If you are a regular cannabis user, whether it’s medicinal, recreational or both, you might’ve heard about it being recommended for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are among these illnesses;  and it is very common to hear or read testimonies about success in cases where CBD was used for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. But, how true are these claims? What is the effect of CBD oil in our brains?

First of all, there is a general, slightly misinformed, idea that cannabis consumption affects short and long term memory. It is very common to hear people say that marijuana smokers have a tendency to “forget everything they do”.

A study published in 2016, by JAMA International Medicine, proved that there could be a strong correlation between cannabis use and memory recall. Researchers documented that people who smoked marijuana on a daily basis, for five or more years, had poorer verbal memory than people who didn’t smoke, or smoked less.

However, there is no need to panic. What scientists didn’t specify in their paper is that THC might be the sneaky cannabinoid responsible for that “memory loss”. Frequent high-THC cannabis intake can produce a reduction in the size of the hippocampus. This can affect cognitive performance.  But luckily for us, THC is not the only medicinal compound found in the cannabis plant. It turns out that cannabidiol, or CBD, can help reverse the negative long-term effects of THC.

In 2018, scientists in Australia published an interesting study about how CBD can eleiminate that hippocampus problem caused by THC. They chose regular cannabis smokers to measure their hippocampus. Then, they gave the subjects four 50mg CBD capsules per day. 10 weeks later, their hippocampus was considerably larger in size. Furthermore, they suggested that CBD could be a “useful treatment for brain degenerative diseases.” Among those, Parkinson’s Disease.Let’s find out if CBD oil could be a good complementary treatment for Parkinson’s

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, this illness is a “neurodegenerative disorder that affects predominantly dopamine-producing (“dopaminergic”) neurons in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra”.

Parkinson’s Disease affects more than 10 million people around the world. In the United States, almost 60.000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease every year. It is a condition that mostly affects older people. Only four percent of people who suffer from Parkinson’s Disease are diagnosed before the age of 50. Interestingly, Parkinson’s Disease affects men 1.5 times more than women. Parkinson’s Foundation estimates that by 2020, there will be nearly one million people living with Parkinson’s Disease in the United States.

What are the Symptoms?

What makes Parkinson’s Disease hard to diagnose is that symptoms appear very slowly throughout the patient’s life. However, early Parkinson’s symptoms might include:

  • Tremors:  Involuntary shaking of the hands, arms legs or jaw. The typical Parkinson’s tremor is called “pill-rolling”. This is because when people are experiencing tremors, it looks like they are holding a pill between their thumb and forefinger, with a continuous movement of rolling it around. Tremors in Parkinson’s are called “resting tremors”, because it mostly happens when the muscle is relaxed.
  • Bradykinesia: In more common words, this means slowness of movement.
  • Limb rigidity or tightness.
  • Gait and balance problems.

Other early Parkinson’s symptoms can be small handwriting, loss o lessening of the sense of smell, trouble moving or walking, and often dizziness and recurrent fainting episodes. There is not an exact test to diagnose Parkinson’s. The most common ones used to identify if a patient suffers from this illness are neurological tests, including DAT scans.

If you begin to feel the symptoms described above, consult a physician before coming to rushed conclusions on your own. But do keep an eye on your health! Better safe than sorry.

What causes Parkinson’s Disease?

There is no known direct cause for Parkinson’s disease. As we previously explained, this condition is directly related to the substantia nigra. This part of the brain is in charge, among other things, of controlling movement.

In parkinson’s disease, the substantia nigra stops making dopamine, which helps cells communicate.  As a result, the brains stops receiving messages regarding movement.

Scientific literature often addresses the possibility of genetics being somehow involved in Parkinson’s incidence. There are indications that Parkinson’s can run in families. Also, environmental conditions might increase the risk of suffering from it.

Finally, Parkinson’s disease has, to this day, no cure. However, some studies indicate that CBD, among other treatment options, might be a possible treatment for this condition.

CBD oil for Parkinson’s: what do the studies say?

For the past few years, the scientific community has started investigating the effects of CBD in the brain. Studies suggest that CBD can prevent, and even reverse, cognitive impairments. In addition, one published study explains that:

Cbd can reduce “alcohol-induced cell death in the brain” by more than 60%.

