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As Parkinson’s disease progresses, the symptoms get harder to control and living with PD becomes more difficult. The inexorable and inevitable progress of the disease make it one of the most terrifying conditions to develop. There is currently no cure and the only treatments available are ones that alleviate symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.
It is not classed as a fatal disease but because it is so debilitating it can increase the risk of mortality substantially. The causes are unknown, but it is believed that there are genetic and environmental factors involved that contribute to the diseases development. Before we discuss 5 of the major Parkinson’s disease symptoms, a brief overview of the disease’s underlying factors will help you understand why these symptoms occur and what medical marijuana might do to help.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is caused by the slow death of neurons (nerve cells) in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra. These cells produce dopamine, one of the most important neurotransmitters (signalling molecules) in the brain. In the case of Parkinson’s, the dopamine producing cells are involved mostly with movement.
One recent theory of Parkinson’s is that it is an autoimmune condition. The role of the immune system in Parkinson’s is only just being properly investigated, primarily because it was not possible to study the immune system with enough detail until recently. Other diseases like Type 1 diabetes and neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s seem to be related to an immune attack as well.
An autoimmune condition is a condition caused by the immune system of the body. These conditions cause the immune system to start attacking the body’s own tissues because they mistakenly believe them to be foreign. A build up of proteins is strongly correlated with Parkinson’s, and immune cells from people with PD responded much more strongly than people without the disease. This implies that the immune system was recognizing these proteins and trying to attack them. These proteins accumulate and kill cells, but it is possible that the immune system response helps it along.
There is also some evidence to show that the health of the cultures of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that exist in the gut are crucial in the development of this disease. The gut flora of healthy people is very different from that of people with PD. This could be the result of the drugs people take for Parkinson’s, or it could be that they are responding to other triggers, like pesticides.
Exactly how all this works is far from understood, but what is well known is that these dopamine-producing cells die and the parts of the brain that were used to getting more dopamine no longer get enough. This causes them to behave differently and produce Parkinson’s disease symptoms. Eventually, enough cells die in the areas that control movement that a person can be completely debilitated.
The part of the brain that is responsible for mood and movement is slowly destroyed, producing ever worsening muscle control loss and in many cases, personality changes.
There are more than a dozen recognizable Parkinson’s disease symptoms but here are 5 of the most common.
Parkinsonism refers to conditions that are like Parkinson’s but have a variety of causes. It is classed as a “movement disorder”, and movement symptoms can be the first to appear.
Parkinsonism can include:
Because Parkinsonism has a variety of causes and symptoms, a battery of tests needs to be carried out before a proper diagnosis can be made. If you think you might have Parkinson’s disease, or recognize any of the above symptoms, you should contact your doctor and arrange an appointment to discuss them.
For a diagnosis, your doctor will examine you, your history, and your family history to establish what might be the cause of the disease. Parkinson’s can be managed much better if it is caught early.
Currently, there is no cure for the disease. The only way to help someone is to relieve their symptoms and try prevent a rapid progression of the disease. During the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, the symptoms are usually mild and require no treatment. It is a condition that requires regular monitoring, however.
There are medications available for the later stage of Parkinson’s that increase the amount of dopamine in the brain, which can relieve the symptoms for a while but does not affect the underlying causes of the disease. An unfortunately common side effect of these dopamine drugs is that they can increase risk taking and dangerous behaviour.
Other treatments involve surgery. Implanting a stimulating probe into the affected area of the brain can bring complete symptom relief for substantial amounts of time. Maintaining quality of life requires expert care.
An area of some excitement for potential Parkinson’s disease sufferers is the use of medical marijuana products. Medical marijuana contains high concentrations of cannabinoids. These are chemicals that act on the endocannabinoid system in the body. This is a system of receptors that helps to control vital processes like movement, digestion, homeostasis, and growth.
The hope is that cannabinoids can be used to treat Parkinson’s disease symptoms because there is a known relationship between cannabinoids and dopamine in parts of the brain that can be affected by Parkinson’s.
Currently, there is very little evidence for the proper use of medical marijuana for Parkinson’s Disease. The only studies that have been performed were small, preclinical experiments. The results are promising, however, and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that supports the view that involuntary motor symptoms of Parkinson’s can be alleviated with cannabinoid use.
Further clinical trials are necessary to properly investigate this link, but the reason that many people are excited about this being a potential treatment is because cannabis is a tolerable and usually enjoyable drug to take, compared to many of the alternatives. Let’s hope that more research is conducted into the uses of medical marijuana for Parkinson’s Disease soon, and that it is found to be an effective alternative for people suffering from this very difficult disease.
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