Many of us have seen the astonishing videos on the internet showing Parkinson’s patients before and after taking cannabis.
Footage courtesy of Ride with Larry
These anecdotal stories can seem like miracles.
However, much is still to be learned about the plant’s mechanisms in treating Parkinson’s, and scientists are on the hunt to find out just which compounds hold the key to slowing down the disease and managing its symptoms. And right now, CBD for Parkinson’s is at the front of the pack.
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Classed as a neurodegenerative disease of the central nervous system, Parkinson’s affects roughly 6 million people worldwide, most of whom are over 60. No one knows why it begins. There could be a genetic predisposition, while exposure to pesticides and serious head injuries are also stated as possible causes.
Symptoms come on slowly over time and are most commonly related to the motor system, such as shaking, rigidity, slowness of movement, or shuffling. But they can also be accompanied by cognitive and emotional disturbances, as well as difficulties sleeping.
Mobility and movement are first affected because brain cells in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra begin to die, reducing production of the neurotransmitter, dopamine. This alters signalling in the basal ganglia, the area of the brain responsible for movement, thus leading to the collection of motor related symptoms known collectively as Parkinsonism.
Parkinson’s is incurable and current treatment (Levodopa) targets dopamine depletion, although as more neuronal damage occurs, the drug eventually becomes ineffective and can even worsen the uncontrollable movements (dyskinesia) in patients.
Patients turn to cannabis
It’s little wonder then that Parkinson’s sufferers and their families, desperate to slow down the course of the disease and ameliorate the life limiting symptoms, look towards other options. And while, to some, cannabis might seem like a medical wildcard, its use for the disease can be traced back to the 19th Century, where it was described in William Richard Gowers’s “Manual of Diseases of the Nervous System.”
Back then, very little was known about the chemical compounds in the plant.
Indeed, it’s only in the last twenty years that scientists have really begun to understand how cannabis affects the body with the discovery of the endocannabinoid system – the homeostatic regulator comprising a network of receptors (CB1 and CB2) and cannabis-like chemicals, found predominantly in the brain, central nervous and immune system.
Endocannabinoid System and Parkinson’s Disease
One of the key roles of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is regulating the lifespan of a cell, something vitally important in the central nervous system where brain cell loss is particularly difficult to overcome. Scientists have come to realise that in neurodegenerative disease, the ECS may even have a neuroprotective effect, as indicated by alterations in endocannabinoid levels and receptor expression. While these ECS changes are open to interpretation, the conclusion reached is that they reflect the body trying to mitigate against the neuronal damage occurring as a result of the disease.
The area of the brain affected by Parkinson’s, the basal ganglia, has a high density of CB1 receptors and in experimental Parkinson’s models scientists have observed increased CB1 activity in this brain region. Greater CB2 receptor expression has also been noted in the brain’s glial cells, as well as an overall increase in endocannabinoid production.
Researchers have already seen that botanical cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant can have a direct impact on the endocannabinoid system. It’s no surprise then that an exciting area of research into combating neurodegenerative disease is the use of cannabinoids as therapeutic tools.
Cannabinoids as neuroprotectants
While current Parkinson’s medication seeks to redress the depletion of dopamine, the main focus of current cannabinoid research is into the neuroprotective, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of the plant. Even the US Federal Government has patented cannabinoids as neuroprotectants and antioxidants for the treatment of diseases of the central nervous system.
THC, the most abundantly found cannabinoid in cannabis, binds perfectly with the CB1 receptor, eliciting a neuroprotective effect.
However, despite some favourable preclinical studies showing the THC’s ability to reduce Parkinson’s related excitotoxicity, scientists now know that CB1 activation can actually worsen the motor symptoms associated with the disease, thus taking THC out of the running.
But, all is not lost, because other cannabinoids also have a uniquely multi-pronged approach to protecting our brain cells both through ECS receptor activation, but also non-endocannabinoid system mechanisms.
And this is where CBD Oil for Parkinson’s comes to the fore.
CBD and Parkinson’s - how much do we know?
CBD is generally a tricky cannabinoid to understand as it has poor binding affinity with endocannabinoid receptors. Much of its pharmacological effect comes from its interaction with other non-ECS receptors, as well as inhibiting the enzyme that metabolizes a key endocannabinoid in the body.
When it comes to CBD and Parkinson’s, the compound has also been shown to block CB1 receptor activity, making it of particular interest for Parkinson’s research.
