A recently published study reviews evidence that cannabis and related compounds could provide promising therapies in neurodegenerative and movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease (PD).
Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the central nervous system . It’s a progressive condition, with the most visible symptom being shaking and difficulty with walking. Other symptoms include pain, depression, memory issues and sleep problems. Around half of people with Parkinson’s also experience difficulties with speech.
The cause of the disease is linked to a reduction the production of a neurotransmitter called dopamine.
According to Parkinson’s Australia, 70,000 Australians are living with the disease. While primarily affecting those in in their latter years, younger people can fall victim to it as well. Celebrity Michael J. Fox was diagnosed with the condition when he was just 31.
Parkinson’s disease has no known cure and while there are medications available to manage it, most focus on the motor symptoms and some have unpleasant side effects, such as dyskinesia (tics).
While not fatal in itself, the disorder can have a significant impact on a person’s life.
The review, led by Professor Zvi Loewy from the Touro College of Pharmacy in New York, found medical marijuana has been demonstrated to improve motor symptoms including tremor, rigidity, and bradykinesia (slowness of movement).
“Marijuana has been shown to improve nonmotor symptoms of PD such as depression, pain, sleep, and anxiety,” states the paper, published in the journal Parkinson’s Disease.
“Moreover, components of cannabis have been demonstrated to have neuroprotective effect due to their anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, and antiexcitotoxic properties.”
The paper is comprehensive, listing just over 300 references.
While generally upbeat about the potential of marijuana in managing Parkinson’s, the study’s authors raise concerns including lack of standardization and regulation, imprecise dosing, possible adverse effects, and medication interactions.
Marijuana’s potential is also being explored in relation to other chronic neurodegenerative diseases.
Earlier this year, researchers from the Salk Institute in California discovered the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can assist in the removal of a toxic protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Also this year, researchers from Tel-Aviv University determined the use of medicinal cannabis could improve the lives of Alzheimer’s patients.