Using medical cannabis to aid Parkinson’s disease symptoms

Throughout April, there is a large focus on Parkinson’s disease throughout the UK. Bringing awareness to the medical condition and its symptoms, we explore the potential for treating Parkinson’s disease with cannabis-based medical products.

While many people living with Parkinson’s disease across the UK have been successful in treating their symptoms with medical cannabis and lots of anecdotal evidence exists, there are still are not enough clinical trials and robust scientific evidence to show that cannabis-based medical products are beneficial.

The facts about medical cannabis

Towards the end of last year, Parkinson’s UK announced they were funding a clinical trial at Kings College London, to test whether CBD can treat psychosis brought on as a result of Parkinson’s disease. Over the next couple of years, researchers will test whether CBD will help symptoms and find out exactly how safe it is, whether there are any side effects and how to monitor dosage.

As CBD is extracted from the cannabis plant and purified, patients will not experience any intoxicating side effects and will remain alert whilst medicating. An extensive report by the WHO has demonstrated that CBD is generally very well tolerated with a good safety profile with no evidence of recreational use or abuse potential. CBD has no addictive properties and in fact, recent studies have shown that medical cannabis is leading patients away from addictive medication such as opioids.

Medical cannabis still is not available or licenced on prescription for people living with Parkinson’s disease. Currently, CBD products are only available in shops and online retailers, marketed as a food supplements or novel foods and cannot be recommended for specific medical purposes. The CBD market in the UK remains largely unregulated (although new regulations are being introduced by the FSA) and can be very confusing for both the general public and doctors who may want to explore CBD as a potential therapy- find out more about this here.

Research from Parkinson’s UK

As part of the current study taking place by Parkinson’s UK; some key findings have already been released to show the effects of medical cannabis on those living with Parkinson’s.

Astonishingly, 59% of people hadn’t used cannabis-based products before, but would use them to control their symptoms.

Parkinson’s disease can cause involuntary tremors, stiffness and shaking throughout the body. The motor symptoms of Parkinson’s affect mobility and can have a profound impact on an individual’s daily living and independence. In additional to physical symptoms, Parkinson’s can manifest itself with a number of other distressing problems including depression, psychosis, impaired sleep and memory loss. Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s - only treatments to ease symptoms, of which many individuals say the effects of treatment does not last very long before their symptoms return. Medications wear off and become less effective over time, which means most people with Parkinson’s end up starting additional medications which often have unpleasant side effects including dyskinesia (abnormal involuntary movements), hallucinations and behavioural changes.

The current testing being carried out by Parkinson’s UK, shows there have been no side effects after using medical cannabis - and more importantly, the medication didn’t interact or cause any issues with the medicines currently taken to treat their Parkinson's symptoms.

Of note, 86% of professionals who were interviewed, said they didn’t feel confident enough to prescribe cannabis-based medical products to their patients.

How can we explore this further and improve confidence for prescribing doctors?

We believe there is a role for cannabis-based medicines to improve quality of life for people who suffer with Parkinson’s disease, particularly when conventional medications have failed to be effective or as an add on treatment to help alleviate some of the wider manifestations of the condition.

At The Primary Care Cannabis Network, we are reaching out to and are working with other organisations and societies, so we can educate and advance scientific research.

The aim is to expand the knowledge of cannabis-based medical treatments and focus on academic research, education, key-papers and open discussions.

We focus specifically on the needs of GPs and are creating a community that will enable GPs to confidently work together and speak with specialists to understand the various regulatory pathways that exist within the UK.