People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) often ask about complementary medicine and alternative therapies that might work for different symptoms. Although we’ve heard from some people in the community that cannabis (which includes marijuana) can help treat Parkinson’s symptoms, there is limited well-controlled research to support its impact.
To understand the experience of cannabis for people with Parkinson’s, The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) launched a privacy-protected survey through its online Fox Insight study in January 2020. The survey asked about types of cannabis used and methods of use, as well as how cannabis affected PD symptoms. Over four months, nearly 1,900 people with Parkinson’s participated.
Study leader Maureen Leehey, MD, of the University of Colorado Denver, recently presented study results at the 2021 American Academy of Neurology Virtual Annual Meeting. These include:
- More than half of respondents reported mild benefits on sleep, mood and pain. As a result, some respondents decreased their use of prescription medications to treat those symptoms.
- However, the survey found side effects such as dizziness, cognitive changes and dry mouth were common.
- On average, respondents said they used a once daily, oral dose of cannabis.
- About 13 percent of respondents were unable to identify the specific cannabis product they were using, while one third didn’t know the exact dosage they were taking.
- Over 30 percent of respondents did not discuss cannabis use with their physician.
Researchers will publish the full results later this year.
To discuss these survey results and next best steps, in June 2020, MJFF convened a meeting with field leaders and PD organizations, including the Parkinson’s Foundation and Parkinson’s UK. Through this workshop, attendees identified four elements of field-wide strategy for building understanding and studying cannabis use and Parkinson’s:
- Encourage open discussion about cannabis use between patients and doctors
- Continue “real world” research into the community’s use of and perspectives on cannabis (The cannabis survey is still open in Fox Insight. To share your experience, join Fox Insight at foxinsight.org. If you’re already in the study, sign in and find the questionnaire in the Survey Center under Related Research.)
- Reach a more inclusive population to capture broad use and widely apply findings and recommendations
- Fund well-designed studies
This is a tricky area for many people and their doctors — there are a lot of products out there, but it’s unclear if and how they may help in Parkinson’s. (Learn more about this topic in our Ask the MD blog.) Studies like this, where you contribute your voice, actively inform Parkinson’s care and research. This information may lead you and your doctor toward better care discussions and guide researchers in designing well-crafted studies on cannabis and Parkinson’s.