Everyday people go about their daily lives with ease and without ever having the notion that their lives could be changed in the matter of seconds. Nearly 1 million U.S. citizens are currently going through the struggle of not being able to lead their lives normally due to Parkinson’s Disease (pdf.org). One of the most devastating facts about this progressive disease is that there is no known cure. The cause of this disease is also unknown. There are treatments available and medications to help manage symptoms that are common with PD. Some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s include the following:
Muscle rigidity (muscles do not relax even when at rest)
Slowness of movement
Change in posture
Weakened facial and throat muscles
Freezing – hesitant of stepping forward – feet glued to the ground
- Small handwriting
- Trouble sleeping
- Excessive sweating
So, what exactly is Parkinson’s Disease? Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. Nerve cell damage in the brain causes dopamine levels to drop, leading to the symptoms of Parkinson’s (mayoclinic.org). To put it simply, Parkinson’s is a dopamine deficiency and gets worse over time. Parkinson’s breaks down the nerves that produce dopamine and affects the part of the brain responsible for activating and inhibiting specific motor skills (medicinenet.com). As dopamine levels decrease, control over movement suffers, which can be very frustrating for anyone who has to experience PD symptoms.
To better understand this progressive disease, learning more about dopamine is very important. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in movement, as well as in cognitive and psychological functions (psychologistworld.com). Dopamine acts as a chemical messenger brain circuit important for planning and controlling body movement. Its most important and main role is in controlling the flow of information from other areas of the brain. Dopamine gives us the feelings of reward and pleasure, so when these levels are disrupted, quality of life feels less desirable.
Neurotransmitters play a major role in everyday life and functioning. A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger that transmits, enhances, and moderates signals between neurons and other cells in the body. Scientists do not yet know exactly how many neurotransmitters exist, but more than 100 chemical messengers have been identified (psychology-neurotransmitters. com). When disease or drugs affect neurotransmitters, there can be a number of different adverse effects on the body. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are two of the most common associated with deficits in certain neurotransmitters.
While there is no cure for Parkinson’s, being able to help maintain the symptoms is ideal for most patients. Cannabis can help! Let’s go over just how this amazing plant helps with quality of life.
Everyone and everything that has a backbone is born with an Endocannbinoid System (ECS). This system is located in the brain and made up of cannabinoid receptors that are linked to neurons that help regulate thinking and some bodily functions (norml.org). The ECS helps regulate sleep, appetite, digestion, hunger, mood, motor control, immune function, reproduction and fertility, pleasure/reward, pain, memory, and temperature regulation (leafly.com). Endocannabinoids are the chemical messengers that tell your body when to get those processes moving and when to stop. They help maintain optimal balance in the body—homeostasis. Cannabinoids promote homeostasis at every level of biological life, from the sub-cellular, to the organism (norml.org).
There are two main cannabinoid receptors scientists have researched the most. They are CB1 and CB2 Receptors. CB1 Receptors are found in the brain and central nervous system, but also in the lungs, liver, and kidney. The cannabinoid THC has been shown to possess a very high binding affinity with CB1 receptors, located also in connective tissues, gonads, glands, and related organs. CB2 receptors are found in immune cells, gastrointestinal tract, and peripheral nervous system (norml.org).
People diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease have less CB1 Receptors than those who do not have the disease (Parkinson.org). A boost to the CB1 receptor through an agonist, like cannabis, can improve tremors and may alleviate dyskinesia (impairment of muscle movement). This is one reason that consumption of cannabis strains and plants containing a high amount of THC result in relatively potent effects, giving patients significant relief from pain, nausea, depression all while delivering a strong euphoria to their lifestyle. Since patients with PD have less CB1 receptors, and THC binds with those CB1 receptors, recommending strains in high THC will give patients more relief from their frustrating symptoms and help improve quality of life.
The body responds to cannabis in many different ways. Another amazing aspect of this plant is that it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of cannabis may help prevent neuron damage (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). Inflammation can cause damage to the neurons that produce dopamine, which in turn results in movement problems associated with PD. Preventing neuron damage could potentially slow down the progression of Parkinson’s Disease. One of the most amazing facts about the Cannabis plant is that it has more than enough research to show it is neuroprotective. “Neuroprotection refers to the mechanisms and strategies used to protect against nerve injury or degeneration and to prevent the breakdown of the central nervous system” (medicalnewstoday.com). Neuroprotectors, such as cannabis, cannot reverse the damage already done to neurons, but they may protect against further nerve damage and slow down any degeneration, or breakdown, of the central nervous system (CNS). Both THC and CBD are effective in reducing inflammation, however, CBD is much more potent in addressing inflammation, and for this reason high CBD strains are recommended particularly for those who suffer from extreme inflammation and those who want to prevent neuron damage.
Cannabis is a very effective tool in coping with the symptoms of Parkinson’s and helping maintain a high quality of life. For people who do not want or find cannabis as an option for them due to their own personal beliefs, there are many other options that they can resort to. The biggest way is through a proper diet. By absorbing foods high in Omega-3, we can help create endocannabinoids in our own bodies. Omega-3 fatty acids are the only type of fat you DO NOT want to cut back on. Not only does your body need these fatty acids to function, they also deliver huge health benefits which include: helping prevent heart disease, joint pain, improving lung function, memory loss, and working as an antidepressant. A diet alone will probably not be enough to help patient’s feel relief from their symptoms, so exercise is very important! Taking time out of one’s day to focus on the mind, body, and spirit can help improve patient’s symptoms. Exercise may also benefit patients with the disease, by improving balance and reducing depression, and increasing overall quality of life.
Parkinson’s Disease is a very rapid growing illness and unfortunately does not have a known cause or cure. The best way to help patients with their symptoms is to really try to get to understand their pain and find out if they are willing to try products high in THC to help relieve tremors, or high CBD to help with inflammation. The neuroprotective properties in cannabis can help slow the progression of this rapid growing disease while helping with the quality of life for a lot of our patients who experience depression. Parkinson’s is a terrible disease to have to live with, but with the help of the amazing Cannabis plant, life is a lot more enjoyable.