A healthy, natural alternative to traditional medications is becoming more and more accessible for persons suffering the effects of Parkinson’s disease. Studies show that CBD, a Cannabidiol also referred to as CBD-rich cannabis, may offer much-needed relief for the debilitating symptoms of Parkinson’s. CBD is a natural compound found in cannabis sativa plants, with none of the adverse side effects of prescription medications and without the “high” effect from THC in marijuana. And while traditional medications may become less effective over time, or stop working completely, CBD users are hailing long-lasting benefits, with many giving up their pharmaceuticals for good.
CBD is also gaining momentum as a treatment for other health-related conditions including Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, anxiety, and chronic pain. Studies are ongoing, but returns indicate CBD is an exciting alternative to traditional medications.
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurological disorder that affects one’s nervous stem, with the average age on onset at 60 years old. Simply stated, brain cells that produce the neurotransmitter, dopamine, which are responsible for transmitting messages to the body in relation to movement, become damaged and die. This results in a variety of movement issues, which may include tremors, lack of facial expression, difficulty balancing, and stiffness of muscles. In addition, PD may develop into Parkinson’s disease dementia (PDD), which impacts one’s cognitive functioning, such as the ability to remember things, make good decisions, and pay attention.
Please note, Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) presents with symptoms similar to PDD. However, with DLB, cognitive issues are present prior to one experiencing issues with movement. All of these diseases are progressive, meaning the symptoms become worse as time goes on, and unfortunately, there is no cure.
Initially, symptoms of PD may be nearly unnoticeable and may include difficulty standing after sitting, lack of facial emotion, or tremors (a slight shakiness of one’s hands.) As mentioned previously, PD is a progressive disease, and the symptoms become more pronounced over time. In addition to tremors of one’s limbs, hands, head, and jaw and stiffness/inflexibility of arms, legs, neck, and torso, one may experience a slowness of movement called bradykinesia, as well as balance issues. One’s manner of walking changes as PD progresses. In fact, it is a gait so commonly seen that it has its own name: Parkinson’s (or Parkinsonian) gait. This is often characterized by a stooped posture, a short step that is more a shuffling of the feet, as if the individual is dragging them, and reduced arm movement or arms that do not swing when one walking.
Persons with PD may experience other issues, including loss of smell, constipation, trouble swallowing, slurred speech, delusions, visual hallucinations, lack of judgment, difficulty concentrating, and memory loss. Persons with PD may also suffer from depression, anxiety, apathy, irritability, pain, and difficulty sleeping. As mentioned previously, many people with Parkinson’s disease go on to develop Parkinson’s disease dementia.
Persons with PD and PDD often seek treatment in the form of prescription medications to alleviate the symptoms, frequently with adverse side effects including dizziness, drowsiness, blurred vision, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, dry mouth, loss of appetite, heartburn, and more.
Exciting studies demonstrating the therapeutic effects of CBD for persons with PD abound. Because PD affects the brain’s ability to produce dopamine, researchers Alyssa S. Laun and Zhao-Hui Song from the University of Louisville, Kentucky, made an important discovery when they found that CBD acts as an “inverse agonist” on CPR6 receptors found predominantly in the basal ganglia region of the brain, which connects to the cerebral cortex and brainstem, driving functions in our bodies including movement, learning, and emotion. This means CBD potentially responds within the receptors to provide therapeutic effects against the symptoms of PD. Any increase in dopamine levels would counteract the steady decrease of dopaminergic neurons experienced by those afflicted with PD.
Cannabinoid receptors run throughout our body as part of the endocannabinoid system regulating physiological operations including hunger, pain sensitivity, temperament, and memory. These natural receptors are affected in patients with PD. As analyses continue, CDB is demonstrating relief for tremors, psychosis, and problems sleeping. CBD may also reduce depression and anxiety, and relieve pain. A study at the Colorado School of Medicine has demonstrated relief of issues including tremors and difficulty sleeping. CBD studies are also showing it as effective in treating the psychosis that comes with PDD (Parkinson’s disease dementia). So far, patients are tolerant of low doses of CBD oil and report positive effects.
