According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, up to 10 million people in the world live with the condition. It also estimated that 930,000 people in the United States have the disease today. This is more than the combined total of individuals with ALS, muscular dystrophy, and multiple sclerosis. Worse still, the figure is projected to reach 1.2 million by 2030.
Around 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) annually. The combined direct and indirect cost of the condition is almost $1 billion per week in the U.S. alone. These costs include treatment, lost income, and social security payments. Medication costs an average of $2,500 per annum, while surgery can set you back approximately $100,000.
Men are 50% more likely to have Parkinson’s than women. It is a condition associated with the aging process. However, 4% of people are diagnosed with it before they reach the age of 50. Although PD is not fatal in itself, it can significantly reduce your quality of life, even with proper treatment.
It is only when an individual is stricken with the symptoms of Parkinson’s that you understand its severity. Patients and their families, fed up with the ineffectiveness of traditional treatments, are turning to medical marijuana for help. A proportion of these users claim that weed has a positive effect on their symptoms.
In this article, we take a closer look at Parkinson’s disease and outline studies that have looked at the possible benefits of weed. We conclude by providing you with five potential strains to consider.
What Is Parkinson’s Disease?
PD is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects your movement. The symptoms are gradual and could begin with little more than a slight tremor in one hand. During the early stages, you may not show facial expressions. As you walk, you’ll notice that your arms don’t swing. Over time, the symptoms get worse, and your speech becomes slurred or soft.
Parkinson’s Disease Causes
Individuals with Parkinson’s don’t produce enough of the chemical dopamine, because some of the nerve cells that create it have died. These cells cease to work correctly and become lost over time. Once your dopamine levels fall, the result is abnormal brain activity, which results in Parkinson’s symptoms.
Scientists have yet to discover a single cause they can concretely attribute to Parkinson’s disease.
However, they have determined that several factors play a role:
- Genetics: There are genetic mutations that can cause the illness. They are rare barring instances where several family members are affected by Parkinson’s. Specific gene variations also increase the risk, but each genetic marker carries a small risk by itself.
- Toxins: Excessive exposure to environmental toxins could increase the risk of contracting the condition. Examples include exposure to pesticides and herbicides.
- Gender: As we mentioned above, men are 1.5 times more likely to get Parkinson’s than women.
- Age: 96% of PD patients are aged 50+. It is common to develop Parkinson’s aged 60 or over.
- Lewy Bodies: These are clumps of substances found in brain cells said to be microscopic markers of PD. While researchers haven’t established a concrete link, they are convinced there is a real correlation between Lewy bodies and PD. One of the most important of these substances is alpha-synuclein. This is found in all Lewy bodies in a form that cells are unable to break down.
PD Symptoms & Complications
The main symptoms associated with Parkinson’s are:
- Slowness of movement
You can place symptoms into two principal groups:
- Slowness of movement
- Falls & dizziness
- Muscle cramps and dystonia
- Restless leg syndrome
- Low blood pressure
- Dental health
The condition is also often accompanied by the following complications:
- Cognitive Problems: You find it hard to think coherently and may develop dementia. These issues are usually unresponsive to medication.
- Emotional Changes: PD patients may experience depression, particularly during the early stages. Other changes include anxiety, loss of motivation, or fear.
- Bladder & Bowel Problems: Bladder issues such as difficulty urinating or problems controlling it, along with constipation, are possible complications of PD.
- Sleep Disorders: You may find yourself sleeping involuntarily during the day, or waking up frequently during the night. In some cases, Parkinson’s patients experience REM behavior disorder, which involves them acting out their dreams.
- Swallowing: PD patients can find it hard to swallow. This process results in a build-up of saliva and drooling.
- Blood Pressure: A sudden drop in blood pressure can cause dizziness. More complications include fatigue, sexual dysfunction, pain, and problems with your sense of smell.
Diagnosis – The Five Stages of Parkinson’s Disease
There is no specific test that can diagnose PD. Therefore, your neurologist will make a diagnosis based on a review of symptoms, medical history, and physical & neurological conditions.
Stages of Parkinson’s Disease
The staging system is a general guide because PD impacts each patient differently. For example, the degeneration can take up to 20 years for some, and just a handful of years for others. What the staging system does is provide you with an overview of what to expect.
