Parkinson's disease is a chronic degenerative disease that affects 1% of the population over the age of 60. Globally, an estimated 9 million people may be affected by 2030 in the world's 15 most populous countries. Could cannabis help relieve Parkinson's symptoms?
The main symptoms of the disease are motor: tremors at rest, stiffness, unstable posture, and slowing of movements. But it does not only affect the elderly: there are some cases of juvenile minority Parkinson's that occur in people under 40 years of age.
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What factors cause Parkinson's disease?
Surely in 5% of cases, it has a genetic explanation. The other 95% remains a mystery. Research suggests that in addition to genetic causes, there could also be environmental factors that would favor the development of the disease, although it is not yet clear what these factors would be.
Parkinson's is an incurable disease. It causes the death of neurons in the area of the brain responsible for producing dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter essential for neurological signals to travel properly through the brain. The lack of dopamine caused by Parkinson's alters the area of the basal ganglia, which are responsible for controlling movement. Therefore, the main symptoms of Parkinson's at first are motor, although, over time sleep problems, depression, anxiety, cognitive impairment, and in the final phases, dementia may also appear.
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Why can cannabis help relieve Parkinson's symptoms?
Currently, the only possible treatment for Parkinson's is levodopa (L-dopa). This medication is used to make up for a lack of dopamine, but it stops being helpful after a few years and has irreversible side effects, such as involuntary movements (dyskinesia). That's why researchers are looking for a drug that can be effective in the long term and without side effects. Could it be cannabis?
Cannabis is composed of 85 phytocannabinoids, of which cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the main ones. The properties of CBD and THC have been the most studied to date and are the ones that have the greatest medicinal effects. CBD is non-psychoactive and its relaxing, anxiolytic, antipsychotic, and neuroprotective effects are known. THC is primarily responsible for the psychotropic effects of cannabis.
The phytocannabinoids in cannabis act in our body thanks to the ability to associate with the cannabinoid receptors we have in our nervous system. These receptors are called CB1 and CB2. The basal ganglia of the brain, which are the most affected by Parkinson's, have a significant amount of cannabinoid receptors. That is why cannabis could be a possible medicine to treat Parkinson's movement disorders.
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Experiences of cannabis as a treatment for Parkinson's
When we talk about cannabis we mean the whole plant, not just CBD. The combination of CBD and THC has been shown to be more effective as a treatment for some diseases, as CBD has the ability to modulate the side effects of THC. CBD inhibits the psychotropic effects of THC and improves your tolerance.
Recent studies have shown that Parkinson's patients who used cannabis improved symptoms by 46%. These symptoms included bradykinesia (slowing of movement), muscle stiffness, and tremor. Cannabis use also improved dyskinesia (involuntary movements), the long-term side effect of levodopa. An improvement in sleep quality and pain relief caused by muscle stiffness could also be observed.
Recent reviews also suggest that cannabis use could improve symptoms of depression and improve mood.
The combination of THC and CBD could be a therapeutic alternative to improve the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. More studies experimenting with a larger number of patients are needed for these cannabis compounds to find acceptance as a treatment among the medical class. Studies cannot be carried out massively as long as cannabis continues to be considered a drug of abuse in many countries.