Patients with Parkinson’s are fighting back with diet, exercise, mindfulness practices, nutraceuticals, and especially medical cannabis. This unforgiving disease is inadequately treated by our current medical model and imprecise pharmaceutical therapies that cause side effects as devasting as the disease itself. If you, or someone you love has been given a diagnosis of Parkinson’s there is no choice but to get educated and informed and make a detailed plan to support your nervous system, stave off the severe dyskinesias (uncontrollable movement disorders), and slow the progression of brain damage caused by Parkinson’s and the side effects of the pharmaceutical therapies routinely prescribed.
Cannabis is legal so why would someone need a prescription?
Opponents of medical cannabis will argue cannabis is legal so there is no reason for physicians to prescribe it to their patients. While there is plenty of information online about cannabis and its benefits this is not the same as having an experienced practitioner to ensure this therapy is safe depending on your specific symptoms and the pharmaceuticals you’re taking. Patients living with Parkinson’s should also have access to therapies that are affordable. In Canada, most marijuana producers (e.g. Aurora, Tilray, Spectrum Therapeutics) offer compassionate pricing based on income if the patient has a medical document from their physician.
Studies found in Neurology Reviews and Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience show that cannabis has a therapeutic role to improve symptoms and slow the progression of Parkinson’s, not to mention overwhelming anecdotal evidence that can’t be ignored by our medical community. Yet, medical cannabis is difficult to access due to lack of physician support, high costs, and social stigma which stop people from exploring this natural therapy.
Still, people are getting empowered and learning for themselves how cannabis can improve their quality of life. An inspiring story went viral worldwide when Larry, a retired police captain, tried a cannabis extract on camera as seen in the documentary, Ride with Larry. Twenty years of living with Parkinson’s and the long-term side effects of levodopa therapy, like Sinemet, caused him to have a severe movement disorder. As is commonly seen in advanced Parkinson’s Larry’s body twists and contorts, making it very difficult for him to talk or move. But within a few minutes of putting a concentrated cannabis extract under his tongue, Larry’s tremors are controlled, his speech normalized and his body finally at rest.
Why is it so hard to get medical advice to take cannabis?
While cannabis is becoming easily accessible for recreational users this doesn’t help people who need advice to determine if cannabis is safe or appropriate depending on the chronic conditions they have or the pharmaceutical therapies they’re taking.
While there is a growing number of physicians that are helping patients access cannabis in a safe and supportive way, many are not willing. This may seem unjust but there are some very valid reasons for their stance. First, it is inappropriate for a doctor to recommend a therapy they are not educated or experienced in. To understand the complex interplay that cannabis has on our body systems it requires in depth study of neurochemistry, immunology and pharmacology which many physicians with busy practices don’t have time to learn.
Also, physicians are concerned that their patients may take too much cannabis causing them to get high and be at risk for a fall or driving impaired. Correctly, the physician has legitimate concerns about their professional responsibility and liability and would rather not risk their license. However, there is no reason why your physician can’t refer you to an experienced and trusted source for medical advice.
Who should consider medical cannabis for Parkinson’s?
A diagnosis of Parkinson’s requires lifelong planning and support. While conventional pharmaceutical therapies help alleviate some symptoms they are overall grossly inadequate. Drugs like, Sinemet, containing levodopa help manage symptoms but also overshoot causing dyskinesia, or abnormal movements, of the head, limbs, eyes, and mouth making coordination and speaking difficult or impossible as the disease progresses.
Over time these pharmaceuticals become less effective forcing the patient to take more with less benefit causing more unacceptable side effects. Not everyone may see the swift results that Larry did but anyone who has Parkinson’s should be supported to try it, not just to control dyskinesia, but to slow the progression of neurodegeneration, improve mood, sleep and cognitive decline.
How do I take medical cannabis for Parkinson’s?
The strain of cannabis, dosing and how you take it will depend on your endocannabinoid system, and how much damage Parkinson’s has caused the part of your brain that produces dopamine which regulates body movement. Importantly, if you want to use cannabis for Parkinson’s, or any other serious neurodegenerative disorder, seek out compassionate advice from an experienced doctor. Practitioners should be aware of any potential drug therapy interactions and how they can be managed depending on what stage of disease you have. There is no one absolute right way to take cannabis – strain, dosing and method of ingestion, whether vaped, eaten, or sublingual, will have to be determined by experimenting with intention.
If we treat cannabis as an important part of our therapy we can learn to use it safely for life-long management of symptoms and to slow neurodegeneration caused by Parkinson’s. If this is your goal there is no room for taking cannabis recreationally. Taking marijuana from an unknown supplier means you never really know what it is that you need to feel good. Every new batch is a new experience and taking too much THC, especially as an edible, can lead to dizziness, drowsiness, or risk of a fall for persons with Parkinson’s. Equally, buying hemp oil or any other product from an unregulated supplier may have little, if any, CBD in it. Always choose a standardized, pesticide-free Health Canada regulated cannabis producer.
What else can be done to support healing and lifelong management?
Cannabis is remarkable for creating homeostasis, or balance, in the nervous system but it is only one piece of the puzzle. There are natural therapies, eating plans, specific exercise programs, and mindfulness practices that help nourish, alleviate, and protect us over time making symptoms more manageable and slowing the progression of the disease.
For example, a study, entitled, Role of diet and nutritional supplements in Parkinson’s Disease progression, suggest that certain nutrients like coenzyme Q10, melatonin, and fish oil high in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) support the nervous system. Eating a Mediterranean diet rich in non-fried fish, olive oil, coconut oil, vegetables, fruit and nuts, while avoiding red meat and certain dairy products also appears to be beneficial.
Exercise that improves coordination and balance like cycling, running, and yoga improve outcomes, as does mindfulness practices like meditation. To learn more about this check out the Parkinson’s Foundation. It’s easy to get isolated when you live with Parkinson’s. Reach out to the online community so you know you are not alone.
Help to find the right support group can be found at Michael J. Fox’s Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.
Where do I find advice to take Medical Cannabis?
At the Wellness Pharmacies it is our goal to provide guidance and support so that our patients can be empowered to find the right strain, dose and protocol that is safe and effective for the lifelong management of Parkinson’s.