But it’s as a powerful antioxidant that CBD shows most promise for Parkinson’s. CBD scavenges the free radicals that cause oxidative stress, commonly believed to be a precursor to Parkinson’s. Unlike other cannabinoids, it does so independently of any endocannabinoid signalling.
In the paper, ‘Endocannabinoids and Neurodegenerative Disorders: Parkinson’s Disease, Huntington’s Chorea, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Others’, the authors describe how “CBD is no less active against the brain damage produced by altered glutamate homeostasis than CBs that do target the CB1 receptor or those targeting the CB2 receptor against local inflammatory events.”
Also of key importance is CBD’s anti-inflammatory action, which again occurs independently of the endocannabinoid system, and is most likely related to the nuclear receptors of the PPAR family.
Find the right CBD products for Parkinson's below, in our CBD repair section:
Lesser known cannabinoids show promise
Reducing inflammation is fundamental in the fight to slow down the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Scientists know that activating the CB2 receptors helps to reduce inflammation in the body. So they have turned their attentions to the lesser known cannabinoid, THCV, which has the unique ability to activate the CB2 receptors while blocking CB1 receptors, as well as also being a powerful antioxidant.
A study carried out on animal models with Parkinson’s disease at the Complutense University in Madrid found that administering THCV lessened motor inhibition, reduced brain cell damage from toxins and protected certain neurones. The authors concluded that “THCV has a promising pharmacological profile for delaying disease progression in PD and also for ameliorating parkinsonian symptoms.”
So far, no clinical studies using THCV for Parkinson’s have been carried out, but many researchers posit that the cannabinoid used alone, or alongside CBD, could provide a valuable therapeutic tool in the future.
While preclinical studies on animal models show some promise for the neuroprotective potential of cannabinoids in Parkinson’s, so far clinical trials have failed to convince the medical community. Studies have targeted small numbers of patients and most have been observational rather than the gold standard of the double blind placebo.
In a survey carried out in the Czech Republic on Parkinson’s patients, of the 25% who used cannabis, 46% reported some benefits to their condition. In a small non-placebo study, patients’ movements were assessed 30 minutes after smoking cannabis with improvements in tremor, rigidity, bradykinesia (slowness of movement), pain, and sleep being noted.
CBD has also been examined in a study aimed at assessing the cannabinoid’s effect on Parkinson’s related psychosis, which after four weeks was found to improve.
Clinical Trials for CBD and Parkinson’s - Past and Future
Until now there have been very few human studies examining CBD for Parkinson’s.
One study, found CBD aided eye movement sleep behavior disorder, a condition commonly experienced by those with Parkinson’s. However, in a 2014 double-blind trial in which 119 patients were given either a placebo, 75mg of CBD or 300mg of CBD, no significant changes were noted in motor symptoms or neuroprotective effects, although those taking 300mg CBD did report improvements in their quality of life.
Perhaps the most complete clinical study looking at CBD oil for Parkinson’s is currently recruiting at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Maureen Leehey MD will be using the GW Pharma CBD extract Epidiolex in a stage 1, open label trial to test its safety and tolerability.
A second stage crossover, double-blind, randomized controlled trial (RCT) should follow with 50 subjects testing whether CBD not only helps with tremors, but also improves anxiety and psychosis, cognition, anxiety, sleep, daytime sleepiness, mood, fatigue, pain, impulsivity, restless legs syndrome, and REM sleep behaviour disorder.
Which CBD Oil Is Best For Parkinson’s?
Though we cannot give you any specific advice about which of our products are best for Parkinson’s Disease, we can guide you towards purchasing the best quality CBD oil.
Key to your decision should be finding CBD oils that are extracted from organic hemp, using state-of-the-art Supercritical CO2 methods. This ensures you that the CBD oil is both free from solvents and that the active compounds like cannabinoids and terpenes are preserved.
But don’t take our word for it. Always ask to see lab reports corresponding to the CBD oil you want to buy. It’s the only way to know just how much CBD you are getting and to guarantee that there are no nasty chemicals, heavy metals or mold in the product.
At Endoca, we pride ourselves on controlling our production process from seed to shelf. Through our organic and Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certified production, we openly demonstrate our commitment towards customer satisfaction and safety.
Why not check out our TrustPilot Page, where you will find honest reviews about the quality of our products and customer service.
While it’s still early days in the field of researching CBD Oil for Parkinson’s, early results look promising. And as more clinical trials take place, perhaps science will eventually catch up with what many patients have already experienced firsthand.