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Study: Smoked Marijuana Provides Relief in Parkinson’s Disease

By on June 19, 2013

Parkinson's affects 1% over the age of 60 and 4% over 80.

Parkinson’s affects 1% over the age of 60 and 4% over 80. – Medical marijuana could be effective at relieving symptoms in Parkinson’s disease, according to early findings from an Israeli clinical trial.

Reported by Medpage Today, a group of Tel Aviv University researchers presented data at an international conference earlier this week which showed that smoking cannabis brought significant relief to all 20 Parkinson’s patients that were studied.

Before receiving treatment, the patients scored an average of 33 on the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) – the most common rating system used to measure Parkinson’s severity. Half an hour after smoking cannabis, the patients’ UPDRS scores dropped significantly to an average of 24.

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, age-related disorder that is caused by progressive death of dopamine cells within the brain. Compounds found in marijuana, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), could be useful in Parkinson’s disease by acting to temporarily increase dopamine levels as well as protecting brain cells from further death.

(MORE: How Does Marijuana Affect Dopamine?)

Cannabis treatment also led to reductions in a variety of hallmark Parkinson’s symptoms.

“We not only saw improvement in tremor in these patients, but also in rigidity and in bradykinesia,” said lead researcher Ruth Djaldetti, MD. “I would recommend use of marijuana to my patients as a last resort if nothing else was working for them or if they had pain.”

In fact, all of the patients involved in the study reported a lack of pain relief from traditional medications, but seemed to respond well to cannabis.

“We saw a dramatic reduction in pain in our patients and in their ability to sleep. When their pain was reduced, they slept better,” noted Dr. Djaldetti. “The patients told us that the beneficial effect of cannabis smoking lasts for about 2 to 3 hours.”

Karin Gmitterova, MD, assistant professor of neurology at the University of Bratislava in Slovakia, offered his opinion on the findings.

“The reduction in the UPDRS score that we see here is not only statistically significant but this is clinically important as well,” said Dr. Gmitterova, who was not involved in the current study.

Dr. Gmitterova asserts that medical marijuana has become increasingly popular as a Parkinson’s treatment among patients in the Czech Republic – one of the countries where cannabis use is more accepted. A survey published in 2004 showed that 1 in 4 patients attending the Prague Movement Disorder Centre had tried cannabis, with nearly half of them reporting benefits.

(MORE: Medical Marijuana and Parkinson’s Disease)

However, the use of medical marijuana remains illegal in many countries, including the United States. Despite amendments being passed by 19 states to allow patients access to this form of treatment, the federal government maintains that cannabis has no place in medicine.

“When doctors can’t help patients, they will find other methods of treatment through word of mouth or the Internet or from family members or friends,” commented Dr. Gmitterova.

Medical marijuana is legal under Israeli law and is currently prescribed to around 11,000 patients for a variety of ailments.

All of the patients involved in the study were current cannabis users. On average, the patients had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for 7.5 years and were about 66 in age.

The results of the study were presented as an abstract at the 2013 International Congress on Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders (June 16-20) and are still awaiting peer review.