Numerous studies echo CBD’s benefits. Researchers in Brazil have noted “Our findings point to a possible effect of CBD in improving quality of life measure in PD patients with no psychiatric comorbidities.” (Study) Researchers with the Department of Neuroscience and Behavior there concluded “preliminary data suggest that CBD may be effective, safe, and well tolerated for the treatment of the psychosis in PD.” (Study) And a different Colorado study concluded: “Cannabis was rarely used in our population but users reported high efficacy, mainly for nonmotor symptoms.”
These more recent revelations come on the back of federally funded preclinical studies published in 1998 documenting strong antioxidant and neuroprotective properties in CDB and THC, particularly in treating “neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and HIV dementia.” These promising findings led to a U.S. government patent on cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants.
In June of 2018, the first FDA-approved CBD medication, Epidiolex, was approved to treat two rare types of epilepsy. While there are currently no CBD medications approved by the FDA specifically for Parkinson’s disease, one should not be discouraged, as research is ongoing. In 2017, the Salk University in California found that THC and other compounds found in cannabis, such as CBD, reduce the amount of amyloid beta, a plaque protein that is toxic in the brains of persons with Alzheimer’s disease. This is great news for persons with dementia because the removal of amyloid beta allows brain cells to survive. Amyloid beta not only causes neuron death, but also causes inflammation and contributes to memory loss and other cognitive issues. This type of plaque is also found in the brains of some persons with Parkinson’s disease dementia. In addition, some animal studies suggest that CBD might protect one against developing neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, in the first place.
CBD Makes You Feel “High”
The effects of CBD and THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol), both cannabinoids that are extracted from cannabis sativa plants, are often confused. That said, both CBD and THC are known to have healing properties, and some researchers believe a combination of the two cannabinoids are very effective as a means of treatment. However, only THC produces a feeling of being “high”. Said another way, CBD-rich cannabis usage does not have any mind-altering effects. Given this fact, CBD is a desirable option for those that do not want to feel “high” from THC or certain prescription drugs.
CBD is a Regulated Product
Due to a lack of regulation when it comes to CBD products, there is no guarantee that a product containing a certain number of CBD mg (for instance 30mg) is the same as another stating it has the same mg dosage of CBD. Therefore, there may be a lack of consistency from one product to the next. A researcher at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia discovered that almost 70% of CBD products sold on the internet are under labeled or over labeled when it comes to the concentration of CBD within the product. Just 30% of the products bought contained a concentration of CBD within 10% of what the label indicated. For the best and most consistently produced CBD products, locally sourced medical CBD is recommended. This is because these products are held to a higher level of lab testing for strength, as well as impurities.
CBD has Sedative Properties
While some people may believe that CBD is a sedative, the truth is that it actually produces alertness without negatively impacting one’s sleep. Even if one takes a dose of 600mg of pure CBD, which is a very high dose, it still does not produce a sedating effect. However, one may take a CBD with a terpene (fragrant and flavorful essential oils found in plants) called myrcene, which is produced by several cannabis strains, that has sedating properties.
CBD is Legal in All States
As you will learn more below under “Legal Status of CBD in the U.S., CBD is not legal in all 50 states. However, only in 3 states is it illegal: Idaho, Nebraska, and South Dakota. That said, CBD can be purchased legally online and delivered to all states. One can do so here.
Studies on CBD have shown that this form of treatment is usually tolerated well by users and is regarded as safe. There has also been no evidence for potential of abuse and/or dependence of CBD. That said, a few undesirable side effects have been noted, which include diarrhea, appetite changes, and tiredness. In addition, there may be dangerous drug interactions when CBD is combined with certain pharmaceutical medications. Therefore, it is crucial that one speak with his/her physician prior to adding CBD to any medication regimen. In addition, one should monitor side effects upon use.
