Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a progressive, permanent condition that affects the nervous system. Over time, stiffness and slowed cognition can develop. Eventually, this can lead to more severe symptoms, such as moving and speech difficulties. You may even experience tremors as well as posture changes.
Researchers are constantly looking for new therapies that can help people manage PD symptoms and overall quality of life. Marijuana is one possible alternative treatment.
Numerous studies have been conducted on marijuana and its active components. While not entirely conclusive, the research on marijuana shows promise for people with PD. It may help with overall symptom management.
Read on to learn more about the uses of marijuana for PD.
For PD, marijuana is thought to provide numerous benefits, including:
- pain relief
- reduced tremors
- better quality of sleep
- improved overall mood
- more ease in movement
These benefits are attributed to the muscle-relaxing and analgesic effects of marijuana.
Though marijuana can come with minor side effects, some people prefer these over some of the risk factors associated with common PD medications. Certain drugs for Parkinson’s disease can cause:
- ankle swelling
- blotching of the skin
- involuntary movements
- memory problems
- liver damage
- problems urinating
What the research says
Research into marijuana’s effects on health are prominent as more states work toward legalization. In one study published in 2014, 22 participants with PD saw improvement in sleep, tremors, and pain within 30 minutes of smoking marijuana.
In another study published in 2010, researchers found that cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory properties. Cannabinoids are active compounds in marijuana. These may help reduce symptoms in a variety of related diseases.
The research into potential effects of marijuana for PD is ongoing. Larger studies may need to be conducted before it’s a widely accepted treatment.
Despite the potential benefits of marijuana for people with Parkinson’s, there are also some risk factors involved. THC in marijuana can cause:
- impaired thinking and movements
- memory problems
- mood changes
Smoking marijuana may have more side effects than taking it in other forms. Short-term effects are related to the smoke itself and can include lung irritation and coughing. Frequent lung infections are another possibility. Over time, marijuana smoke may lead to heart problems or exacerbate any current heart conditions, although there are no clinical studies that show a direct relationship between marijuana and cardiovascular events.
If you have depression or anxiety, using marijuana has the potential to make your symptoms worse, as some research suggests that people who smoke marijuana are diagnosed with depression more often than those who do not. However, there is no clear evidence that marijuana directly causes depression. Learn more about the effects of marijuana on your body.
Using medical marijuana
Although the FDA has not recognized the marijuana plant as medicine, there are two main cannabinoids from the plant that are used for treatment: cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
CBD contains active ingredients from the Cannabis plant minus the THC, which is the part that makes people “high.” These compounds have the potential to decrease inflammation and reduce pain without the psychoactive effects of THC. CBD can be used to treat a variety of chronic illnesses, including Parkinson’s disease. Cannabidiol also doesn’t carry the risks of traditional marijuana smoke.
CBD may come in the form of:
- food products, such as candies and brownies
In some states, CBD can be purchased over the counter with no prescription or medical marijuana license and is considered legal if it’s produced from industrial hemp. In all states where medical marijuana is legal, CBD is covered under the same legal protections.
In the United States, medical marijuana and CBD laws vary by state. If medical marijuana is legal in your state, you’ll need to ask your doctor to fill out forms for an application to obtain a medical marijuana card. This card identifies you as being able to purchase marijuana in your state for a designated medical condition.
Medical marijuana isn’t legal in all states. It also isn’t legal in all countries. Check your local laws for more information and talk with your doctor. If it isn’t legal where you live, it may become legal in the future.
Other treatments for Parkinson’s
The primary goals in treating PD are to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life. Treatment may also prevent disease progression.
If taking marijuana isn’t feasible, there are other options available. Numerous types and combinations of conventional medications may also be used. Examples include:
- amantadine (Symmetrel), which is used in early stages
- carbidopa-levodopa (Sinemet)
- catechol-o-methyltransferase (COMT) inhibitors
- dopamine agonists
- MAO-B inhibitors, which may help prevent dopamine levels from dropping
Most PD medications focus on motor symptoms. These treatments may not work for other symptoms, called “nonmotor” symptoms. Talk to your doctor about possible options for treating the following nonmotor symptoms of Parkinson’s:
- bladder problems
- difficulties with concentration and thinking
- loss of libido
- swallowing difficulties
It’s important to note that marijuana can potentially treat both motor and nonmotor PD symptoms.
To prevent Parkinson’s from getting worse, your doctor may recommend a type of surgery called deep brain stimulation. This involves the surgical placement of new electrodes in the brain.
Currently, there’s no cure for PD. Medications can help manage your symptoms. You may also want to explore alternative therapies, including marijuana. Marijuana isn’t a feasible therapy for everyone with Parkinson’s, but if you’re interested in considering this treatment, talk to your doctor to find out if it’s a good option for you.