Parkinson’s Disease

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Parkinson’s disease is most common among older people, with most sufferers age 50 and above. Along with other neurodegenerative disorders, such as Huntington’s disease, it provides promising therapeutic targets for cannabinoid medications, especially since treatment options for these severe conditions are limited. 

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease caused by the loss of neurons that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine within a small region in the mid-brain called the substantia nigari.

Reduced levels of dopamine interfere with coordination and motor function. The precise reason these dopamine-producing neurons are lost in Parkinson’s disease is unknown, although inflammation and hereditary factors are thought to be partially responsible. The classic symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are muscular rigidity, tremors, and slowness of movement. These symptoms result from decreased stimulation of the brain’s motor cortex caused by insufficient dopamine formation and action. The traditional drug treatments for Parkinson’s disease are levodopa and carbidopa. Levodopa is converted to dopamine in the brain, and carbidopa prevents levodopa from degrading before it reaches the brain. The use of levodopa can result in a severe side effect; another movement disorder called dyskinesia, which produces unusual or uncontrolled movement of the mouth, tongue, face, head, neck, arms, and legs.

  The effectiveness of medicinal cannabis in treating Parkinson’s disease is inconclusive, although observational studies and surveys appear promising. In 2004 a study at the Prague Movement Disorder Center indicated that more than half of the Parkinson’s disease patients noticed subjective improvement.

In 2013, at the 17th annual convention of The International Congress of Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders, Israeli researchers presented an observational study of patients using cannabis to control motor symptoms. The effects of medical cannabis on these patients’ Parkinson’s disease were evaluated using the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS). The patients’ non-motor symptoms and cannabis side effects were also assessed.  There was an overall 30 percent improvement in the patients’ average UPDRS scores. Analysis of different motor symptoms revealed significant improvement for tremors, rigidity, and slowness of movement. Cannabis inhalation had no effects on the patients’ posture.  In addition, there was a substantial improvement in pain scores after inhaling cannabis. Patients’ tended to report drowsiness as a side effect. 

Recent evidence indicates the minor cannabinoids may be of more value than THC in treating Parkinson’s. THCv has been shown to provide neuroprotection and symptom relief in animal models of Parkinson’s disease. THCv cannabis is still extremely rare in the United States, but that is likely to change over the next few years. I have a cultivator friend in Minnesota that is currently targeting that particular molecule. 

Molecules to target Parkinson’s disease. 

High CBD and THCv strains are most appropriate for their potential neuroprotective properties. Myrcene would be the indicated terpene because it changes the permeability of the cell membranes to allow for better absorption of these cannabinoids into the brain.

Dosing  for Parkinson’s disease

Since little clinical research has been done, care should be taken with cannabis dosage for Parkinson’s disease. However, based on other similar conditions, it is likely that low-dose therapies would be most appropriate.

Methods of ingestion

Vaporized and sublingual ingestion of cannabis are the primary delivery techniques for most Parkinson’s disease patients. These methods seem promising.