My wife has Parkinson’s and her neurologist is anti-cannabis. We have learned a lot about the plant and have been making infused olive oil tinctures. We just want to know if we are on track and what else can we be doing?

By Eloise Theisen | Last updated: January 24, 2022

doctor holding the hand of an elderly patient

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is expected to affect close to a million people in the US by 2020. Men are 1.5 times more likely to be affected than women and the risk of PD generally increases as we age with less than four per cent of people under 50 being diagnosed. PD is a result of decreased dopamine production. Symptoms can vary from person to person. Hallmark signs are those associated with movement such as tremors, stiffness, and slow movements. Additionally, people may experience excessive drooling, dizziness, constipation, unsteady balance, and involuntary movements.

Currently, PD is not curable. Treatments may vary from prescription medications, surgery, exercise, diet, and complementary therapies. Cannabis qualifies as a complementary therapy and is even supported by the Parkinson’s Foundation. In fact, the Parkinson’s Foundation did a study on physician attitudes towards cannabis. The results demonstrated that 80 per cent of patients admitted to using cannabis while only 23 per cent of physicians had any formal education on cannabis.

Clearly, patients are finding cannabis helpful even if they did not get any guidance from their physicians. So, what does the research say about cannabis and PD?

In a 2017 study with 47 PD patients, researchers evaluated patients experiences with cannabis use on symptom management. Eighty-two per cent found an overall improvement with symptoms. Tremors were decreased by 73 per cent, muscle spasticity was decreased by 72 per cent, sleep improved in 71 per cent, and 82 per cent saw a decrease in pain. While the sample size was small, it demonstrated cannabis was able to help with multiple different symptoms associated with PD.

Determining what type of cannabis and route of administration to use can be overwhelming. Delta-9 THC can increase dopamine production in short-term use while it may decrease dopamine in chronic users. More recently, researchers have been looking at CBD as a possible treatment in PD.

Cannabis should not be used as a replacement for other treatments and is best used to manage symptoms. Low doses of delta-9 THC may improve mood, pain, sleep, spasticity, and tremors. CBD may also help with mood, sleep, pain, tremors, and spasticity with less impairing effects than THC. Both CBD and THC can cause dizziness and worsen balance. It is important to work with a knowledgeable cannabis healthcare professional to maximize benefit and reduce side effects.

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Written by Eloise Theisen | Nurse Practitioner, Founder of Radicle Health

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Eloise Theisen, AGPCNP-BC, is a dedicated and patient-focused nurse. For over 17 years, she has specialized in aging, cancer, chronic pain, dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia, and various autoimmune and neurological diseases. The founder of Radicle Health, she started her career at John Muir Medical Center caring for patients suffering from cancer, terminal illnesses, respiratory failure/complaints, drug overdoses, acute alcohol ingestion, gastrointestinal bleeds, traumatic brain injury, and multiple traumas.

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