Why is cannabis research difficult?
How can I talk to my doctor about cannabis?
As an increasing number of states authorize medical (and even recreational) marijuana, a significant number of people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) report using these products. Some describe benefit on sleep, tremor or other symptoms. Others report side effects. And many say they are unsure how to discuss with their physician.
Researchers continue to work on defining safety for cannabis in Parkinson’s. And several studies are looking at possible benefits on specific symptoms. For the most up-to-date clinical trial information, visit Fox Trial Finder .
Here, we offer general information about cannabis and Parkinson’s, tips for talking with your doctor, and more.
Unfortunately, there has not been much research on how effective marijuana is in treating PD symptoms. The few trials that have been conducted have shown that medical marijuana may treat problems with both motor and non-motor symptoms, but more research needs to be done.
CBD can be expensive and isn’t covered by insurance. The FDA has not approved medical marijuana and classifies it as a Schedule 1 drug which is a drug that has been found to have no acceptable medical use and a high potential for abuse. This is one of the reasons why more research has not been done and why organizations like the MJF Foundation have called for a reclassification of marijuana.
Using dietary supplements
One of the most difficult decisions a person with Parkinson’s disease (PD) will face is deciding what medications to use to treat the disease. The choice is a function of several factors including the specific symptoms being treated, the medication’s efficacy, and cost.
According to Rachel Dolhun, MD Vice President, Medical Communications at the Michael J Fox Foundation, “The work to date on marijuana and cannabinoids has given promising but conflicting signals on potential benefit for motor and non-motor symptoms as well as levodopa-induced dyskinesia. This therapy may represent a future treatment option for PD, but the correct dose and formulation are not clear, full side effects and drug interactions are unknown, and benefits have not been rigorously determined.” 1
The medication most people with Parkinson’s end up taking at some point is levodopa, which is the gold standard for treating Parkinson’s. It was developed in the late 60s. It is sometimes used for diagnostic purposes.
Dr. Rebecca Gilbert
There is also a very confusing array of CBD products that are available for purchase. These vary in:
There is a lot of confusion around this question, related to the fact that the law distinguishes between CBD extracted from hemp and CBD extracted from marijuana. In reality, hemp and marijuana are two different names for the cannabis plant, with hemp defined as cannabis containing less than 0.3% THC. CBD products derived from hemp are federally legal. On the other hand, CBD derived from a cannabis plant containing more than 0.3% THC is federally illegal – even if the CBD is purified and the product itself contains less than 0.3% THC. To add to the confusion, is the fact that each state has its own laws that govern the use of CBD products which often contradict federal law.
Tips and takeaways
This has not dimmed the enthusiasm of millions of CBD users for a wide range of medical conditions.
It is not just the Parkinson’s disease community that has taken an interest in CBD. There are countless health claims that CBD is helpful for a whole host of conditions. Clinical trial evidence to support the use of CBD however, is minimal. The only FDA-approved indication for CBD is to reduce seizure frequency in certain rare and severe forms of childhood epilepsy. A purified form of CBD, sold under the brand name Epidiolex® was tested in a well-designed clinical trial in order to gain this approval. (Three other cannabis related drug products that are not CBD, but rather synthetic THC, also have FDA approval and are used to treat loss of appetite and weight loss in patients with HIV, and severe nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy).
CBD has been studied extensively in the laboratory and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Inflammation in the nervous system has been linked to neurodegeneration and therefore it has been hypothesized that CBD might even be beneficial as a neuroprotective agent. Although this is interesting and potentially exciting information, there are numerous other chemicals that have been studied in the laboratory with these properties that did not result in clinical benefit when tried in humans. Therefore, clinical trials become essential to support any claims that CBD should be used for medical purposes. Bottom line, don’t get too excited until there is scientific data to back it up.
For all the other health claims, there is not enough clinical trial data to allow the FDA to state whether or not CBD is effective. And there definitely is not enough data to support the use of one type or formulation of CBD over another.