There are approximately 80,000 Australians currently living with Parkinson’s Disease, a disorder of the central nervous system that affects movement and often includes tremors. That’s one in every 250 people and, while the disorder is often associated with the older demographic, 20% of all cases are diagnosed before the age of 50.  

The symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease begin gradually, usually with a tremor in one hand. However, over time symptoms significantly worsen to include stiffness of the limbs and trunk, slowness of movement, impaired balance and coordination and, perhaps most noticeably, tremors in hands, arms, legs, jaw, or head.

Recently, the medical community are looking at Medicinal Cannabis to play a role in improving quality of life for sufferers of Parkinson's disease. 

While there is a plethora of medicines currently on the market for Parkinson’s Disease patients, treatments such as dopamine promoters, antidepressants, cognition-enhancing medication and anti-tremor often result in exhausting side effects that can result in physical pain and social anxiety. Some side effects include Nausea, involuntary movements, constipation, hallucinations and behavioural problems, such as feeling an uncontrollable need to gamble, have sex or pursue hobbies, are but a few.  

As a result, cannabis is being recommended by an increasing number of doctors due to it delivering possible improvement in:

  • Anxiety
  • Pain management
  • Sleep dysfunction
  • Weight maintenance
  • Nausea

Moreover, several studies have indicated that the endocannabinoid system (ECS), including the endocannabinoid anandamide and cannabinoid receptors, is altered in Parkinson's Disease patients, igniting some hope in future cures rather than simply managing symptoms.

Medicinal cannabis: a new hope for Parkinson's patients?

These insights are not only providing hope for patients and families of Parkinson’s Disease suffers, but it is driving a wave of interest by doctors and legal regulators alike. 

Much like all cannabis related research, prohibition has set the Parkinson's Disease trails back decades. In fact, much of the anecdotal evidence has been patient driven; the Parkinson’s Foundation centre claiming as many as 95% of neurologists reported interest in alternative medicine by the patient. Conversely, only 23 percent of physicians had received any formal cannabis specific education and only 10% of physicians have recommended the use of cannabis to patients with PD.  

In Australia, medicinal cannabis can be accessed through the special access scheme (SAS), and can only be prescribed by specially trained and accredited doctors. If you or a loved one is suffering from Parkinson's Disease, speak to one of our certified doctors here to see if medicinal cannabis is the right solution for you. 

The drawbacks of medical cannabis

Of course, before cannabis is introduced into the mainstream formal curriculum, there is significant legwork required to prove the safety and effectiveness of cannabis for Parkinson’s Disease patients. As with all treatments, there are some potentially adverse side effects that patients need to be aware of, including:

  • New or worsened nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Mood or memory/thinking.  

While this likely related to dosage and formulation (i.e. THC:CBD ration), much research including clinic trials is required.

The good news is the studies mentioned above are taking place both domestically and abroad. As prohibition is lifted, so is the medical community's ability to conduct the much-needed research into the disease and potentially treatments. 

Moreover, cannabis research that is not specific to Parkinson's is proving a greater understanding of the endocannabinoid system; the intricate network of endocannabinoids, receptors and enzymes. This in turn, is providing hope that cannabis dominant and/or inclusive treatments will not only help manage the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, but perhaps even lead to a cure.