If you are a regular cannabis user, weather its medicinal, recreational or both, you probably heard about how cannabis is good for  neurodegenerative diseases. Among this diseases are Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.  Also, it is very common to hear or read recommendations about CBD oil for Parkinson’s and even CBD oil for Alzheimer’s. But, how true is it? What is the effect of CBD oil in our brains?

First of all, there is a general conception that marijuana affects short and long term memory. It is very common to hear people how marijuana smokers tend to “forget everything”. Well, a study published in 2016 by JAMA International Medicine proved that there could be a strong relationship between cannabis use and memory recall. Researchers documented that people who smoked marijuana ·on a daily basis for five years or more, had poorer verbal memory than people who didn’t smoke or smoked less. However, there is no need to panic.

What scientists didn’t specified in their paper is that THC might be the cannabinoid responsible for that “memory loss”. Frequent high-THC cannabis intake can produce a reduction of the hippocampus. This can affect cognitive performance.  But lucky for us, THC is not the only chemical compound found in the cannabis plant. It turns out that cannabidiol, or CBD, can help the negative long-term effects of THC.

Last year, scientists in Australia published an interesting study about how CBD can avoid that hippocampus problem. They chose regular cannabis smokers to measure their hippocampus. Then, they gave the subjects four 50 milligram CBD capsules per day. After 10 weeks, their hippocampus was considerably larger in size. Furthermore, they suggested that CBD could be “useful treatment for brain degenerative diseases. Among those, Parkinson’s Disease.

Let’s find out if CBD oil for Parkinson’s can be a good treatment.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

First of all, it is important to briefly talk about what is Parkinson’s Disease, what are Parkinson’s symptoms and what are the possible treatment. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, this is a “neurodegenerative disorder that affects predominantly dopamine-producing (“dopaminergic”) neurons in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra”.

Above all, 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 affects older people. Only four percent of people with Parkinson’s Disease are diagnosed before they turn 50. In particular, Parkinson’s Disease affects men 1.5 more than woman. 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 Parkinson’s Symptoms?

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

  • Tremor:  Involuntary shaking of the hands, arms legs, jaw or gaungue. The typical Parkinson’s tremor is called “pill-rolling”. This is because when people are experiencing tremors, they it looks like they are holding a pill between 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 less sensitivity of smell, trouble moving or even walking, and often dizziness and recurrent faintings. There is not an exact test to diagnose Parkinson’s. The most common ones used to identify if a patient suffers from Parkinson’s are neurological tests, including a DAT scan. It is better to check with your doctor if you start feeling the symptoms that we described above. Better safe than sorry.

What causes Parkinson’s Disease?

Furthermore, there is no direct cause for Parkinson’s. We previously explained that this condition is directly related with the substantia nigra. This part of the brain is in charge, among other things, to control 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 talks about how genetics can be involved somehow in Parkinson’s. There are indications that Parkinson’s can run in families. Also, environmental conditions might increase the risk of Parkinson’s.

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

CBD oil for Parkinson’s: what does studies say

During the past few years, the scientific community started to investigate the effects of CBD in the brain. Studies suggest that CBD can reverse or even prevent cognitive impairments. In addition, another study published explains that:

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

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Research is also trying to identify how CBD can act as a neuroprotectant. If proved, this will mean a breakthrough on how cannabis, more specifically CBD, can be an alternate 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 prefers caution when it comes to cannabis and Parkinson’s:

“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

Why is CBD used for medical purposes

Project CBD suggests that there is a strong evidence that CBD activates a protein receptor called GPR6. It turns out that 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 relation between bacteria in the gut (enteric nervous system) and worsening of Parkinson’s Disease motor function. And there is a strong relation 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”, the website 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 there is more research needed to fully understand which cannabinoids and dosage is right for each patient:

“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, more research is needed.

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 Disorders: Researchers found that after clinical observations of cannabinoid therapies, patients reported benefits to tics, but no benefits for tremor in dyskinesias.

Other lifestyle changes to deal with Parkinson’s symptoms

Although there is no cure for Parkinson’s Disease, there are some lifestyle changes that patients can do to improve quality life. As we often encourage our readers, healthy eating and exercise are always recommended.

  • Exercise: Depending on how advance symptoms are, it is always recommended to do cardio aerobic exercise. 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 it is recommended to change 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, always a good idea: This 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. Als, yoga and meditation can increase grey matter density in areas that are associated with Parkinson’s Disease.

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