Meet Ian Frizell, a medical marijuana user who treats himself with cannabis to control the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease (PD). The video is undeniably fascinating – for those who don’t often see the transformative potential of this medicine, it can be quite shocking.
By the fourth minute, Ian’s tremors begin to lessen, and at just underneath six minutes his tremors stop almost immediately. Cannabis is often recommended for Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases due to the fact that it can lessen or even stop tremors entirely. Videos like this show that, yes, cannabis may indeed work as a medicine for many people.
So, why does cannabis have the effect it has on Ian? Well, there’s no hard, definitive evidence as of yet proving that cannabis helps for Parkinson’s Disease, but the testimonials of so many people like Ian make it hard to discount the phenomenon as “anecdotal” or “chance”. Below we look at the reasons scientific research suggest so far.
Dopamine and Anandamide
Though the precise cause of Parkinson’s Disease is unknown, one of the main causes looks to be a loss of nerve cells in the part of the brain called substantia nigra, causing a reduction in dopamine production. Dopamine plays a vital role in regulating the movement of the body. Cannabis could be helping to “balance” the endocannabinoid and dopamine-dependent systems that control movement.
Anandamide is an endocannabinoid whose namesake comes from the Sanskrit ananda, meaning joyous or euphoric. This is the endocannabinoid that is thought to be responsible for “runner’s high”, and so far the science suggests that it plays an important part in the release of dopamine. PD sufferers have a lack of anandamide due to the damage caused to the cannabinoid signaling system in the basal ganglia.
Using cannabis can help increase the amount of anandamide produced by the body, thereby improving coordination in PD sufferers. Using cannabis may also help slow the onset of bradykinesia – slowness caused by PD.
One of the most exciting bits of research taking place at the moment is on cannabis’s ability to help promote the growth of brain cells. Cannabidiol (CBD) is of particular interest, as studies so far suggest that it is a neuroprotective. CBD may help protect brain cells from neuroinflammation, neurotoxicity, mitochondrial dysfunction and lots more. This is one of the reasons why NFL players, mixed martial artists and so many others look at cannabis as a potential life-saver.
As for why cannabis helps promote brain growth, the theory goes like this … Phytocannabinoids (that is, cannabinoids from outside the body) help replace the endocannabinoids the bodies of PD sufferers aren’t producing. In order to “catch” all these phytocannabinoids, the body starts to make new neurons. Yes, this means that cannabis might not only be a way to control PD and other neurodegenerative diseases, but also a way to reverse them.
Muscle Cramps, Spasticity and Dystonia
Those suffering from PD, MS and many other such diseases often suffer from painful muscle cramps. Constant aches and stiffness are a common part of life for those with PD. This is because THC can be used to manage pain, as well as targeting the same CB1 receptors that anandamide targets and thereby helping regulate the body’s movements.
Now, while many users may feel better in terms of pain and muscle control, PD patients may also suffer from confusion, and impaired posture and a loss of balance after using cannabis. For some, the side-effects of using cannabis for PD may be an unpleasant experience. However, the same can be said of many medications, and at least cannabis is safer than most if not all of them!
There’s still lots of research that needs to be done, and I’m afraid I cannot give any definitive advice or evidence that shows cannabis’s efficacy for PD as of yet. However, stories like Ian’s and lab research to date suggest that cannabis may indeed be useful for PD, even as a placebo. All I can say for now is, “look for yourself, read for yourself and don’t be afraid to ask questions.”