Article written by
Tina MagrabiSenior Content Writer
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Meet Ian Frizell, a 55-year-old man who uses medical cannabis to help control the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease (PD). The following video demonstrates the transformative potential of cannabis medicine on Parkinson’s-related tremors.
We see Ian’s tremors lessen and then stop by the end of the time-lapse video. He claims he does not use any prescription medication but rather vaporizes cannabis for tremor relief, which lasts up to four hours.
In fact, cannabis may be a viable treatment for PD and other neurodegenerative diseases because of the plant’s potential to decrease or even stop tremors. Why does cannabis have this powerful effect on Ian? There’s no definitive evidence yet to prove that cannabis helps Parkinson’s Disease, but the testimonials of many people like Ian make it difficult to discount the phenomenon as “anecdotal” or “chance.”
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The Role of Dopamine and Anandamide in Parkinson’s Disease
Though the precise cause of Parkinson’s Disease is unknown, one factor may be a loss of nerve cells called substantia nigra located in the midbrain region. This loss of nerve cells causes a reduction in dopamine production. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a vital role in regulating the movement of the body. Cannabis may help “balance” the endocannabinoid and dopamine-dependent systems that control movement.
Anandamide is an endocannabinoid whose namesake comes from the Sanskrit ananda, meaning joyous or euphoric. It is the endocannabinoid believed to be responsible for “runner’s high”, and so far the science suggests that it serves an important role in the release of dopamine. PD sufferers lack sufficient anandamide due to the damage caused to the cannabinoid signaling system in the basal ganglia.
Using cannabis can boost the amount of anandamide the body produces, thereby improving muscle coordination in PD sufferers. Using cannabis may also help slow the onset of bradykinesia – slowness of movement linked to PD.
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Research on Brain Cell Growth and Parkinson’s Disease
Exciting research has emerged on cannabis’s ability to help promote the growth of brain cells. Cannabidiol (CBD) is of particular interest, as studies suggest that it may have neuroprotective properties. Specifically, CBD may help protect brain cells from neuroinflammation, neurotoxicity and mitochondrial dysfunction. For this reason, some retired NFL players and others with brain injuries have begun to view cannabis as a potential life-saver.
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How Does Cannabis Promote Brain Cell Growth?
As for why cannabis may promote brain cell growth, there are numerous theories. One theory suggests that phytocannabinoids (from outside the body) help replace the endocannabinoids the bodies of PD sufferers aren’t producing. In order to “catch” all these phytocannabinoids, the body starts to make new neurons. Yes, this means that cannabis might not only be a way to control PD and other neurodegenerative diseases, but also a way to reverse them.
Parkinson’s Disease and Pain
Those suffering from PD, multiple sclerosis (MS) and many other such diseases often endure painful muscle cramps. Constant aches and stiffness are common for those with PD. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can be used to manage pain, as well as target the same CB1 receptors that anandamide targets, thereby helping regulate the body’s movements.
While many cannabis consumers may feel better in terms of pain and muscle control, others may experience side effects. PD patients may suffer from confusion, impaired posture and a loss of balance after using cannabis. For some, the side effects of using cannabis for PD may outweigh the benefits. However, experiences are highly individual, and prescription medications come with their own side effects.
The Future of Cannabis and Parkinson’s Disease
Much more research is necessary to offer definitive evidence about the effects of cannabis on Parkinson’s patients. However, stories like Ian’s and lab research to date suggest that cannabis may indeed be useful for PD, even as a placebo.
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