Parkinson’s disease is a debilitating degenerative disorder that makes it hard for patients to walk, keep their balance and move easily. Though Parkinson’s isn’t fatal, there’s no cure and symptoms like insomnia, depression and constipation can impact quality of life. People generally associate Parkinson’s disease with the elderly, but Parkinson’s can also affect younger folks who carry genetic risk factors.
Increasingly, Parkinson’s patients are turning to marijuana as part of their treatment plan. And the scientific research on cannabis for Parkinson’s backs up the anecdotal evidence. Here’s what you need to know about how marijuana can ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
What Is Parkinson’s & What Are Its Symptoms?
The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:
- Loss of muscle control
- Decreased balance
- Muscle stiffness
- Trouble with speech
Early signs of Parkinson's can consist of:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Weight fluctuations
The Connection Between Dopamine & Parkinson’s & How Cannabis Can Help
There’s a strong connection between Parkinson’s disease and the neurotransmitter, dopamine. Yes, the same chemical that’s involved in our pleasure-reward system is also responsible for controlling movement and speech. Parkinson’s develops when the cells in the mid-brain that produce dopamine begin to die. This decreases the amount of dopamine produced and causes proteins to accumulate, which results in severe inflammation and intensifies the disease.
Cannabis compounds, or cannabinoids, in the plant interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a system of receptors that’s found practically everywhere in the body. Cannabinoids bind with ECS receptors to affect different processes from pain, to digestion and movement.
Research has linked the ECS to how the brain releases dopamine throughout the body. Cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) help balance the ECS, which can then regulate dopamine production.
Another way cannabis compounds can help Parkinson’s disease patients is by working as neuroprotective agents. In simpler terms: Cannabinoids help protect brain cells. And if those dopamine-producing cells don’t die, dopamine levels can stay where they need to and cell death won’t cause protein buildup and increased inflammation.
Several animal studies have confirmed that a combination of THC and CBD are successful in protecting brain cells and quelling inflammation:
- A study performed on rats showed that CBD protected brain cells in the substansia nigra, the part of the mid-brain where the dopamine-producing cells die in someone with Parkinson’s.
- In a study done on mice, a combination of THC and CBD reduced protein buildup in the brain, improving memory and lessening inflammation. Cognitive impairment is an often-overlooked symptom of Parkinson’s disease.
Besides all of the physical benefits, cannabis can also help alleviate the anxiety, stress and depression that often accompany Parkinson’s symptoms.
Recommended Cannabis Strains for Parkinson’s disease
Since the science suggests a combination of THC and CBD is effective, Parkinson’s patients may want to start with cannabis strains that feature both cannabinoids. Keep your doses small, though, to see how you feel. Then you can adjust from there based on the effects you want. Do you want to try marijuana with more THC because it helps you sleep? Or do you find THC too overwhelming? Keeping a cannabis journal to record how each strain affects you is a good idea.
Still, here are a few different types of cannabis strains you may want to try out:
- Sweet and Sour Widow: Sweet and Sour Widow has a 1:1 THC:CBD ratio, making it a good balancing strain that provides pain relief without causing mental fog or sleepiness. This indica strain is also great for lowering stress levels and anxiety often experienced by Parkinson’s patients.
- Harlequin: With a CBD to THC ratio of 5:2, Harlequin is a good cannabis strain choice for Parkinson’s patients. This ratio means that you’ll gain much of the benefits of THC without experiencing too much of a high that could make you anxious or leave you feeling mentally foggy. With Harlequin you’ll feel relaxed yet energized at the same time, and your pain will soon melt away.
- Cherry Kola: With a sweet cherry flavour profile, this indica strain delivers potent stress relief and works great for Parkinson’s patients who suffer from insomnia and other sleeping difficulties. A slight euphoric effect after consumption makes Cherry Kola a good choice for battling fatigue and stress.
- Dark Blue Dream: Sweet and earthy, this hybrid strain has undertones of blueberry and works wonders when it comes to relaxing the body. Dark Blue Dream will provide pain relief and reduce Parkinson’s symptoms, while allowing you to focus on daily tasks.
- ACDC: This high-CBD strain may be your best bet if you’re looking for a pain-fighting strain with little to no psychoactive effects. ACDC may have you feeling slightly altered, but it won’t give you that classic marijuana high. You may also feel energized, relaxed and uplifted after consuming ACDC.
Photo credit: Juan Pablo Arenas