Stop the Shakes: Cannabis and Parkinson’s

By Michael Peña on April 9, 2018

The secret is out: Cannabis is one of America’s favorite pastimes, and with 29 states having some form of legalization, we’re only getting closer to shattering the century-old stigma. While aficionados have been preaching the gospel for decades, the movement is quickly gaining more credibility with the medical community expressing an interest in the therapeutic, healing properties of cannabis. 

Recently, researchers have made significant head-room in the study of neurological conditions and the relationship cannabis has with these diseases. Case in point, a 2017 study in Clinical Neuropharmacology tracked the progress of 40 men with Parkinson’s disease (PD) over the course of 17 months and found clear improvements in the relief of pain, tremors, muscle stiffness and depression. The most common “adverse” effect that patients reported was fits of coughing (34.9 percent of test subjects), which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody who's ever hit a joint before, especially for the patients who hadn't previously smoked. 

Another study, published in 2016 in the journal Parkinson’s Disease, suggested that cannabis could be a helpful force in combating symptoms caused by PD. Professor Zvi Loewy, from the Touro College of Pharmacy, spearheaded the review. 

"When we started doing this review," said Prof. Loewy, "the therapies out there were basically for motor symptoms, but Parkinson's also has non-motor symptoms that greatly impact the quality of a person's life." The researchers claim that PD-induced inflammation can damage neurons in the brain that produce dopamine—and a lack of dopamine is one of the major contributors to mobility problems in patients with Parkinson’s.

Cannabis is neuroprotective, which makes it especially useful for saving and preserving brain cells from the neurological damage caused by PD. The plant has been found to be a great tool in combating symptoms like bradykinesia (slowness) and dyskinesia (excess movement and shaking, often exacerbated by the PD-drug levodopa). People with Parkinson’s have lower concentrations of CB1 (neurological) receptors than people without the disease: As a CB1 agonist, cannabis apparently reduces tremors and dyskinesia, making up for the CB1 receptors Parkinson’s patients frequently lack.

These studies are promising, but ultimately inconclusive due to small sample-sizes and a lack of supporting research. This is, of course, due in part to federal restrictions on medical marijuana trials. 

Michael Peña is a Los Angeles-based writer, musician and Kanye West enthusiast. He can be found on Instagram @ilooklikestevezahn. Photo credit: CBS/The Good Wife.

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