The initial phase includes mild symptoms that don’t interfere with daily activities. You may feel slight tremors on one side of the body. There are also possible changes in walking, facial expressions, and posture.
By this point, the symptoms become more severe. Rigidity, tremors, and other movements affect both sides of the body. Poor posture and issues with walking become more apparent. While you can still live independently, everyday tasks become more challenging and time-consuming.
At the mid-stage, it becomes almost impossible to hide the symptoms. Slow movements and loss of balance become the norm, and falls sadly are more common. Independent living is still possible, but activities such as eating and dressing are extremely tough to complete.
By now, you are no longer able to live alone safely. While you can stand without help, the use of a walker is necessary to move. You need help with everyday activities. Speech and writing are challenging and slurred, which leads to problems in communicating your needs.
This is the final, debilitating stage of Parkinson’s. The stiffness in your legs could make it impossible to move, let alone walk. At this point, you are confined to a wheelchair or a bed. Symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations are possible. Stage Five PD patients need 24/7 care.
Conventional Medical Treatments for PD
The condition is not curable, but there are medications on the market designed to control symptoms. While these drugs can lead to initial improvement, their effect wears off over time. Examples of possible medication options include:
- Carbidopa-levodopa: This is marketed as the most effective PD medication. Levodopa is a natural chemical that goes into your brain and is converted into dopamine. It is combined with carbidopa because the latter protects levodopa from being converted into dopamine outside the brain.
- Dopamine Agonists: This treatment mimics dopamine effects in the brain.
- MAO B Inhibitors: This set of drugs prevents the breakdown of dopamine by inhibiting the brain enzyme MOA B, which metabolizes dopamine.
There are also surgical procedures, such as deep brain stimulation (DBS). Like all surgeries, DBS carries risks, such as brain hemorrhage. Few medications provide more than medium-term relief from symptoms. As a consequence, researchers have investigated the potential for marijuana to help PD patients in recent years.
Medical Marijuana and Parkinson’s Disease – The Studies
Prohibition of marijuana means that there hasn’t been enough research into the impact of the herb on PD. However, researchers believe that weed could help the condition by replenishing dopamine levels.
In the human body, the endocannabinoid system (ECS) consists of cannabinoid (CB) receptors. These receptors are linked to brain cells that regulate certain body functions and thinking.
Some scientists believe marijuana could be neuroprotective, which means it saves brain cells from the damage caused by Parkinson’s.
A study by Mohanty and Lippmann, published in Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience in 2019, looked at the possible effects of weed on PD. The duo concluded that marijuana attenuates non-motor and motor symptoms of Parkinson’s. However, the study also pointed out the limitations of the available research.
Another study, led by Agnelli, and published in the European Journal of Internal Medicine in 2018, claimed that cannabis was a safe and effective method of treating symptoms of PD in older patients. The study stated that marijuana patients experienced a significant reduction in pain. After six months of use, 18% of patients reduced or discontinued their use of opioids as painkillers.
For the record, the study looked at PD patients aged 65+. By the end of the six-month trial period, 94% of respondents reported an improvement in their condition. A significant finding was that the average pain level of the patients had fallen by 50%.
Hopefully, the prohibition of marijuana will end, and researchers can study it in more detail in clinical trials. Keep reading to learn more about marijuana strains for PD patients.
Pros & Cons of Marijuana for PD
A study by Patel et al. looked at the pros and cons of marijuana in patients with PD. The research was published in Cureus in June 2019 and is peer-reviewed. Among the advantages, the team found that MMJ could help improve motor and non-motor symptoms. 46% of patients reported relief of PD symptoms in general.
The researchers also highlighted a few adverse effects of cannabis. For example, it could include temporary cognitive impairments. Weight gain is another potential side effect. Unfortunately, the study also cited adverse effects from disputed research such as the Dunedin Experiment.
5 Best Marijuana Strains for Parkinson’s Disease
1 – Kobain Kush
This indica-dominant hybrid is a cross of White Lotus and Pre-98 Bubba Kush. It was developed by Red-Eyed Genetics, who wanted to create a faster flowering strain. The result was Kobain Kush, a potent marijuana strain with a THC level of up to 24%. It also has a reasonable CBD content of 2%.
