What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease is a nervous system disorder which results from nerve cell damage in the brain. The region of the brain that is affected by it is where dopamine, a chemical that is vital for controlling the movement of muscles and movement, is created.
When these dopamine producing cells begin to die, the body’s level of dopamine drops. Low levels of dopamine makes it hard to control bodily movements and Parkinson’s Disease starts to develop
It mainly affects people who are over the age of 65, but early onset Parkinson’s Disease may develop earlier in some cases.
Rough estimates indicate just under 70,000 people living with Parkinson’s in Australia. This makes it the most common major movement disorder and second most common neurodegenerative condition after Alzheimers.
37 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease every day in Australia
There is currently no cure for Parkinson’s disease although advances in medical research are advancing every year. However, symptoms can be treated with a combination of the following treatments:
- Medicine that increases or substitutes dopamine
- Modifying the physical environment at home and work
- Healthy eating with regular exercise and movement
- Brain surgery
What are the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease?
The symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease will vary over time and between different people, but the majority of cases will have difficulty in physical movement.
The most common symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease are:
- Shaking or small tremors (most commonly in the hand or fingers) when tired or at rest. Can also affect other parts of the body
- slowing of movement, which may lead to periods of freezing (inability to start moving)
- Loss of balance and stooped posture
- Muscle stiffness and rigidity, which may be painful and restrict bodily movements
- Slowing of bodily movement, this may lead to periods of ‘freezing’ (the inability to start moving)
Other symptoms that may occur are:
- Loss of reflex movements, such as smiling and blinking
- Difficulty with swallowing
- changes to speech, such as soft, quick or slurred speech
- Anxiety or depression
- Losing sense of smell
- Drop in blood pressure, which can lead to dizziness
- Difficulties with handwriting
- Lack of urinary control
- Sleep disturbance
- Increase in sweating
What causes Parkinson’s Disease?
It is still unknown as to how exactly Parkinson’s Disease is caused, and is believed to be inherited in only a small percentage of people. Exposure to particular environmental toxins is also thought to play a small role in its causation. Research is currently being undertaken to find out why and/or how dopamine-producing cells start to deteriorate.
Brain imaging showing loss in serotonin function as Parkinson’s disease progresses. Red/yellow areas show that serotonin function reduces before movement symptoms develop. [Neurodegeneration Imaging Group, King’s College London.]
Medicinal CBD for Parkinson’s Disease
A 2014 double-blind trial aimed to look deeper into the endocannabinoid system as a possible link to the treatment of Parkinson’s Disease, despite there not being any neuroprotective treatments being found to date.
The study selected 21 participants from a sample size of 119 people with Parkinson’s Disease, who did not have dementia or any other comorbid psychiatric conditions. Participants were divided up into three groups with seven participants in each, one group taking a placebo, the second group taking 75mg of CBD a day and the last with 300mg a day. The study reported on participant’s motor and general symptoms score (which measured the symptoms they had been experiencing), well-being and quality of life score and the possible neuroprotective effects .
There was no significant increase in participants’ neuroprotective effects or motor and general symptoms scores when compared to their baseline levels. The groups who had taken the placebo and the 300mg of CBD daily reported significantly different mean total quality of life and well-being scores.
The findings pointed to a possibility of an increase in quality of life for Parkinson’s disease patients with no comorbid psychiatric conditions but studies with larger sample sizes and more specific objectives would be needed in order to draw definitive conclusions.
A medical review published in 2020 sought to evaluate the efficacy of medical cannabinoids by appraising the quality of previous clinical research. It also explored the factors stopping the use of cannabinoids in the clinical practice of Parkinson’s disease.
A systematic review of various databases found 14 published studies found to assess the quality of. Of these 14 studies, 5 were randomised-controlled trials (RCT) and 9 were uncontrolled studies. The review found that the positive effects of motor and non-motor symptoms described in the uncontrolled studies were not confirmed by the few RCT that had been looked at. Only one of these found a reduction of levodopa-induced dyskinesias, which are uncontrolled, involuntary movements that are associated with taking the potent Parkinson’s medication levodopa. Another found a reduction in anxiety and tremor amplitude. The other three RCT studies found no effect on symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
Through this review, insufficient evidence was found to lead to the reform of international legislation in regards to the use of medical cannabinoids in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Previous research into the topic was found to not be substantial enough to draw any conclusions, but had some results that could lead to more in-depth research into the potential for CBD to ease the symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Could CBD cure Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s Victoria, an advocacy group that raises awareness and funds for people living in Victoria with Parkinson’s disease, states that until more research is undertaken, they cannot say that CBD can cure the disease.This does not mean that cannabis has absolutely no benefits for people with Parkinson’s but that it may be related to the standards of the research conducted and the other conditions and symptoms of the person taking it.
Research has shown some potential for increasing the quality of life for those with Parkinson’s, with a study showing an increase of it for participants who took 300mg of CBD a day and who didn’t have any comorbid psychiatric conditions. Other metrics reported on in this study such as motor or general symptoms did not improve with CBD use however. More studies must be undertaken before conclusive evidence is drawn on whether CBD can definitely ease symptoms and increase the quality of life of people with the condition.
Medical reviews have also come up inconclusive, with not enough successful RCT trials being undertaken to prove the efficacy of CBD. Some research indicates its usefulness in some settings but, as stated above, larger test groups and more RCT clinical studies are needed in order to increase the amount of successful results.
As always, contact your GP or specialist before undertaking any CBD treatment for Parkinson’s disease, and do so under guidance and supervision of professionals.