A disorder that affects millions of lives each day. It progressively debilitates motor functions, causes muscle rigidity and speech complications. While there is no cure for this disease, some treatments can be established early on that can combat its symptoms.

Defining Parkinson’s

Many of the symptoms that make Parkinson’s disease have been found in very early documents, but the first medical description was written in 1817 by James Parkinson. At the time, many of the medical observations concluded that tremors and such were just part of multiple sclerosis. Other disorders that characterized tremors would not satisfy the unique condition that Parkinson’s is. It wasn’t until the mid-1800’s that Jean-Martin Charcot worked on refining the early description of Parkinson’s disease.

James Parkinson wrote his essay in 1817 that evaluated six cases of what he called “paralysis agitans. An Essay on the Shaking Palsy.” He described characteristics such as resting tremors, abnormal posture and gait, paralysis and diminished muscle strength. More importantly, he noted how the symptoms worsened over time. Unfortunately, his observations didn’t get much attention until several decades later. 

Early treatments were utilized by Charcot in the 19th century by using anticholinergic alkaloids from the belladonna plant. Anticholinergic alkaloids serve as an acetylcholine inhibitor, which can prevent parasympathetic nerve impulses.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) affects more than 1 million people in North America, and more than 4 million worldwide. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), 13 per 100,000 people, and about 60,000 new cases are identified each year. Although, some reports suggest there are over 10 million afflicted by Parkinson’s worldwide. 

Other statistics posted by the Parkinson’s Foundation include:

  • Men are 1.5 times more likely to have Parkinson’s disease than women.
  • Incidences vastly increase with age, but ~4% of those with PD are diagnosed before age 50.
  • When healthcare and other related costs are added up, there is an estimated $52 billion charge per year in the United States alone.
  • Medications, on average, cost $2,500 a year, with therapeutic surgeries costing up to $100,000 per person. 

Complicated Causes

As with most cognitive disorders, the cause for it is unknown. However, research consistently sides with genetics being a possible role. There are specific genetic mutations that have been identified to cause Parkinson’s, which in fact are rare. However, not as rare as developing Parkinson’s through hereditary genetics. According to NLM, only 15% of those with Parkinson’s disease have a family history of it. For the vast majority of those with Parkinson’s, the cause is unknown.

Changes in the brain are expected, but not understood why. The presence of Lewy bodies, which are clumps of substances in brain cells, build up. This is important for researchers and may be a cause for PD. Within these Lewy bodies, there are what’s called alpha-synuclein. Proteins that cannot break down.

One thing for certain in the decades of research that we have is that the risk increases with age. However, even though hereditary causes are very uncommon, research shows that having a first-degree family member will increase your risk by 3 percent. This means that, if you have a sibling with PD, your chances are increased. 

According to the NLM, many of the symptoms are a result of damaged nerve cells in the substantia nigra. These cells typically will transmit dopamine within the brain, and this would bring smoother physical movements. When these transmitters are damaged or dead, communication within the brain to the muscles weaken.

Symptom Overview

Symptoms typically worsen with time and usually starts with impaired movements, and cognitive difficulties. As the disease progresses, more symptoms will follow:

  • Cognitive impairment – This includes signs of dementia, and usually is in the late stage. Medications have not been helpful for this aspect.
  • Swallowing Problems – Difficulty swallowing can cause digestive problems and malnutrition. Drooling is also common.
  • Sleep Disorders – Sleeping problems are very common with PD. It can evolve into insomnia. Some cases report REM issues and can lead to acting out your dreams. Medications can help these issues.
  • Constipation – PD causes a slower digestive tract, which causes constipation.

Other symptoms include:

  • Changes in Blood Pressure – Dizziness and lightheadedness when changing positions.
  • Fatigue – There are several reasons for the loss of energy throughout the day for people with PD.
  • Pain – Some, but not all, experience regional pain.

Traditional Vs. Nontraditional Treatments

Now, since many genetic diseases are at the fault of mutated genes, every cell in the body is affected. Many bodily functions can fail, and most cannot be cured.

Diagnosis is the first step to treatment. Since there is no specific test to diagnose PD, your neurologist will review your history, health, and any other necessary testing.

As mentioned before, the transmitters that exhibit dopamine may lose function with PD. As a result, many of the treatment options aim to be a dopamine substitute or increase dopamine production. The good news is that many of the traditional medications can dramatically help these symptoms.

According to Mayo clinic, Carbidopa-levodopa is the most effective medication, as it’s a natural chemical that passes into your brain which is then converted to dopamine. The good side to this medication is that it actually helps nausea, which can be common. Unfortunately, levodopa can lose its strength as it’s taken more and more. As the disease progresses, many medications can lose their initial strength. Higher doses can also cause involuntary muscle movements.

