More than half of Parkinson’s disease patients who use cannabis experience noticeable clinical benefits, according to a new study in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease[i]. Given that neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s are so notoriously difficult to treat, and that a large proportion of patients don’t respond to conventional therapies and medications, the prospect of using cannabis to alleviate symptoms is something that many will welcome.
Cannabis Reduces Symptoms In Most Patients
The new study was conducted by researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, and sought to determine the efficacy of cannabis as a treatment for Parkinson’s disease, while also assessing the level of knowledge among Parkinson’s patients regarding cannabis. In Germany, cannabis products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have been available since 2017 for people who suffer from certain debilitating conditions but have failed to respond to other treatments. Cannabidiol (CBD), meanwhile, is available over the counter.
In a statement, study author Professor Carsten Buhmann explained that “[Parkinson’s] patients fulfilling these criteria are entitled to be prescribed medical cannabis, but there are few data about which type of cannabinoid and which route of administration might be promising for which patient and which symptoms.”
Buhmann and colleagues therefore sent out questionnaires to members of the German Parkinson Association (Deutsche Parkinson Vereinigung), asking participants about their experiences with medical cannabis. A total of 1,348 people responded, 8.4 percent of whom said that they had used cannabis to treat their condition.
Overall, 54 percent of those who use oral CBD products said that they experienced a reduction in symptoms, while 68 percent of people who inhaled THC-containing cannabis reported an improvement.
Around 40 percent of respondents revealed that medical cannabis had helped to alleviate symptoms such as pain and muscle cramps, with 20 percent claiming to have benefited from a reduction in tremors, restless legs, depression, anxiety and akinesia, which is the loss of ability to control one’s muscles.
THC Brings More Benefit Than CBD
Around 60 percent of respondents who used medical cannabis said that they ingested oral CBD, while a quarter reported using marijuana or hashish containing THC. Roughly ten percent, meanwhile, used a nasal spray that consisted of both CBD and THC in a 1:1 ratio.
On the whole, THC users tended to experience greater reductions in Parkinson’s symptoms than CBD users. This backs up the findings from a previous study which suggested that 82.2 percent of Parkinson’s patients benefited from cannabis, with the majority of participants smoking joints that contained THC[ii].
In this latest study, half of those who used THC reported an improvement in stiffness and akinesia, compared to 35 percent of those who only ingested oral CBD. More impressively, THC brought about reductions in freezing in 80 percent of users, while only one in four patients who took CBD experienced such a benefit.
Freezing is a common symptom in Parkinson’s patients, and involves a sudden but temporary inability to move. It often occurs while trying to stand up or while walking, in which case it is referred to as freezing gait.
“Because freezing often is not adequately controlled with usual medication, smoking cannabis leaves might be a therapeutic option,” conclude the study authors.
However, Buhmann urges caution when interpreting these results, saying: “it has to be stressed, though, that our findings are based on subjective patient reports and that clinically appropriate studies are urgently needed.”
[i] Yenilmez, Ferhat et al. ‘Cannabis in Parkinson’s Disease: The Patients’ View’. 1 Jan. 2020 : 1 – 13. – https://content.iospress.com/articles/journal-of-parkinsons-disease/jpd202260
[ii] Balash Y, Schleider LB, Korczyn AD, Shabtai H, Knaani J, Rosenberg A, Baruch Y, Djaldetti R, Giladi N, Gurevich T. Medical cannabis in Parkinson disease: real-life patients’ experience. Clinical Neuropharmacology. 2017 Nov 1;40(6):268-72. – https://journals.lww.com/clinicalneuropharm/Abstract/2017/11000/Medical_Cannabis_in_Parkinson_Disease___Real_Life.8.aspx