With approximately 60,000 people diagnosed each year in the U.S., Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is the second most common degenerative neurological disorder after Alzheimer’s. Symptoms of PD may cause tremors, stiffness or slowed movement in the body, depending on the severity of the progression. While currently there is no cure for the disease, modern medicine and surgical therapy have helped patients treat symptoms. Ongoing clinical studies suggest that CBD may play a role in managing the debilitating symptoms of PD, due to its neuroprotective, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Definitive research on the potential benefits of CBD is still in its early stages, but here is what science suggests in regards to PD.
Parkinson’s Disease and the Human Body
This disease generally progresses slowly over years, with different symptoms depending on the patient. Those with PD may experience tremors, limb rigidity or gait and balance problems. While it mainly impacts their motor symptoms (movement-related), it also may cause non-motor symptoms, including depression, apathy, constipation, sleep behavior disorders or loss of sense of smell. While there isn’t an exact cause of PD, doctors do know that the initial trouble starts in the brain cells.
In a part of the brain known as the substantia nigra, the cells that produce the chemical dopamine begin to die. This decreases the levels of dopamine in the brain. This chemical neurotransmitter acts as a messenger that tells another area of the brain when to move a part of the body. When dopamine gets too low, it becomes difficult to control movements, thus leading to the symptoms of PD.
While there isn’t evidence of CBD increasing or promoting the production of dopamine in the brain, a potential treatment may lie in CBD’s antioxidant and neuroprotective properties.
CBD for Parkinson’s Disease
According to a study by the Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Regulation in Bethesda, Maryland, cannabinoids including cannabidiol (CBD), are potent antioxidants. An antioxidant is a substance that inhibits oxidation, which is a chemical reaction that produces free radicals that damage cells and lead to chronic diseases and illnesses. Antioxidants can neutralize damaging oxidizing agents from the bloodstream to prevent the risk of developing diseases including PD.
As a neuroprotectant, CBD is able to protect against damage to the brain and nervous system by encouraging the growth of new neurons.
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a network of receptors throughout the body that regulate functions like sleep, appetite, pain and immune system response. The ECS has also been found to play a large role in the physiological process, and has been found altered in pathological conditions, including movement disorders. Cannabinoids found in cannabidiol have been linked to increasing the amount of natural cannabinoids the body produces. These natural cannabinoids, also known as endocannabinoids, have shown to interact with neurotransmitters to produce therapeutic effects. In one clinical trial, the consumption of cannabis improved motor scores and pain symptoms in PD patients.
Some studies suggest that cannabinoid-based medicines may help motor and non-motor symptoms of PD; however, further trials need to be held involving a larger sample of patients for more conclusive evidence.
CBD as Potential Treatment for Parkinson’s Disease
CBD is currently at the forefront of new research for medical conditions and neurodegenerative diseases. To date, there has been studies linking CBD as a potential treatment for PD, but more are needed to understand the full effects of the compound on this debilitating condition. CBD, sometimes in conjunction with THC, may help tremor, stiffness, insomnia, dystonia, pain, dyskinesias or weight loss. Conclusions drawn from the current research suggests that while it can’t stop or reverse the PD, it can slow the progression and treat the underlying symptoms.
New research is in the works in regards to how CBD oil can benefit those with Parkinson’s. In a recent podcast on Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s, Dr. Trevor Hawkins discusses ongoing trials at the University of Colorado on the use of CBD oil for PD. Aside from clinical findings, patient-reported evidence may also be worth looking into.
Hawkins says, “The big takeaway is there is so much anecdotal evidence out there that it definitely warrants taking a deeper look.” He goes on to discuss that one of the biggest research issues in the field is the many variables that exist, including types of symptoms, how CBD is administered, the dose, etc. He says there are still a lot of pieces to be worked out on that front.