Could CBD help treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease?

April 11, 2021

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition in which parts of the brain become progressively damaged over time. It is estimated that in the UK around 145,000 people live with Parkinson’s and that around 18,000 people are diagnosed with the condition each year.

According to the NHS, there are three main symptoms of Parkinson’s: 

  • involuntary shaking of particular parts of the body (tremor)
  • slow movement
  • stiff and inflexible muscles

People living with Parkinson’s can also experience a range of other physical and psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, balance problems, memory loss, insomnia and psychosis.

People get Parkinson’s as a result of a loss of dopamine-producing nerve cells in the brain. While research is still ongoing, it is believed that a combination of age, genetic and environmental factors that cause the dopamine-producing nerve cells to die.

What is CBD?

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a molecule found in cannabis and hemp with pharmacological effects – meaning it has an effect in the body which can support health. CBD does not produce a  high, but it does interact with the bodies endocannabinoid system, also known as the ECS.

The ECS is a system in the body that acts as a warden between the nervous system and the immune system. This means it has interactions with an expansive range of illnesses and symptoms, such as Parkinson’s, arthritis, cancer, pain and anxiety. The nervous system is in charge of thoughts, movement and emotions, to some degree, and the immune system protects the body from harm from bacteria and viruses. The ECS also plays a role in appetite, memory and metabolism. 

How can CBD treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s is a complex and ever changing condition, however many of the common symptoms could be reduced by taking CBD. Research has shown that CBD can improve sleep, reduce pain and control anxiety in people without Parkinson’s, there are also some exciting studies into the effects of CBD on specific symptoms of Parkinson’s.

CBD and anxiety

Anxiety is a common symptom for people with Parkinson’s. In a 2011 study of 24 people, the subjects – all of whom suffered from a social anxiety disorder – were given either a dosage of CBD or a placebo an hour and a half before performing a public speaking task, as public speaking is typically a task that can stimulate social anxiety disorder. In addition, a further 12 people in a control group were given nothing whatsoever. The study found that those who took the CBD had significantly reduced levels of cognitive impairment, anxiety and discomfort whilst speaking compared to the other two groups.

CBD may also help reduce anxiety related tremors. In an article published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology researchers at two Brazilian universities, the Federal University of São Carlos and the University of São Paulo, subjected 24 people with Parkinson’s to two separate simulated public speaking tests, 15 days apart. In each of the studies, half of the patients were given 300mg of CBD and the other half a placebo. Each patient then had their heart rates, blood pressure and tremor frequencies monitored. In this test patients who had received the CBD had lower levels of both anxiety and tremors.

CBD and insomnia

Quality of sleep is another frequent problem reported by people with Parkinson’s disease. One study found that people with the condition reported an average of just over 5 hours of sleep per night, and woke up twice as many times as adults without Parkinson’s. Poor sleep can lead to increased anxiety and depression, so treating insomnia can often help alleviate some of the other symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. 

Various studies have established that CBD can improve sleep. In one study, patients were given either a 160mg dose of CBD or a placebo. The study found that CBD increased sleep duration. In a small trial of 4 patients with Parkinson’s CBD was found to reduce disturbances in sleep.

CBD and psychosis

According to Parkinson’s UK, 60% of people with Parkinson’s report the experience of hallucinations and delusions over the course of the disease. While an exact cause for these symptoms has not yet been established, its believed to the related to the decrease in dopamine in the brain. Existing treatments for Parkinson’s such as Levodopa can block remaining dopamine receptors, further compounding this troubling symptom. 

CBD’s ability to reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s without blocking these receptors makes it a promising treatment for psychosis. Researchers at King’s College London are partnering with Parkinson’s UK to carry out a 3.5-year clinical trial to investigate the impact of CBD on Parkinson’s psychosis.

The first stage of the trial will recruit up to 24 people with Parkinson’s-related psychosis to an initial six-week study. The focus will be on understanding the safety of CBD in people with Parkinson’s-related psychosis

The second stage will recruit 120 people with Parkinson’s-related psychosis to take part in a 12-week study. Half the group will receive CBD and half will receive a placebo.

Finally, 40 participants from the second stage of the trial will be invited to undergo MRI brain scans to compare patterns of brain activity in the trial participants with those of people who don’t have Parkinson’s related psychosis or Parkinson’s. This stage will also examine the changes in brain activity following treatment.

Can CBD prevent Parkinson’s disease?

The research into CBD’s health benefits is moving at an exciting pace, but in the terms of scientific study, it remains very early stage. Research suggests that CBD and other cannabinoids ”have the potential to slow the onset and progression of neurodegenerative diseases.” One key reason that has been speculated is due to the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabinoids which have been cited as preventing neuroinflammation, or inflammation in the brain. 

Current studies into CBD and Parkinson’s tend to focus on people who already have the condition, which makes it difficult to conclude if it could act as a preventative treatment, but as CBD has shown to have neuroprotective qualities in both human and animal studies, it could one day be used to prevent or slow the progress of the disease.

Should I take CBD for Parkinson’s disease?

While many early-stage studies are starting to reveal the potential benefits of CBD for those living with Parkinson’s, it is important to remember that many of the studies are small. The current research by Parkinson’s UK is exciting but will take years to complete and understand. 

While CBD can’t yet be touted as a cure, it does show some potential benefits for many of the common symptoms and may help the side effects from common treatments and drugs.

If you believe CBD may be beneficial for you or a loved one, speak to your doctor about introducing it as a complementary supplement to ongoing care and treatment. CBD is widely available from both online and high street retailers across the UK. For more information on how to take CBD and what to look for in a reputable brand, read our beginner’s guide to CBD.

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