such as the CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 relate mainly to the brain while CB2 relate mainly to the immune system although they can appear in small quantities within the brain also. CB1 deal with pain regulation, emotion, memory processing and motor control and CB2 also deal with pain regulation but as stated before, throughout immune system. They also deal in inflammation control. Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD react differently when in the endocannabinoid system (ECS). For example THC binds with the receptors for its effects where as CBD creates a chemical reaction that causes the receptors to activate and also multiply.

In some cases CBD has a combined effect with THC as it can stop THC from making patients high still while allowing it to provide its neurological benefits. These benefits are used to treat those dealing with anxiety as well and PTSD and other illnesses within the brain. As a result CBD is seen as one of the most ebenfitcial cannabinoids and well as the most useful. It not only helps THC do its job but it also helps other proteins such as GPR55 (Blood Pressure), serotonin (Depression/Diet), PPAR (Diabetes) and vanilloid (Pain Relief) do their jobs too.

One common symptom in Parkinson’s disease is depression. Most commonly, serotonin reuptake inhibitors are prescribed for this. Since CBD can also interact with other neurotransmitters (aside from the CB1 and CB2 receptors) this could help with depression. For example, CBD is capable of activating the serotonin receptor 5-HT1A. Decreased levels of serotonin can impact on diet but it is most commonly known to cause depression and influence a wide range of anxiety disorders. Therefore based on clinical studies as well as anecdotal evidence it can be said that using CBD is an effective treatment for dealing with psychological disorders. As noted, increasing serotonin levels doesn’t just help with emotional changes. It can also help aid in sleep and pain.

Pain is a number one symptom in Parkinson’s and adding pain medication to the mix could present even more battles for a patient to fight. Some medications being prescribed to Parkinson’s patients include opioid drugs. Opioids are highly addictive, and don’t work for everyone. CBD could be a natural, safer option. In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, researchers found that CBD, when administering to rats with chronic pain and inflammation, actually helped significantly in relieving those symptoms. No addiction side effects coupled with actually being effective for pain makes CBD shine compared to other pain medications.

A good night’s sleep is sometimes one of the hardest things to achieve with Parkinson’s disease. THC has the most evidence attached to it when it comes to using cannabis as a sleep aid. THC has been said to help you sleep better at night, but CBD may be able to help in a different (and perhaps all around better) way.

THC can help with falling asleep, however a mild hangover in the morning isn’t all too uncommon. You may wake up groggy, dehydrated, dry-eyed or congested. So while a solid night’s sleep is good, waking up not feeling your best does defeat the purpose of sleeping soundly in the first place. CBD works a little differently. CBD is not directly sleep-inducing, but its calming effects can help you to relax enough to enjoy a restful night. This has partly to do with its ability to manage pain as well. CBD has shown to reduce insomnia in those who have chronic pain, and can help with REM behavior disorder.

REM behavior disorder is common in people who suffer from Parkinson’s disease. It causes the person to become physically restless during dreaming. Normally when we dream, we are in a state of paralysis. This is the body’s way of protecting itself from harm during the REM cycle. With REM behavior disorder this state of paralysis doesn’t happen, and the person can move freely while sleeping. This could lead to the Parkinson’s patient waking up frequently or injuring themselves.

In addition to helping with sleep, CBD can also help with staying more alert during the day. In a 2006 study, scientists gave CBD oil to rats to observe how it would affect their sleep-wake cycle. What they found was that during lights-on time the rats were more alert. During the lights-off period, however, this alertness did not affect their sleeping pattern. Therefore, even though CBD is not a sedative like its cannabinoid counterpart THC, it can help you get a better sleep while keeping you more alert during the day. This would seem to be a preferable sleep aid that would create an all-around better experience.

CBD can certainly hold its own in the medical realm, but sometimes it can work even better when paired with THC. Even though THC is the cannabinoid that produces a high, it could be used as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease. One study confirmed that CBD and THC both work as a neuroprotectant in an animal model of Parkinson’s disease because of their antioxidant properties. This showed that these two cannabinoids could help protect the brain from the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Even aggressive surgery cannot control progression. This could be a discovery of ground-breaking proportions for Parkinson’s patients.

Explore more in the world of cannabis and Parkinson’s by reading People with Parkinson’s Could Be Helped By CBD.

How Can CBD and Cannabis Help to Prevent Parkinson’s Disease?

Did you know that the body actually has its own form of cannabinoids called endocannabinoids? Actually it has a whole system that consists of receptors that only accept cannabinoids. Even animals have this system in their bodies, which is why mice and rats are so accurately tested in medicinal marijuana trials and studies. When your body ingests phytocannabinoids from the cannabis plant, the endocannabinoid system is where those chemicals go to work. Though CB1 receptors are mostly found in the brain, both are also present in the male and female reproductive organs.

THC specifically likes to hang out with the CB1 receptors. Since CB1 receptors are in charge of pain perception, this means that THC can help to reduce pain. So say you’re running and stub your toe. A certain amount of pain will inevitably follow. However, THC can help alleviate some of that pain so that it is less extreme. This is why pain could be reduced Parkinson’s patients due to the use of cannabis.

CB2 receptors are a little less understood compared to the CB1 receptors. These are mostly found in the immune system, primarily in the spleen. Some evidence even suggests that CB2 receptors could be present the brain’s basal ganglia, though more research is needed to confirm that theory.

One thing is for certain, though. Cannabis as an effective treatment for Parkinson’s is the real deal. One video has surfaced of a former police officer named Larry, whose Parkinson’s symptoms are alleviated by one drop of marijuana. Larry suffers from dyskinesia, a result of having Parkinson’s. Dyskinesia is an uncontrolled and involuntary movement of one or more body parts.

Larry was amazed by his results. His hands, which were moving involuntarily, suddenly became steady. He was able to talk normally and even had an appetite.

What angers Larry, and perhaps many others, is that in his home state of South Dakota there are currently no laws to legalize marijuana. Larry has no access to medical marijuana where he lives, yet it works wonders for his Parkinson’s disease.

The research for cannabis products for Parkinson’s patients has been done. The evidence is there. We as a country just need to wake up to what is right in from of our faces and acknowledge that make something as useful as cannabis illegal is, frankly, asinine.

Parkinson’s syndrome isn’t like the flu. It doesn’t just go away after a few days. It is a progression and degenerative illness. The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease don’t simply disappear, and currently there is little known about why the disease appears in the first place.

But if we do have a better treatment for such a debilitating disease right at our fingertips, denying that option for Parkinson’s patients is no less than abusive. Like Michael J. Fox said, it isn’t a choice to have Parkinson’s. But there can be more choices in treating it. Those who suffer from this disease deserve to have relief, even if it means breaking through the negative stigma of a plant that was meant to be medicinal in the first place.

Though rare, some side effects can come from taking CBD for Parkinson’s. The few side effects that have been reported in general are dry mouth, lightheadedness, low blood pressure and drowsiness. Though most studies on cannabis for Parkinson’s disease have proved to be successful, some have reported that high levels of CBD could make tremors and muscle spasms worse.

Treatments for any medical illness are not one-size fits all. Parkinson’s disease treatments are no exception. At least with medicinal cannabis, those treatment options could be broadened, and quality of life could be improved for those who find that other treatments are ineffective.

As with any medicinal substance, consult your physician before using medicinal cannabis or CBD.

For more information about how cannabis and CBD oil can help treat Parkinson’s read What Cannabis and CBD Oil Can Do For Parkinson’s Disease.

Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff
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