A growing number of folks in the medical marijuana community believe that cannabis’s therapeutic properties will have great applications for neurodegenerative diseases in the years to come. One of these types of conditions that receives a lot of attention is Parkinson’s disease, a disorder that affects the part of the brain where dopamine is made.
Dopamine is responsible for relaying messages in the brain that have to do with mood, behavior, sleep and cognition. In Parkinson’s disease, the cells in your brain that make dopamine slowly die off, reducing the overall amount of dopamine available to carry out normal functions. As these dopamine-making cells die, proteins build up inside of them, further worsening the disease.
Medical marijuana occasionally makes an appearance on educational materials about Parkinson’s disease. There have been anecdotal reports from patients that the plant can help ease various symptoms such as anxiety, depression, muscle rigidity, pain and insomnia. These reports come as no surprise to many of those in the medical marijuana community, even if science has yet to conclusively prove them to be true.
Given the myriad reports of cannabis’s benefits from Parkinson’s disease patients, have there been any studies conducted on the matter? Marijuana has been shown to have neuroprotective qualities in a few animal studies, but very few clinical studies have been conducted involving humans.
One such study comprised the largest double-blind exploratory trial on Parkinson’s to date. And yet the study was actually quite small, consisting of three groups with seven subjects each.
Each group was given one of the following: a placebo; 75 mg of cannabidiol (CBD) a day; or 300 mg of CBD a day for six weeks. For the placebo and 300 mg CBD groups, the researchers saw a significant improvement in functioning and well-being, but no difference in motor issues associated with Parkinson’s disease.
A few patients with Parkinson’s disease have anecdotally stated online that cannabis helps with motor dysfunction. This study didn’t corroborate these reports, but there could be many reasons why: “It could have been because the sample size was too small or the [CBD] dosage wasn’t the amount needed to yield any significant improvement,” says Dr. Perry Solomon, HelloMD’s chief medical officer.
“These findings don’t mean that cannabis can’t help with Parkinson’s. It’s just that this study wasn’t able to prove the efficacy of cannabis in treating the symptoms of this disease,” he adds. Studies like these show us how much more work needs to be done, and they highlight the need for larger, more focused research on this topic.
Photo credit: David Sager