The growing interest in cannabis, or more specifically, medical marijuana as a therapeutic agent, is evident in its legalization in more than two dozen states; in the U.S. Researchers continue to push the boundaries as they try to uncover the medical benefits of cannabis in treating a host of medical issues, which includes cancer, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, chronic pain, anxiety, bipolar disorder, Parkinson’s disease (PD) and many other conditions. While it is not entirely clear that medical marijuana can aid in preventing Parkinson’s disease because of a lack of substantial evidence, research has indicated that THC may be beneficial in treating many of the horrible symptoms of PD, including neurodegeneration, sleep deprivation, tremors, inflammation, fatigue, slow movement, and pain.
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative brain disorder that is chronic, progressive, and is characterized by slowly diminished movement eventually. This is a disease that affects roughly one million people in the US alone, with some 60,000 new cases being diagnosed per year, and there is still no established cause of the disease. The primary features of PD are neuron malfunction and death, which can cause a decrease in the levels of dopamine production in the brain. Dopamine is responsible for sending signals to the region of the brain that plays a key role in the regulation of movement and coordination. Conventional pharmaceutical drugs and surgery are typically used as the first line of treatment options for those individuals suffering from PD and the symptoms that comes with the disease. These symptoms include, slow movement, rigidity of the limbs, fatigue, depression, tremor of hands, arms, legs, jaw and face, sleep disorder, and impaired balance and coordination. These symptoms tend to vary from person to person. Treatment of these symptoms can be managed with prescription drugs to a certain degree, however, scientific research suggests that cannabis could be a good source of therapeutic relief of these symptoms.
The Endocannabinoid System
It is no secret that cannabis is known to provide a wide array of positive health benefits. The psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has been shown to impact the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in a noticeable way under scientific lens, by responding to the body’s endogenous cannabinoids, as well as external sources such as THC. The endocannabinoid system serves several functions, which involves the regulation of the body’s immune system and mobility, sleep, memory, and appetite. Furthermore, the ECS has CB1 and CB2 receptors that binds to cannabinoids such as THC. THC binds directly to CB1 receptors simulating activity in the ECS. Since the brain if affected in individuals with Parkinson’s disease, it is possible to think about how THC in medical marijuana could have a positive effect.
THC Could Help Alleviate the Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
In an animal model of Parkinson’s disease (PD), it was demonstrated that THC, despite its psychoactive effect, has strong neuroprotective capabilities. The results from the study published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry indicates that CBD lowered the level of the protein PGC1α that is connected to mitochondria replication in the brain. This replication causes disruption in the brain affecting normal cellular function in vulnerable regions of the brain.
In an open-label observational study that assessed the clinical effect of cannabis on motor and non-motor symptoms of PD, it was determined that motor skills improved significantly from 33.1 at baseline to 23.2 after cannabis consumption, as well as improvement in tremor, rigidity and bradykinesia. Furthermore, patients reported improvement in sleep and pain reduction after the consumption of cannabis. The study certainly paves the way for further research into the role that medical marijuana may play as a therapeutic compound in treating Parkinson’s disease.
Studies related to Parkinson’s disease are still developing, and as such, no hard conclusions can be drawn on the issue. Early studies have provided a pathway for other researchers to follow and hopefully, will be able to find the evidence to validate earlier findings. With no cure and a lack of a solid cause, Parkinson’s disease remains a difficult disease to understand and treat. Still, the sufferers are numerous and the need for management and cure is evident. If medical marijuana can help to ameliorate the symptoms of the disease, no matter what they are, it makes sense to give it a shot as a therapeutic treatment. There is evidence to suggest that THC could help but much more research is needed to validate those findings.