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Research & Development Adverse effects, Neurology & psychology

Calculated Risk

Although the evidence is limited, there are ongoing discussions as to whether cannabis may be helpful for people with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). To explore further, researchers from the University of Colorado asked PD patients about their cannabis use via The Michael J. Fox Foundation’s online platform, Fox Insight. In particular, they investigated the type of cannabis product used, whether using cannabis improved PD symptoms, and whether patients experienced any negative side effects (1).

Participants reported that cannabis improved some of their symptoms, including pain, anxiety, sleep, and agitation, with high-THC products showing more frequent benefits than high-CBD products. But THC appeared to be a double-edged sword. “Although higher THC products were associated with more benefits, they also demonstrated more adverse effects, such as impaired thinking and balance,” Maureen Leehey, one of the researchers, points out. “To any PD patients reading this paper, please bear in mind that THC should be used cautiously.” 

When asked about any limitations to their study, first author Samantha Holden highlights the potential for patients to skew the data. “Although we asked respondents about their dose and the THC to CBD ratio, this information was dependent on self reporting, meaning the exact dosages and ratios may not be accurate.” As such, the researchers stress that any future studies should focus on more controlled and rigorous methods to study the impact of varying types of cannabis on PD symptoms, as well as the effect of different ingestion methods and specific doses.

Leehey also notes that a major barrier to randomized control trials is the ability to obtain a good study drug. “Legal routes are generally very limited,” she says. “And we need a range of doses, types of cannabinoids, and routes of administration with consistent concentrations that meet federal and state regulations for purity and safety.”

Challenges certainly exist, but Holden hints at exciting new cannabis research ahead. “Moving forward, we will be collaborating with other cannabis researchers on campus, such as Kent Hutchison, on several projects to evaluate the safety and efficacy of cannabis in people with mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer’s disease,”

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  1. S. Holden et al., Movement Disorders (2022). DOI: 10.1002/mdc3.13414
About the Author
Margot Lespade

Margot Lespade, Associate Editor, The Cannabis Scientist

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