As I travel and talk about Parkinson’s and nutrition, I have heard more and more questions about PD and pot. This article is intended to be a short guide to the research, studies and the forms of marijuana/cannabis as they are relevant to PD.
There is knowledge out there, just maybe not with your physician
Marijuana/Cannabis is one of those plants where the people who know the most about it are often not involved in the medical community – even though it’s being used medically by a large number of people. This poses a problem. People with Parkinson’s ask their physicians if they should use marijuana, and their doctors often have little to no information regarding marijuana .
Although doctors may have tried marijuana themselves, or they may know that it’s used with people who are on chemotherapy to decrease nausea, they don’t know enough to prescribe it. And in Parkinson’s, there’s been very little research for doctors to read. And marijuana certainly isn’t taught in the average medical school pharmacology course. So our physicians are left without the information they need to offer advice about marijuana.
What about PD and Marijuana?
We know from anecdotal evidence (people’s stories) that some people with Parkinson’s have a benefit to their symptoms with marijuana. For some, their tremor decreases, rigidity and bradykinesia improve, their voice may return, and they can sleep through the night. However, there aren’t many clinical trials, so much of the data is self-report from people with PD. What’s up with that? Why no trials?
Why are there no studies into marijuana?
Because marijuana is not legal federally, if a university or research institute has funding from the federal government, they are not allowed to study it without special permission. As a result, the massive research intensive neurology departments in the US leave this potential therapy alone.
What do you need to know?
I’ve been learning quite a bit about marijuana myself. I had the advantage of sitting on the State of Oregon Scientific Advisory Board for recreational marijuana. But I’m learning more in my personal life. I’m becoming a farmer – meaning my partners and I are jumping through all of the legal hoops required to start a marijuana grow operation in my home state of Oregon. I thought I might try to share some things I’ve learned.
First things first: Cannabinoids
Cannabinoids are the active ingredients in marijuana – and there are a lot of them in marijuana, as many as 120 different chemicals 
- Two of the cannabinoids get a lot of press: THC (which is psychoactive), and CBD (which is not psychoactive) .
- CBD alone is anti-inflammatory, anti-convulsant, and neuroprotective. That means that you can take CBD (which is often found in a CBD oil form) and have the benefits of marijuana without having to get high.
- Cannabinoids in marijuana interact with the movement center of the brain, which is why they may be beneficial for movement disorders .
If you want to buy marijuana, you have a lot of choices.
- Weed – this is the raw buds that come from the female Cannabis Sativa or Cannabis Indica plant. Marijuana purchased in this form can be smoked in joint, or in a bong.
- Food – another way to buy marijuana is to buy marijuana. In this case, the bud has been emulsified into an oil or milk, and then that is used to make brownies, cookies, candy or other food products. If you take marijuana in this form, it may take longer for you to feel the effects, so be careful not to take too much.
- CBD oil is what many people with Parkinson’s try if they want to see if they get some benefit without getting high. CBD oil is usually taken orally.
- Vaping – Vaping is an up-and-coming way to take marijuana. With vaping, the marijuana is in bud or oil form in a pen-like gizmo. The device heats the bud to release the active ingredients, while you suck on one end of the pen to receive them. The nice thing about this is that it reduces the harmful effects of smoking.
- Lotions and topical products – marijuana can penetrate the skin, so it can be delivered topically in a lotion or oil. It’s very difficult to control the dose with this form of delivery.
Next up: Strains!
Medical and recreational dispensaries have additional choices for you to make. They typically carry a large variety of strains. When you say you want to buy marijuana or weed, they may ask you what blend you’re looking for. You’ll have three choices: Sativa, Indica, or Hybrid.
- Sativa strains are typically more energizing and uplifting. They tend to relieve depression, fatigue, and mood disorders.
- Indica strains are often more sedating and relaxing. They tend to relieve anxiety, insomnia, pain, and muscle spasms.
While these are the general rules for the strains, each plant is different and each person is different. So what is recommended is that you try a couple of different strains and find one that works for you. Note that the THC and CBD content are independent of the type of strain. So you can get CBD oil from a Sativa strain or an Indica strain.
Marijuana is not for everyone.
Some people do not feel good when they try marijuana . They become anxious or paranoid. They may become nauseous, weak, dizzy, or have hallucinations. If these symptoms happen when you try marijuana, remember that they are temporary, typically 3 or 4 hours. No fatalities from overdoses have been attributed to marijuana.
If you’re intending to try marijuana, there are physicians in 28 states who can prescribe it for medical use. If your neurologist doesn’t know anything about it, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t physicians in your state who do. Find one. Also, remember that marijuana is legal recreationally in 8 states and doesn’t require a prescription. Those states are Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Washington, DC.
Bibliography with links!
- Ryan J, Sharts-Hopko N. The Experiences of Medical Marijuana Patients. J Neurosci Nurs. 2017;49(3):185-190. doi:10.1097/JNN.0000000000000283.
- ElSohly MA, Radwan MM, Gul W, Chandra S, Galal A. Phytochemistry of Cannabis sativa L. In: Progress in the Chemistry of Organic Natural Products. Vol 103. ; 2017:1-36. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-45541-9_1.
- Morales P, Hurst DP, Reggio PH. Molecular Targets of the Phytocannabinoids: A Complex Picture. In: Progress in the Chemistry of Organic Natural Products. Vol 103. ; 2017:103-131. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-45541-9_4.
- Karl T, Garner B, Cheng D. The therapeutic potential of the phytocannabinoid cannabidiol for Alzheimer’s disease. Behav Pharmacol. 2017;28(2 and 3-Special Issue):142-160. doi:10.1097/FBP.0000000000000247.
- Babayeva M, Assefa H, Basu P, Chumki S, Loewy Z. Marijuana Compounds: A Nonconventional Approach to Parkinson’s Disease Therapy. Parkinsons Dis. 2016;2016:1279042. doi:10.1155/2016/1279042.
- Koppel BS, Brust JCM, Fife T, et al. Neurology Development Subcommittee of the American Academy of selected neurologic disorders: Report of the Guideline Systematic review: Efficacy and safety of medical marijuana in Systematic review: Efficacy and safety of medical marijuana in selected neurologic disorders. Neurology. 2014;82:1556-1563. doi:10.1212/WNL.0000000000000363.