What is Parkinson's disease?
Parkinson's disease is a condition that causes damage to various parts of the brain. In short, it is caused by a reduction in the amount of dopamine released into the brain. This results in a loss of coordination and movement. Although we know how Parkinson's disease develops, research is not yet clear as to why it happens. The three main symptoms of Parkinson's disease are trembling or shaking (involuntary shaking), slow movement, and muscle stiffness and inflexibility. Symptoms usually appear when the affected person is over 50, but may appear earlier. Currently, there are many treatment options for Parkinson's symptoms, but there is still no cure.
What causes Parkinson's disease?
Much research has been done on Parkinson's disease, but the root cause is still unknown. It appears that the development of Parkinson's disease begins with the loss of nerve cells in the Substantia Nigra (The substantia nigra, also known as Locus Niger is a heterogeneous portion of the midbrain). This is the area of the brain that produces dopamine. Dopamine is a hormone, but it is also a neurotransmitter that helps regulate coordination and movement. If the cells of the Substantia Nigra are damaged, then the amount of dopamine flowing into the brain is reduced. This leads to problems with movement. Loss of nerve cells is a very slow process, and symptoms of Parkinson's disease can only appear after approximately 60% of the Substantia Nigra nerves are damaged. The underlying cause of this cell loss is still unknown. The most popular theories are that it is due to genetic or environmental factors.
Symptoms of Parkinson's Disease
The main symptoms of Parkinson's disease may be directly related to this loss of dopamine. It leads to movement problems, stiffness and, above all, tremors. There are a multitude of other symptoms that can also develop over time
- Balance problems (falls or falls apart)
- Dementia and memory problems
- Anosmia (loss of smell)
- Nerve pain
- Sexual Dysfunction
- Swallowing and eating problems
It tends to be that as the disease progresses the symptoms get worse. Current treatment options aim to improve the patient's overall quality of life.
Conventional treatment options...
Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson's disease, but there are many treatment options for its different symptoms. There are many different types of supportive therapy that can be incredibly helpful. Physical therapy can help reduce muscle stiffness and joint pain, while occupational therapy makes everyday tasks easier. Speech therapy is also very useful to help combat any speech and gumming or swallowing problems that may be caused by this condition. These types of therapy are often performed in conjunction with medical treatments. There are several pharmaceutical options to help with tremor and other movement problems, which usually involve the use of chemically manufactured dopamine. These medications are strong and help many patients, however, they are not available to everyone, and may come with some negative side effects.
How can CBD help?
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. It has made a name for itself in the therapeutic community because of its anti-inflammatory, anti-psychotic and neuro-protective properties. There are a large number of cannabinoid receptors that are present throughout the brain. These receptors are part of a larger system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system (SEC) is involved in modulating a wide range of body functions, including motor control. Pre-clinical trials of cannabinoid-based drugs have already demonstrated their potential in treating the motor function problems associated with this disease.
The first CBD trials for Parkinson's disease were actually aimed at treating psychotic symptoms. The studies concluded that CBD did reduce psychotic symptoms, but more importantly, it did not cause the physical symptoms. An incredibly small, early study tested the effects of CBD in patients with dystonic movement disorders. The results showed that the correct dose of CBD was an effective anti-dystonic. In other words, it reduced motor function problems.
Other trials found that CBD could also improve subjects' overall quality of life. Perhaps the most important quality of CBD in this context is its neuroprotective ability. CBD has the potential to reduce damage to brain cells, and may even promote their growth and regeneration. This makes it of particular interest to those with degenerative brain diseases, such as Parkinson's. By being able to protect brain cells, disease progression may be slowed.
CBD is a health supplement, used to support homeostasis and maintain a healthy immune system. It is not a cure, nor is it a medicine, but it can provide relief from many physical and emotional problems. Medical research is limited due to its cost, but what has been discovered so far is very promising. In addition, the anecdotal evidence for the effectiveness of cannabinoids such as CBD is overwhelming. It is always best to do as much research as possible, and to seek the advice of your
doctor if you're thinking of trying CBD.
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Bassi, M. et al. (2017) Cannabinoids in Parkinson's Disease [online] NCBI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5436333/ [Accessed 6 Mar. 2020].
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