Dopamine agonists act as a dopamine substitute. While they are not as effective as levodopa, they can last longer. This mimic of dopamine can have some side effects. They include hallucinations, sleepiness and compulsive behaviors (hypersexuality, gambling, etc.)

Other medications that help ease symptoms early on include amantadine and anticholinergics. However, the side effects for these can include vomiting, inflammation (swelling), memory loss, confusion, and dry mouth. 

As mentioned before, there are surgical options. One of the more common ones is deep brain stimulation (DBS.) Electrodes are implanted in areas of the brain and are connected to a generator implanted near your collarbone. These electrical pulses many reduce symptoms but require major surgery. With the risk of hemorrhaging, strokes, or infections, this method is for those in the late stages of PD.

CBD and Parkinson’s

Now that we understand the common issues with dopamine production and imbalances, we need to understand what CBD is.

CBD, or cannabidiol, is just one component in the hemp/marijuana plant (cannabis.) This component has been studied extensively and is only gaining light in the scientific community recently for its anticonvulsant properties. However, it has impressive research for having anxiolytic properties as well. Perhaps more importantly, CBD is non-psychoactive, which means it will not make the user “high.

The most common reasons people turn to CBD is for sleeping problems as well as anxiety.

As with most of our informative articles, it’s essential to understand how CBD works in our bodies, but more importantly our brain.

All animals have what is known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS.) This is a part of our central nervous system and is composed of transmitter-like receptors called CB1 and CB2 receptors. While this gets vastly more complex, we will keep it simple.

CB1 and CB2 receptors are actually found throughout the entire body. Within our bones, our digestive tract, liver, and especially our brains. The highest concentration of receptors are found in the brain, but researchers are now understanding that the reason it can change our whole bodily functions is due to them being processed throughout our bodies.

The ECS has one sole focus, and that is to metabolize cannabinoids. Yes, they are found in every other animal as well, which is why we can give it to our furry friends as well. The process at which we metabolize cannabinoids is actually why we believe that it has so many healing properties. 

What We Know

First off, even though anecdotal evidence does not hold much credibility, there are many reports and patient surveys that hold overwhelming support for CBD.

One such survey found that cannabis is a highly popular subject within the PD community. Physicians reported that 80% of their patients with PD have used cannabis. Prevalent improvements were found with appetite, pain, nausea, and anxiety problems. While 30% of respondents believed that it helped them with tremors.

It’s important to understand that CBD isn’t always used to aid in just one ailment, but can improve things across the board. Arguably, an important aspect is the depression and mood swings that people with PD have.

Research suggests that CBD can help depression, even on a molecular level

Said studies show that CBD can act as a regulator of neurotransmitters. It has the ability to monitor certain bodily functions, including serotonin and dopamine intake. Because of this, research is supportive of the fact that cannabidiol has the potential in aiding insomnia, and anxiety/depression. This ability to monitor neurotransmitters can also affect things like blood pressure, and even diabetic neuropathy.

Let’s move onto the larger aspect of PD – the tremors. As mentioned before, many of the traditional treatments can immensely help with tremors and physical degradation. However, scientists at the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky found that CBD may be able to do more than boost morale. 

Zhao-Hui Song and Alyssa S. Laun published something for the International Cannabinoid Research Society, and found that CBD activates a G-coupled protein receptor called GPR6. This is particularly interesting because GPR6 has been shown to increase dopamine levels once depleted. Dopamine is a critical neurotransmitter for people with PD. CBD can act as an “inverse agonist” which in turn can boost dopamine levels in preclinical trials.

A study being done in Colorado has found that CBD has many neuroprotective properties, and has been shown to reduce tremors. But it did not stop there, and actually found a significant drop in incidences of psychosis and anxiety. 

Another study conducted on rats found that several cannabinoids have neuroprotective properties due to CBD being an antioxidant. Being administered to the rats, they found that CB1 receptors acted as an agonist for some proteins found in the brain. The study concluded that “our results indicate that those cannabinoids having antioxidant cannabinoid receptor-independent properties provide neuroprotection against the progressive degeneration of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons occurring in PD.”

A Bigger Scale

There are many stages that people with PD have to go through. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more and more severe. If you’d like to learn how CBD has been shown to improve anxiety, pain (inflammation) and even digestive problems, visit our Learn page. People with PD suffer from tremors, and some research suggests that CBD has neuroprotective properties to slow down the prevalence of tremors. As with many of the developing treatments, more research is needed to conclude CBD as an official PD treatment.

Healing doesn’t have to happen in only one area, but for the entire self.

Disclaimer* If you’re worried you have PD, consult a physician, as this article is not meant to be medical advice. Nor are we suggesting CBD will cure any of the ailments, we just want to add to the expansive knowledge of CBD. If you do have PD and are eager to try CBD, talk to your physician first in case there are any medicative complications. CBD has been shown to interact with other medications.

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