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Medical Marijuana for Parkinson's Disease

Medical Marijuana as a Form of Treatment for Parkinson's Disease

 

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease (PD), you may have heard about medical marijuana and be wondering if it could help with PD symptoms.

Perhaps you even know someone else with PD or another serious medical conditions who has used cannabis as part of their treatment regimen.

But how can you know if cannabis might also help with your symptoms? Can your doctor prescribe CBD or THC for you as part of your treatment protocol? How will you know if it is working? Let's take a look at what research to date has to say about these questions.

What Is Medical Marijuana?

The first question many people have is about medical marijuana itself. What is it? Is it different from "regular" marijuana?

According to the federal government, in order to be classified as medicinal, cannabis must be used in whole and intact unprocessed plant form, whether as dry leaves or extracts.

This is important because, in addition to the plant's two best-known and arguably most important compounds, THC and cannabidiol, the cannabis plant contains at least 100 other phyto-chemicals ("plant-based" compounds) that may have beneficial properties.

But if these two plant-based compounds are so beneficial, why haven't they already been approved at the federal level for medicinal use?

The main criteria for seeking Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approval is sufficient research data citing specific benefits.

To date, the government states that sufficient qualifying research has not yet been done to meet the minimum requirements to seek approval. This issue plus continuing classification of marijuana itself as a Class I drug has made conducting legitimate scientific studies more difficult for interested researchers.

However, as you are about to read, there are promising studies underway. As well, many states adopt a less stringent policy as far as permitting patients to make medical marijuana a part of their treatment regimen.

Several states, including Florida, permit physicians to undergo a certification program to issue qualifying patients an ID card for obtaining medical cannabis.

What Is Parkinson's Disease?

Parkinson's disease is actually not just one single disease but a group of neurogenerative disorders. PD can be triggered by genetics, environment or a combination of each. The causes for PD are still not fully understood.

Parkinson's disease occurs when the brain cells (neurons) responsible for producing dopamine, an important neurotransmitter that regulates physical movement and emotional processing, start to get damaged or die off. This in turn reduces available dopamine to help the brain do its work.

As available dopamine supplies in the brain decrease, the person begins to experience a range of symptoms, including motor impairment and difficulties with cognition.

The Link Between Medical Marijuana and Parkinson's Disease

At this point, you are probably wondering why researchers, physicians (and PD patients) are interested in discovering whether medical marijuana might help ease PD symptoms.

The active phyto-compounds in cannabis, THC and CBD plus many others, are called "cannabinoids." These compounds have an effect on people because of their ability to bind to certain receptors in the brain and take effect.

This might sound simple enough, but it can be complicated for a cell to cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Not all cells are permitted to pass through.

Here, however, researchers have found a happy workaround in the form of the active compounds in cannabis. These compounds are called "cannabinoids." As it turns out, the human body also makes its own version of cannabinoids called "endocannabinoids."

These natural endocanninoid neurotransmitters are permitted to cross back and forth between the BBB freely to deliver messages from brain to body and vice versa. The messages these natural endocanninoids are transmitting largely relate to basic essential body and brain functions such as mood, sleep, appetite, et al.

So now it is easier to see how the cannabinoids in marijuana might be of great interest to medical researchers, since they can also pass through the BBB to reach the brain, bind to the appropriate receptors and deliver their benefits.

Because Parkinson's disease is brain-based, it is necessary to find medications that can reliably cross the BBB to deliver their benefits. As well, some of the known benefits of THC and CBD, for example, appear to be benefits that may also ease symptoms and improve quality of life for people with PD.

Four Cannabis-Based Drugs Have Already Been FDA-Approved

In the ongoing quest to get THC and CBD based medications approved by the FDA, there are four previous instances where the FDA has approved cannabis-based or derived medications for patient use (prescription only).

Epidiolex.

This medication is CBD-based and is prescribed to treat seizure symptoms caused by two very rare forms of childhood epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome. The drug can be prescribed for patients aged two years and up.

Marinol and Syndros.

Both drugs are based on a synthetic THC-based cannabinoid called dronabinol. The drugs are prescribed to ease symptoms of anorexia in patients diagnosed with AIDS.

Cesamet.

This drug is also based on a synthetic version of THC with similar properties. Cesamet is prescribed for patients undergoing chemotherapy who are experiencing severe nausea or vomiting symptoms.

Current Research on Use of Cannabis for Parkinson's Disease

Even as the potential medicinal benefits of THC, CBD and others are being explored, it is important to recognize that the causes for Parkinson's itself are still not fully understood.

Concurrent research is underway to better understand how and why people develop PD and to find ways to identify the disease much earlier in its progression. Because PD itself is still not well understood, this makes it slightly more challenging to design effective research to study how different remedies might be applied effectively.

However, patients diagnosed with Parkinson's are eager for additional options to manage symptoms and this is driving CBD and THC research forward, as these promising studies highlight.

2014: Journal of Psychopharmacology.

This study showed that capsules containing CBD improved overall patient quality of life but did not improve motor skills.

2014: Clinical Journal of Neuropharmacology.

This study showed smoked marijuana decreased slowness and tremor in patients with PD.

2014: Journal of Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics.

This study showed that CBD tablets were able to reduce sleep interruption in PD patients.

2009 Journal of Psychopharmacology.

This study showed that CBD in tablet form decreased mental issues (delusions, hallucinations) for PD patients.

2001: Journal of Neurology.

This study showed that nabilone (synthetic THC) reduced symptoms of dyskinesia (random motor movements) in PD patients.

These research studies have included only small numbers of Parkinson's patients and there is insufficient consistency with dosing, delivery method and protocols. However, their value lies in the small, positive, forward steps they make towards establishing the benefits of THC and CBD as viable options for support improved quality of life with Parkinson's.

How to Get a Medical Cannabis ID Card in Florida

Florida permits doctor certification for the purposes of issuing qualifying patients an official ID card. If you or someone you love would like to begin the process of applying for a Florida ID card to purchase medicinal cannabis, Cannabimed can help.