There are a variety of options when it comes to administering CBD. There is ingestible CBD, which is a very common means of consumption, and includes oils (CBD is mixed with what is called a carrier oil, such as hemp seed, coconut, and olive oil) and tinctures (CBD is in an alcohol solution). Sublingual consumption, whereby a few drops of oil or tincture is placed under the tongue for a few minutes, is often suggested. This is because the oil is absorbed by the sublingual tissue and quickly gets into the bloodstream. Therefore, the CBD is generally effective within a few minutes. One can also digest the oil or tincture directly or add to food, such as a smoothie. There are also oil capsules that can be taken like pills, as well as CBD edibles, like gummies. This method of ingestion can take an hour before the effects of CBD kick in, and once it kicks in, the effects can be felt for 4 hours or even longer.
Oils and tinctures can also be applied topically, meaning they can be applied to the skin. Like with digesting CBD, it can take an hour or so for the effects to be felt and will last for a few hours. This method of use is good for persons suffering from localized pain. One can also opt for CBD vape products (vaporizer pens), CBD inhalers, or smoke high CBD hemp strains. This method of inhalation allows users to feel the effects of CBD almost immediately and generally lasts a couple of hours.
There is not a preferred method of CBD administration for persons with Parkinson’s Disease. Rather, patients should choose a method with which they are most comfortable and one which is not hampered by tremors. If success with CBD is found, users should choose an administration method which can accommodate frequent and ongoing usage.
For the purposes of legality of CBD, it is important to be aware of the difference between hemp-derived CBD and marijuana-derived CBD. As previously mentioned, CBD is derived from both marijuana plants and hemp plants. Marijuana plants can contain as much as 30% THC, while hemp plants do not contain more than .03% THC. The percentage of THC in hemp plants is so low that it is impossible for one to get “high”, and therefore, many states have made hemp-derived CBD legally available in their state. As far as CBD manufactured from marijuana, each state has its own specific laws that govern the legality of it. Please note: While CBD is readily available across the states and many states have legalized the use of it, in the eyes of the U.S. Federal government, CBD rich medical cannabis is still illegal. This holds true even when CBD has very little to no THC.
The rules governing CBD oil and marijuana use are rapidly changing. Click here to learn more about how your state views the usage of both.
The best place to buy CBD rich medical cannabis is from state licensed medical (and in some states, recreational) dispensaries. Alternatively, CBD can be purchased legally online here.
For convenience, many dispensaries also provide delivery services. Unfortunately, dispensaries are not legal in every state. Often times one can find hemp-derived CBD in local health stores. If taken once daily, a continuous regimen would cost approximately $2-$3 per day. As detailed in the following section, insurance will not cover the cost, therefore the daily cost would be out-of-pocket.
Unfortunately, private health insurance companies will not cover the cost of CBD products with the exception of one product. This is Epidiolex, which as mentioned above, is FDA-approved for epilepsy. That said, please bear in mind that some Parkinson’s patients and their caretakers may find that high CBD strains of medical marijuana aren’t overly expensive and are safer (have less harmful side effects) compared to medications prescribed for Parkinson’s disease.
People frequently want to know if Medicare covers the cost of CBD products. As stated above, CBD (as well as THC) is illegal when it comes to federal law. Therefore, Medicare does not cover the cost of such products, nor does Medicare allow it to be used towards a Part B (health insurance coverage) or prescription drug plan deductible. This is true for all conditions, not just for Parkinson’s Disease.
As with Medicare, Medicaid will not cover the cost of CBD products.
The VA will not directly cover the cost of products containing CBD. However, there are VA pensions, such as the basic pension and Aid & Attendance (A&A) Pension from which veterans or surviving spouses receive a monthly monetary benefit. Recipients of these pensions are able to use the money as they see fit, which means theoretically that one could use it towards purchasing CBD products. Learn more about these pensions here.