Parkinson’s and Cannabidiol (CBD): Clearing the Smoke

With the rising trend of cannabis use in the United States, it is important to distinguish if and how it can benefit a Parkinson’s patient. In terms of the correlation between CBD oil and Parkinson’s, there is a ton of mixed information out there, not to mention the controversial issues that often come along with the topic of cannabis. This seemingly endless amount of data can be overwhelming for both patients and caregivers. Now is the time to “clear the smoke” of the controversy and identify the medicinal properties cannabis can offer. Amongst hundreds of different parts within this plant, one of the most widely studied for its therapeutic effects in Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is cannabidiol (CBD).

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol (CBD) is the second most abundant of over 100 different compounds (referred to as cannabinoids) found in Cannabis sativa, a specific type of the cannabis plant. CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it does not cause psychological effects such as anxiety, paranoia, or hallucinations. CBD also does not elicit the “high” sensation that is typically associated with cannabis use. However, it does serve many beneficial functions in the brain and nervous system.

Specific mechanisms of action for CBD therapy in Parkinson’s Disease are still being studied, but improvements seem to be primarily related to decreasing levels of inflammation and unstable molecules that can lead to cell damage. Research demonstrates that CBD for Parkinson’s can improve symptoms and potentially slow the progression of Parkinson’s due to its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and neuroprotective properties.

What Happens in the Brain of a Parkinson’s Patient?

In order to evaluate the effectiveness of CBD therapy in Parkinson’s Disease, it is imperative to understand how this disease affects the patient. PD is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that primarily damages an area of the brain called the substantia nigra, which is largely responsible for dopamine production. Dopamine plays a critical role in many brain functions including motor coordination, pleasure, reward, and memory. As these dopamine-producing neurons degenerate, motor symptoms may develop. These motor symptoms typically manifest as slow or uncoordinated movements, resting tremors, and rigidity. Currently, this is not considered to be a cure for Parkinson’s and most therapies involve symptomatic treatment only.

How Does CBD Affect the Body?

The relationship between Parkinson’s and CBD therapy lies within the endocannabinoid system, which is a network of molecules, receptors, and enzymes that help modulate brain, hormonal, and immune function. Endocannabinoids are naturally produced by our bodies to bind and activate specific receptors. These receptors are found on the surfaces of many cells throughout our bodies and are referred to as CB1 and CB2.

  • CB1 receptors are more predominant in the brain
  • CB2 receptors tend to be on peripheral cells, particularly those of the immune system.
  • CB1 receptors modulate coordination, movement, appetite, memory, etc.
  • CB2 receptors are more involved with pain and inflammation.

The figure above shows the general distribution of these receptors in the body.

CBD and Parkinson’s

Recent research suggests that an impairment of the CB2 receptor may be associated with the development of slow and uncoordinated movements in Parkinson’s Disease. Additional studies have identified higher levels of endocannabinoids in the cerebrospinal fluid of untreated PD patients. An increased number of CB1 receptors was also found in the brain lesions of these patients, which is likely associated with movement suppression. Researchers reported an overall improvement in motor symptoms when the breakdown of endocannabinoids was inhibited.

Another promising discovery for CBD therapy is that cannabinoids, the active components of cannabis, may slow neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s by acting on the CB2 receptor. Many cannabinoids, such as CBD, also protect the brain and nervous system due to their antioxidant activity. Several animal studies propose that cannabinoids may improve motor symptoms of PD, but these mechanisms are still under investigation in humans. Such findings suggest that symptoms such as tremors and rigidity may benefit from CBD or other natural treatments that enhance endocannabinoid production.

Using CBD Oil as a Therapy

CBD oil is a concentrated oil that contains extracts of cannabidiol (CBD) derived from hemp, which is the fiber and seed part of the Cannabis sativa plant. Manufacturers typically use a specialized CO2 extraction process to draw out an extract that is rich in CBD. The extract is then infused into an oil base such as pharmaceutical grade olive oil. This process typically also draws out omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, flavonoids, and other phytocannabinoids from the plant.

Actual CBD concentrations vary amongst different manufacturers depending on factors such as the type of extraction method, oils, and storage temperature used. CBD production is currently not well regulated in the United States, so it is important to work with a trained medical professional who can guide you in choosing a safe and high-quality product. If you’re looking for CBD oil for Parkinson’s, there may be legal restrictions depending on the state, so you should always seek professional advice before use.

How can CBD Therapy Help a Parkinson’s Patient?

Several studies have investigated the specific therapeutic effects of CBD in Parkinson’s patients. Since CBD has properties that are antidepressant, antipsychotic, and reduce anxiety, it seems to positively influence the mental health of PD patients. One of these studies found that 4 weeks of CBD use decreased psychotic symptoms in patients without any negative side effects. Overall quality of life was also reported to improve after 6 weeks of CBD treatment. This is wonderful news for the Parkinson’s community as mental health is the foundation for effective treatment and patient well-being.

Another common issue that PD patients experience is sleep disturbance. A 2014 study discovered that CBD reduced the frequency of REM-related sleep disorders, which are typically associated with nightmares and active behaviors while dreaming. Patients in this study reported increased total sleep time and decreased the frequency of interruptions. Sleep is a crucial part of the healing process and helps improve patient outcomes. Improving the quality of a PD patient’s sleep could potentially increase the effectiveness of other therapies, while also elevating the patient’s mood and energy levels.

As mentioned previously, one of the most promising benefits of CBD therapy for Parkinson’s patients is its neuroprotective actions. Some researchers believe that these mechanisms go beyond CB1 and CB2 receptors alone and may actually inhibit certain toxins that contribute to the development of Parkinson’s Disease. At a cellular level, CBD has been proven to protect against the loss of brain cells that are induced by a toxin called MPP+. Further investigation is needed to determine if this same process occurs in humans or if other factors are also involved.

The Future of CBD Therapy

Based on scientific research, it is very apparent that CBD can potentially provide benefit for Parkinson’s Disease and overall brain health. However, it is vital that we continue to investigate these therapeutic effects in humans so we can understand how to most effectively and safely use this plant. “Clearing the smoke” of the cannabis controversy will allow researchers and physicians to find clarity on its true medicinal value. The clearer the evidence, the brighter the future will be for CBD therapy and the patients it can benefit.

This article is not intended to diagnose or treat any individual with Parkinson’s Disease. This article was created for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical, psychological or any other sort of professional care. Please always contact your medical provider with any questions or concerns involved with CBD or treatment for Parkinson’s Disease.

If you have any questions about Parkinson’s Disease or Parkinson’s Disease treatments, please contact The Parkinsons Plan.

Written By:

Karissa Walton

Dr. Darlyn Dragg, N.D.

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