Cannabis has been a hot topic over the past few years in the medical system as states start to legalize it and as it gains more traction in the media. There is a lot of confusion and misinformation of exactly what it is and if it is even helpful. Lets get into the weeds (pun intended) and see what current research is telling us about cannabis and if it is recommended for those with PD!
Cannabis refers to all products that come from the plant cannabis sativa. Marijuana refers to parts of the cannabis sativa plant that contains a substantial amount of THC. Even though CBD and THC have the same chemical formula and are both found in cannabis sativa, they affect our bodies differently. Both can impact pain, mood, sleep, and memory. THC is the compound that is primarily responsible for the side effects of marijuana that involves changes in memory, problem solving, and other cognition changes, and it is the compound that gives people a "high." CBD on the other hand, doesn't give you a "high" and does not result in any cognitive changes.
Many people use CBD to help with arthritis, anxiety, diabetes, insomnia, and various other conditions. Possible other benefits include improvement in sleep dysfunction, weight loss, and reduced nausea. Many people will anecdotally say that it really helps, but there is actually little evidence to support the effectiveness of CBD. In fact, most studies that look at the effectiveness around cannabis are actually around THC.
It is important to share that CBD (and all other supplements) is not regulated. That means we have no idea of what is actually in them! Companies are not reprimanded if their labels do not reflect what is actually in the product. A study conducted out of Penn Medicine found that almost 70% of CBD products sold online do not contain the concentration of CBD that they say they do. With all supplements, make sure the product is third party tested to ensure that what is on the label is actually in the product.
Common side effects from THC include:
slow reaction time
short term memory loss
behavior and mood changes
Common side effects of CBD include:
possible liver damage
***Smoking and vaporizing cannabis can cause damage to the lungs and increase risk of cancer and emphysema
***Chronic use of marijuana can increase the risk of mood disorders especially in those who are younger users
What about in those with PD?
Unfortunately, there is not a lot of studies out there in general, but even less in people with PD. Currently, researchers urge caution for people with PD who use cannabis that contains THC. This is primarily due to the side effects impacting thinking and executive function. There is a potential benefit to alleviate tremor, anxiety, pain, and sleep in those with PD, but overall there is no compelling evidence to recommend its use in those with PD due to the lack of research around CBD and the lack of regulation around CBD products. Before you try cannabis talk with your neurologist. If you are given the okay to try it, make sure you look at third party tested products to make sure the product is safe.