Almost 25% of patients with Parkinson’s disease reported that they had used cannabis in the prior six months in a survey from the Parkinson’s Foundation. A report on the survey, “Weeding through the haze: A survey on cannabis use among people living with Parkinson’s disease in the US,” was published last week in the journal NPJ Parkinson’s Disease.
In the report, the authors note that Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, affecting more than 1 million Americans at a cost to society of more than $50 billion dollars. The disease causes a variety of motor symptoms such as tremors, rigidity, and an unstable posture. Less well-known symptoms include sleep disorders, cognitive changes, pain, anxiety, depression, and hallucinations.
Parkinson’s disease patients typically use pharmaceutical medications to treat their condition with varying degrees of success. However, common treatments do not address the non-motor symptoms and can sometimes cause side effects including dyskinesia, an abnormality or impairment of voluntary movement.
As a result, many patients turn to complementary or alternative treatments for their disease.
One such alternative treatment is cannabis. In a Colorado survey, some participants reported that cannabis was the most effective alternative theory.
“The medicinal use of cannabis represents a novel, alternative approach toward PD symptom control,” the authors note. “Preclinical evidence suggests that cannabinoids could be widely beneficial to neurodegenerative diseases, including PD.”
The authors note that marijuana policy reform has made cannabis widely available for both medical and recreational. As a result, many PD patients now have legal access to cannabis as an alternative or complementary therapy.
“However, little is known about the attitudes towards, and experiences with, cannabis use among those living with PD,” the report acknowledges.
More Than 1,000 PD Patients Surveyed
To learn more about the effectiveness of cannabis as a treatment for PD, a survey was sent to more than 7,600 people who had interacted with the Parkinson’s Foundation through events or the group’s helpline. A total of 1,339 surveys were returned, including 1,064 from individuals who provided complete responses.
After analyzing the data, the researchers found that 24.5% of the survey’s respondents had used cannabis in the preceding six months. Among the group that reported cannabis use, a majority of patients said that the alternative therapy provided “moderate or considerable improvement” in their symptoms, particularly in addressing anxiety, pain, sleep disorders, stiffness, and tremors. However, about 20% of those who had used cannabis recently showed no significant improvement in their symptoms. A majority of cannabis users reported that they did not have a medical marijuana recommendation from their primary care physician.
“Our results suggest that although there are many people with PD using cannabis as a [complementary alternative] treatment for their motor and non-motor symptoms, the lack of formal guidance about cannabis usage for PD may underlie inconsistencies in use and reported effectiveness,” the authors wrote.
The survey highlights the need for more research on cannabis as a treatment for PD and other health conditions. Although more than 75% of the survey’s respondents reported that they had not recently used cannabis, a majority of them said that evidence which supports cannabis as a treatment for PD would be influential in changing their minds.