Medical Marijuana and Parkinson’s Disease
Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease
While Parkinson’s Disease is generally thought of as a disease that only impacts mobility and movement, there are other non-motor symptoms which may occur as well. Some of these can be more debilitating than the motor symptoms.
In addition to the commonly known symptoms, such as tremors, shaking, difficulty walking, stumbling, trouble with balance, mental status changes have been known to occur.
Depression and anxiety, difficulty paying attention, slowing of thought, memory changes, personality changes and dementia, hallucinations and delusions are symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.
Hypotension (low blood pressure), which causes dizziness and light-headedness, as well as sleep disorders, constipation, fatigue, excessive sweating, sexual problems, increase in dandruff, vision problems, loss of sense of smell, and poor impulse control (leading to such things as binge eating and compulsive gambling) are also possible symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.
What Else It Could Be?
There are numerous other “movement related disorders” which may mimic Parkinson’s. Progressive supranuclear palsy, which is a brain disorder affecting walking and balance is one such disorder. This disease does not respond to medical treatment. Encephalitis lethargica (“sleeping sickness”, Equine Encephalomyelitis and Japanese B Encephalitis, which are all infections of the brain, can cause Parkinson’s-like symptoms. Essential tremor, which is characterized by tremors or uncontrolled shaking in the hands and the head, and which is not associated with any other symptoms, may look like Parkinson’s, but Parkinson’s disease medications are not effective in treating essential tremor. In addition, some drugs such as Haldol (used to treat certain psychotic disorders) can cause tremors which look much like Parkinson’s Disease.
How Medical Marijuana Helps Treat Parkinson’s Disease
The human body naturally produces cannabinoids. These naturally occurring chemicals bind to receptors in the brain and impact brain chemicals, including Dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical that the body stops producing in Parkinson’s patients. With the use of medical marijuana, dopamine production can be increased and the symptoms of Parkinson’s can be better managed. Though this does not cure the disease, it does improve quality of life for those living with it.
Why Medical Marijuana Treats Parkinson’s Disease Better Than Other Treatments
When medical cannabis binds to the dopamine receptors in the brain, the cannabinoid compounds in the marijuana lessen the effects of the reduced dopamine in the brain. Basically, the compounds in medical marijuana replace the normal compounds that the brain is not producing.
In addition to this benefit, researchers have found that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of medical marijuana may prevent further damage to the neurons which produce dopamine. The slowing of that damage allows the neurons to continue, as best they can, to continue producing Dopamine as long as possible, thereby slowing the rate at which Parkinson’s progresses.
Other treatments for Parkinson’s include dopamine agonists, MAO-B inhibitors, and anticholinergics. The side effects of these drugs can range from insomnia and depression to hallucinations and impaired urination. Medical marijuana, on the other hand, has few side effects and is a much more natural treatment option.