The Kobain Kush high is gradual, and you may not even notice it until you are completely relaxed. It is known for stimulating the appetite. As the high makes its way down the body, you may feel a tingling sensation that eases your tight muscles. It is a sedative strain best used at night.
Aside from its use by PD patients, individuals with PTSD and depression also try Kobain Kush. It provides a happy high that can lighten the mood, and proponents say it is an excellent stress reliever. Parkinson’s patients may find it easier to relax once they have had a few hits of this strain.
2 – Cherry Grapefruit
This is another indica-dominant hybrid known for its terpene profile, which provides a sweet and fruity scent.
Cherry Grapefruit is not a strain for novices. It has a THC content of up to 20%, and it works fast! Within seconds of taking a few puffs, you’ll notice an uplifting buzz that makes you feel euphoric. You may feel a tingling sensation behind the eyes, in what is an intense yet enjoyable high.
You should consider Cherry Grapefruit if you want a nice wake and bake strain. It is also an option if you suffer from aches and pains. Proponents say it helps soothe the muscles. Incidentally, if you have issues with appetite, try it before mealtimes.
3 – U2 Kush
This strain is a strongly indica-dominant hybrid that’s a cross of Master Kush and Bubba Kush. Some users refer to it as Ewe-2 Kush. It is a viable option if the pains caused by Parkinson’s mean you would like a more soothing strain. With 1% CBD, it is often heralded as an excellent MMJ option. That said, its THC content of up to 23% means it is not for novices.
U2 Kush is a relaxing marijuana strain that could make you feel warm and happy. It is the go-to strain for those seeking a break from their anxieties. It can change your mood from gloomy to joyful in a very short space of time. PD patients who feel under a constant cloud of depression might find it useful.
As U2 Kush is highly sedative, we recommend using it in the late evening when you are looking to wind down. It is sometimes prescribed to individuals with insomnia. Interestingly, users of this strain claim it becomes even more effective when combatting stress each time you use it.
4 – Bubba Kush
We have already recommended two hybrids containing this strain, so it makes sense to include the real deal! Bubba Kush is a strongly indica-dominant hybrid bred in California. It was probably created in 1996 as a cross of OG Kush with either an Afghani or Northern Lights.
It is a relatively potent strain as its THC content ranges from 14% to 22%. Bubba Kush is a potentially strong muscle relaxant. It may quickly place your body and mind in a state of relaxation. Some users suggest that they enter a ‘dream-like’ state. We recommend using it in the late evening or at night because couch lock is likely.
Bubba Kush is a highly sedative strain, so you can expect a battle to keep your eyelids open once the high takes hold. Unsurprisingly, it is a popular option amongst people living with insomnia. Because it is potent, it could trigger a night of restful sleep.
5 – Cherry Kola
This list is undoubtedly a good one for those who like cherry flavors! Sonoma County Collective created Cherry Kola. The group is a non-profit to provide people with low-cost medication. The strain is a combination of two Afghani landrace strains, and it is very strongly indica dominant.
At 16%, the THC content of Cherry Kola isn’t the strongest. However, when it kicks in, you will be surprised by the potency of the cerebral buzz. As well as feeling completely relaxed, you will find a sense of pure happiness. As a result, Cherry Kola is regarded as an excellent social strain. It allows you to chat and enjoy other peoples’ company without feeling fogginess in the brain.
Cherry Kola is said to be an outstanding reliever of stress. As it could promote feelings of happiness, consider using it to combat depressive thoughts. Patients with chronic pain also occasionally try it. PD patients may enjoy the utter sense of relaxation that envelops the body. Indeed, many users report falling asleep soon after using Cherry Kola.
Final Thoughts on Marijuana and Parkinson’s Disease
Do you or a loved one have PD? Are you considering marijuana as an alternative option? If so, it is wise to discuss matters with a physician first. Remember, cannabis does not cure PD. At present, nothing does. However, it could provide relief from symptoms such as stiffness, pain, and tremors.
Scientists must conduct a lot of research. The little we have is positive but nowhere near convincing enough yet. Anecdotal evidence to date casts cannabis in a favorable light when it comes to Parkinson’s. It isn’t enough scientifically speaking, yet a significant number of PD patients can’t afford to wait and find out.