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Why people with Parkinson’s are using medical cannabis

Seventy per cent of Parkinson’s patients surveyed used medical cannabis.



Why people with Parkinson’s disease are using cannabis
Around 145,000 people in the UK had a diagnosis of Parkinson's in 2020

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

A new survey has revealed how many patients with Parkinson’s disease are using medical cannabis and how it helps with symptom relief.

A survey of almost 2,000 patients living with Parkinson’s disease in the US, found that 70 per cent of respondents used medical cannabis, reporting improvements in pain, anxiety, agitation, and sleep.

They asked people what type of cannabis they take, including the amounts of CBD and THC, as well as how often people use cannabis, how long they’d been taking it, which symptoms improved and which side effects they had.  

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition, in which parts of the brain become progressively damaged over time. Its main symptoms include involuntary shaking, slow movement and stiff muscles, but people may also experience a range of other issues, including anxiety and depression, problems sleeping, and problems with memory and balance.

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It is thought that around 145,000 people in the UK had a diagnosis of Parkinson’s in 2020, the majority of these are aged 50 and over.

Results showed that despite almost three quarters of patients using cannabis, only 30 per cent told their doctor about it. 

Around 13 per cent of people did not know what type of cannabis they were taking, but among those who did, nearly half took higher CBD formulations and 15 per cent took similar amounts of CBD and THC.

More than 50 per cent of respondents reported improvements in pain, anxiety, agitation, and sleep. 

The most common side effects reported include dry mouth, dizziness, and cognitive problems, specifically around memory and thinking.

Read more: Over half of Parkinson’s patients report benefits of cannabis

While those taking higher amounts of THC experienced more side effects, they also saw more benefit on their symptoms, reporting more frequent improvements in depression, anxiety, and tremor. 

Researchers at the University of Colorado conducted the survey of patients through The Michael J. Fox Foundation’s (MJFF) online platform, Fox Insight. The foundation advocates for the expansion of cannabis research and education for providers and people living with disease.

It is hoped that these results will help doctors advise patients on cannabis treatment and discuss the topic more openly, while supporting the design of future clinical trials in Parkinson’s. 

Katherine Leaver, MD, assistant professor of neurology in the Division of Movement Disorders at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York, said: “These survey results are completely in line with my experience so far. Medical marijuana doesn’t help everyone with Parkinson’s or every symptom of Parkinson’s. But it is a useful tool in the toolbox of treatments for the disease. And, as in this study, I’ve seen benefits for sleep, pain, anxiety and, sometimes, for motor symptoms. 

“Especially when using lower THC formulations, I believe medical marijuana is a fairly safe and non-toxic option that may help some people with Parkinson’s.”

Dr Leaver advised patients to speak to their healthcare professional if they are considering medical cannabis as a treatment option.

She added: “If you want to learn more, talk to your doctor. I know this can be tough. Some people worry their doctor might think differently of them or treat them differently. Or that their doctor might not know much about medical marijuana. Often that may be true because this is a newer area of practice and many aren’t certified to offer this treatment.

“Larger, well-designed studies will help inform our guidance and recommendations. But in the meantime, it doesn’t hurt to ask whether medical marijuana may be an option to help your symptoms.”

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Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister titles, Cannabis Wealth and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag


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