What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Before we discuss the issue of medical marijuana for Parkinson’s, let’s first describe Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that causes the eventual loss of motor control. PD is considered a “dopaminergic” disease, as it affects areas of the brain that produce the brain chemical dopamine.
The primary symptoms of PD are:
- balance and gait difficulties
- bradykinesia (slow voluntary movements)
- limb rigidity and stiffness
- tremor and shaking of the hands and head
Researchers are unsure as to the cause(s) of PD, and there is no known cure. The primary goal of current treatment is to reduce physiological side effects, particularly tremors and limb rigidity.
Medical Marijuana: A Changing Landscape
In 1996, California was the first U.S. state to legalize cannabis for medical purposes. Fast-forward 22 years and the recreational use of marijuana is not only legal in California, but also in Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Nevada. The medical use of marijuana is legal in 31 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico.
Marijuana will be completely legal in Canada on October 17th, 2018. (Canada will be one of two countries to legalize marijuana fully, Uruguay being the other.)
The abundance of research demonstrating the effectiveness of cannabis for medical reasons is at least partially responsible for its proliferation. The public’s dismay about the danger (and ineffectiveness) of many prescription drugs is another reason.
To date, medical marijuana is legal in the U.S. states of: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas (ONLY for epilepsy), Vermont, Washington D.C., and West Virginia. This means that if you or someone you know in any of these states has Parkinson’s (except for Texas), it is legal to use medical marijuana for Parkinson’s.
Cannabis’ Effects on the Brain
Fascinatingly, it has been discovered that human beings possess a biochemical communication system, the endocannabinoid system, affecting our physiology, psychology, and subjective experience. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a set of receptors in the brain that exhibit pharmacological properties when exposed to cannabis.
It turns out that the basal ganglia region of the brain is dense with cannabinoid receptors. The basal ganglia region is responsible for mobility, which may help to explain why medical marijuana is very effective for reducing (and sometimes eliminating) tremor in some PD patients.
Next, we are going to discuss the effects of medical marijuana on Parkinson’s disease.
Medical Marijuana for Parkinson’s
“Some researchers think that cannabis might be neuroprotective – saving neurons from damage caused by PD.” – Parkinson’s Foundation (source)
Before we give the alleged benefits of medical marijuana on PD, it must be stated that some researchers remain unconvinced. It isn’t uncommon for a group of scientists to exhibit doubt about certain findings, particularly when the research is so recent (and so impactful) – as it is with medical marijuana for Parkinson’s Disease treatment.
That said, there are many anecdotal accounts of PD patients being helped by medical marijuana. Here are five people who testify to the fact, followed by the reasons for which each sought treatment (Note: “Rx” is shorthand for prescription medication):
David Dennison – Rx ineffectiveness, difficulty sleeping
“I use the marijuana for a very specific (reason). It helps me sleep, (which then) carries on back into aiding me and my fight against Parkinson’s. A good night’s sleep is really important for (dealing with) Parkinson’s.”
One of the notorious symptoms of PD is muscle spasms, which causes the sufferer to shake uncontrollably. Spasms are particularly troublesome at night. Of course, this makes the goal of getting a good night’s sleep very difficult.
Mr. Dennison tried numerous things to help him sleep, from alcohol to vigorous exercise, with poor results. How did medical marijuana fare? “I tried marijuana, and it worked almost flawlessly,” says Dennison.
Larry Smith – Rx cost, tremor, dystonia
“The medications Larry takes for his Parkinson’s are thousands of dollars. Every time I refill a prescription it’s about three thousand … and the deep brain stimulation was about a quarter-million dollars.” – Wife of Larry Smith
Watching retired police captain Larry Smith try to go about his daily life alongside his spouse is eye-opening. The video gives a brief glimpse into just how hard it is – not only for the patient but for their loved ones.
Larry’s tremors are so severe that he’s barely about to utter a word throughout the three-part video series; that is until he swabs his cheek with a couple of drops of cannabis oil. After five minutes, Larry is sitting up and talking, tremor-free.
After briefly rejoicing about the return of his voice, Larry asks, “Did you guys eat lunch?”
Do yourself a favor and watch the remarkable transformation yourself!
Ian Frizell – Rx complications, tremor, speech, dystonia
“I can not tolerate the prescription medications for Parkinson’s Disease. They make me feel extremely unwell.”
After medicating with 30 milligrams of marijuana, Mr. Frizell reappears on camera. He demonstrates the relief of tremor in his hands, which is all but gone. “The sense of relief is overwhelming,” says Frizell.
He goes on to add that the medical marijuana for Parkinson’s has helped with “one or two other symptoms,” including dystonia, which caused his right foot to curl inwards uncomfortably, and with ease of speech.
David Esparza – Rx complications, tremor
“I was telling the neurologist that I really didn’t want to take medicine. She told me about trying marijuana.”
Mr. Esparza is yet another Parkinson’s patient whose tremors subside with marijuana use. The coach of a baseball team, Esparza adamantly refuses to take PD drugs because of their effects on cognition and decision-making. Another drug, prescribed to Esparza for his tremors, causes hallucination. Medical cannabis helps Esparza deal with nausea associated with these drugs, as well.
Gary Griffin – insomnia, tremors
“Once I started taking CBD oil (“cannabidiol”), I never had a sleepless night because I couldn’t control my motor movement.”
The last person on our list, Gary Griffin, is a staunch conservative who once called marijuana the “Devil’s weed.” That is until he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s – and would not respond to traditional treatment. His neurologist recommended CBD oil to help with his tremor and insomnia.
“I’m not a stone, but I am an advocate,” Griffin says. He now harvests his own CBD – a venture made possible due to the state of Colorado’s legalization of cannabis.
“Anything that makes a person feel better about themselves and their condition give it to them, damn it.” – David Esparza
The United States is making great progress concerning the legalization of medical marijuana. Unfortunately, the use of marijuana for Parkinson’s – or for any medical condition – remains illegal at the Federal level. This fact alone drives many away – likely because of a fear of breaking the law.
Proper education of the public is critical. The fact is that medical marijuana has shown tremendous promise for a variety of medical conditions. Compared with the myriad side effects of prescription drugs, marijuana is also relatively safe.
As medical research continues to demonstrate the promise of medical marijuana for Parkinson’s disease – and other health conditions – it is very possible, should sane minds prevail, that we will see the full legalization of cannabis for medical purposes within the next few years.