Safety first: new guide offers advice on using herbal drugs to treat Parkinson’s

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Author: Roisin McCormackPublished: 11 June 2020

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medical marijuana and Parkinson's

With an increase in the number of people seeking relief from symptoms through medical marijuana, US charity Parkinson’s Foundation has released a guide that aims to ensure safe use when evidence of the drug’s efficacy remains limited. We share the key takeaways – and hear from one of the experts who created the new resource

The Parkinson’s Foundation has published a statement to help inform Parkinson’s community on the safe use of medical cannabis.

The use of medical marijuana for Parkinson’s has sparked discussion in recent years, with studies finding the drug could relieve chronic pain, advocates claiming respite from their tremor – and researchers exploring whether the plant can fill Parkinson’s treatment gaps. There is still, however, little data available on the true efficacy of the drug, as well as the specific side effects it can cause in people with Parkinson’s.

This, and a sharp increase in the availability of medical cannabis across the US, has prompted Parkinson’s Foundation to create an online guide in order to educate those who want to adopt cannabis into their treatment plan safely – and highlight areas where research is most needed.

The statement reads: “Given the lack of any clear data supporting the use of cannabis in PD, the Foundation does not endorse their use for PD symptoms or to modify disease progression. However, because we realise that people with PD are interested in trying cannabis products, we are providing guidance for both general safety as well as working with dispensaries.”

Addressing questions within Parkinson’s community

Based on insights from 46 industry experts – including neurologists, researchers and people with the condition – who attended the Parkinson Foundation’s medical marijuana conference in March 2019, the 15-page guide provides information and practical tips for patients and physicians to follow when considering the drug for treatment.

Dr James Beck, Senior Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer at Parkinson’s Foundation, said: “At our May 2018 Centers of Excellence Leadership Conference, we asked the clinicians in our network to share what were the notable issues they were addressing in patient care. What we heard was that almost all of their Parkinson’s patients were asking about cannabis to treat their Parkinson’s – it was practically the number one question asked of them.

“We hope that if people decide to move forward with trying cannabis products, they have a better sense of how to move forward in a safe way.”

He adds that the Foundation’s biggest concern for new users – one which the statement tackles – lies around the correct dosage.

“Our biggest concern is that someone will not take a careful, incremental approach but inadvertently jump right in with a potent product that could leave them negatively affected – such as suffering a fall or hallucinations that could lead them or someone else they love getting hurt. If readers have any questions about medical cannabis and Parkinson’s, they can call our free helpline at 1-800-4PD-INFO (473-4636).”

In this four-minute video, Dr Beck gives an overview of the potential risks and benefits of using medical marijuana to treat Parkinson’s symptoms:

Guidance for using cannabis to treat Parkinson’s symptoms

We share four of the key takeaways from the Foundation’s statement on using medical marijuana safely:

Be cautious

Treat cannabis products as you would any new medication – start on a low dosage and increase it slowly, being mindful of how the drug is affecting you.

Communicate with your doctor

Keep your healthcare provider in the loop if you decide to introduce cannabis into your treatment plan so that they can assess how the drug will interact with your other medication.

Work with the same dispensary

As the industry is not regulated, doses from different dispensaries (places which prepare and give out medical marijuana) cannot be relied upon to have the same effect. Choose one dispensary and visit them each time you need to obtain medical marijuana to ensure a safe and consistent dosage.

Be aware of the side-effects

When taking cannabidiol, be wary of side-effects ranging from dizziness to dry mouth, lack of motivation, impaired thinking and memory.

Choosing CBD-only products over those that contain THC – and opting for a cream for pain in specific areas – can all help reduce the impact of the drug on everyday life.

Read the full statement here.

For more information on complementary Parkinson’s treatments visit Parkinson’s Europe website.

Read more:

Plant-based compounds could treat chronic pain in Parkinson’s, study finds

Parkinson’s UK to launch largest plant-based oil trial in the world

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