National institute of mental health (nimh)

Researchers are also trying to identify how CBD can act as a neuroprotectant. If definitive evidence is found, this will mean a breakthrough on how cannabis, more specifically CBD, can be an alternate, non invasive treatment for diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and dementia.

Consequently, there have been numerous reports of patients that experience a reduction in their tremors after cannabis intake. Also, there are early reports that cannabis can help Parkinson’s symptoms like bradykinesia and dyskinesia (excess movement caused by levodopa). Nevertheless, The Parkinson’s Foundation suggests caution when it comes to cannabis use for Parkinson’s patients:

“Despite some promising preclinical findings, researchers have not found any meaningful or conclusive benefits of cannabis for people with PD”. On the contrary, Project CBD has something else to say about that.

CBD, The Endocannabinoid System and Parkinson’s

Project CBD suggests that there is a strong evidence that CBD activates a protein receptor called GPR6. It turns out this receptor can induce an increase of dopamine levels in the brain. As a result, GPR6 could have an important role in Parkinson’s treatment because the main cause of the disease is the loss of dopamine producing neurons. And, therefore, CBD can act as an “inverse agonist” to the GPR6 receptor and, consequently, boost dopamine levels.

In addition, there is a strong correlation between gut bacteria (enteric nervous system) and worsening of Parkinson’s patients’ motor function. And there is a strong connection between the endocannabinoid system and microbiome (collection of all microorganisms living in association within the human body).

The endocannabinoid system mediates communications between “the central and the enteric nervous systems, which comprise the gut-brain axis”, Project CBD explains. Thus, CBD, by working with the endocannabinoid system, can moderate the communications between gut and brain, showing great potential for Parkinson’s treatment.

Dr. Bonni Goldstein, author of Cannabis Revealed, explains that cannabis works differently in every patient, and that more research is needed to fully understand which cannabinoids and dosage is right for each one:

“a number of my patients with pd have reported the benefits of using different methods of delivery and different cannabinoid profiles. Some patients have found relief of tremors with inhaled thc and other have not. A few patients have found relief with high doses of cbd-rich cannabis taken sublingually. Some patients are using a combination of cbd and thc … trial and error is needed to find what cannabinoid profile and method will work best”.

In conclusion, and like it often happens with cannabis, anecdotal evidence and some studies suggest CBD as a possible treatment. However, the medical community still needs more research.

Other studies

  • Cannabis (medical marijuana) treatment for motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson disease: Published in 2014, this study reported that300 mg/day of CBD significantly improved quality of life but had no positive effect on the Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale.
  • Survey on cannabis use in Parkinson’s disease: This study showed that 0.5g of smoked cannabis resulted in “significant improvement in tremor and bradykinesia as well as sleep”.
  • Cannabinoids reduce levodopa-induced dyskinesia in Parkinson’s disease: This 2001 research suggests that nabilone, a cannabinoid receptor, reduces levodopa-induced dyskinesia in Parkinson’s Disease.
  • The Therapeutic Potential of Cannabinoids for Movement DisordersResearchers found that after clinical observations of cannabinoid therapies, patients reported benefits related to lessening of tics, but no improvement in tremors or dyskinesias.

Other lifestyle changes that might alleviate Parkinson’s symptoms

Though there is no known cure for Parkinson’s Disease, there are some lifestyle changes that patients can make in order to improve their quality of life. As we often insist, it is always recommended to eat healthy and exercise.

Exercise:

Depending on how advanced symptoms are, it is always recommended to do cardio aerobic exercise within possibilities,. It stimulates the production of endocannabinoids, increases oxygen and increases levels of BDNF production, a chemical found in our brain that is very low in Parkinson’s patients.

More fruits, vegetables and probiotics:

Parkinson’s patients often suffer from constipation. We explained above how the gut has a major role in the disease. Thus, changing to a high fiber diet improves gut motility and bowel movements. Also, probiotic foods such as garlic, onions, bananas, asparagus, among others, are good for the benign bacteria in our intestine.

Meditation and yoga are always a good idea:

These two activities can enhance our endocannabinoid system, therefore helping with our mobility and homeostasis. Evenmore, yoga can improve balance, flexibility and posture, which is crucial for Parkinson’s patients. Also, yoga and meditation can increase grey matter density in areas that are associated with Parkinson’s Disease.