What is Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that harms the dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra of the brain. It is a brain disorder that causes uncontrollable movements, such as shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination. The symptoms usually begin gradually and get worse over time.

What causes it?

The most prominent signs of Parkinson’s disease occur when nerve cells in the brain that control movement becomes impaired and die. These neurons produce a vital brain chemical known as dopamine. When the nerve cells die or become impaired, they have less dopamine, which causes movement issues. Scientists still need to find out what causes the neurons to die.

Patients with Parkinson’s disease lose the nerve endings that produce norepinephrine, the primary chemical messenger that controls heart rate and blood pressure. Losing norepinephrine can produce symptoms like fatigue, irregular blood pressure, and digestive tract issues.

Many patients with Parkinson’s disease have Lewy bodies in their brain cells, which are unusual clumps of a specific protein. It is unsure how this protein impacts the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.  

Several cases of Parkinson’s disease appear to be hereditary, tracing back to specific genetic mutations; however, the condition does not typically seem to run in families. Many researchers are starting to believe Parkinson’s results from environmental factors, such as toxin exposure.

What are the symptoms?

The primary symptoms of Parkinson’s usually start mild and worsen over time; they include the following:

  • A tremor in hands, arms, legs, or jaw
  • Muscle stiffness and contractions
  • Slowness of movement
  • Impaired balance and coordination

Other symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety and Depression 
  • Difficulty swallowing, chewing and speaking
  • Incontinence
  • Constipation
  • Skin Issues

How is Parkinson’s Diagnosed? 

Parkinson’s disease is considered a clinical diagnosis, meaning a patient’s history, symptoms, and physical exam are all used to diagnose the condition. There isn’t currently a specific lab test that can diagnose PD. However, specific tests such as an MRI of the brain, a DaT scan, or blood work can be used to support or rule out the diagnosis.

Making an accurate diagnosis of Parkinson’s, especially in its early stages, can be challenging for doctors. Many people may seek a second opinion from a movement disorder specialist after talking with a primary care physician. A movement disorder specialist is a neurologist with specific training in assessing and treating Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders. 

Parkinson’s Statistics

  • Nearly one million people in the U.S. live with Parkinson’s disease.
  • Parkinson’s is the second-most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Around 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s yearly.
  • Over ten million people worldwide are living with the condition. 
  • The occurrence of Parkinson’s disease increases with age, with only four percent of patients receiving a diagnosis before age 50
  • Men are almost twice as likely to have Parkinson’s disease as women.

Treatments for Parkinson’s Disease

Prescription medications are available to lessen Parkinson’s motor and non-motor symptoms. These drugs are making it possible for patients with the condition to have a better quality of life for several years. 

Surgical interventions, like deep brain stimulation and focused ultrasound, may be an option for specific symptoms and when medication side effects or complications, such as dyskinesia, outweigh the medication’s benefits. 

Unfortunately, there is no cure to stop or slow the progression of Parkinson’s; however, treatments to address movement symptoms and expand options for non-movement signs also improve over time. 

Can Medical Cannabis Help with PD

Parkinson’s Disease is a common qualifying condition for patients in states that have legalized medicinal cannabis. Medical marijuana is commonly found to possess significant anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which can help with chronic pain management fairly quickly. 

Cannabinoid receptors bind to the brain and peripheral nerve cells and help regulate how you see and feel the pain to reduce symptoms. Medical cannabis, therefore, as opposed to other drugs, appears to be an excellent alternative to treat Parkinson’s patients and manage pain due to nerve damage.

CBD has anti-inflammatory qualities, can reduce pain, and even fully treat pain in some patients. It is also an antioxidant and can help reduce long-term inflammation. CBD contains cannabinoid receptors that can block chronic pain signals in the brain that trigger an increased immune response. 

Recent Studies

The Parkinson’s Foundation highlights four of the subsequent PD-related studies: 

The Therapeutic Potential of Cannabinoids for Movement Disorders

Clinical observations and trials of cannabinoid-based therapies suggest a possible benefit to tics and possible relief for tremors in dyskinesias or PD motor symptoms.

Cannabinoids Reduce Levodopa-induced Dyskinesia in Parkinson’s Disease: A Pilot Study

The researchers show that nabilone, the cannabinoid receptor agonist, significantly reduces levodopa-induced dyskinesia in Parkinson’s.

Neurokinin B, Neurotensin, and Cannabinoid Receptor Antagonists and Parkinson’s Disease

This study evaluates the effects of three antagonists on neurotensin and cannabinoid receptors on motor symptoms and levodopa-induced dyskinesias after the administration of one dose of levodopa in twenty-four patients. The study concluded that the drugs tested were safe but did not improve motor disability.

The Endocannabinoid System as an Emerging Target of Pharmacotherapy

This study reviews the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) and its regulatory functions.


Discovering a way to cope with Parkinson’s symptoms can be challenging. It’s not easy finding conventional medications that are effective or that our bodies respond to correctly. Many prescription drugs come with their own set of side effects, so marijuana can be a life-changing alternative for some PD patients. Remember, marijuana doesn’t cure the condition but instead helps manage nerve issues and other adverse symptoms. Be sure to discuss medical cannabis use with your physician and follow their advice according to your treatment plan.

Last Updated: July 25, 2023

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