Parkinson’s is a disease of the nervous system that affects your movement. Though this illness is typically characterized by uncontrollable tremor, there are a host of other potential symptoms, including slowed movement, stiff muscles, trouble with mobility, posture, and balance, difficulty with speech and language, and trouble writing.
These symptoms are caused by damage to the neurons that produce dopamine, a chemical messenger that controls functions of the brain. Experts aren’t exactly sure what causes this damage, though they theorize that it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It’s more common among men who are older than age 60 and who have a family history of the disease. In addition to the symptoms above, Parkinson’s often occurs in conjunction with depression, dementia, sleep disorders, and other cognitive, physical and emotional changes.
While Parkinson’s disease is chronic and progressive, which means that there is no cure and it gets worse over time, some treatments do offer relief from symptoms of the disease. Doctors commonly prescribe medications such as Levadopa, which is converted to dopamine in the brain to help remedy the deficit of this chemical, or other medications that mimic the effects of dopamine. In some cases, surgical procedures such as deep brain stimulation may be effective in resolving symptoms for several years.
Several clinical studies show that medical marijuana may have a therapeutic effect for those with Parkinson’s disease symptoms. One study, published in the journal, Clinical Neuropharmacology, showed that Parkinson’s patients who used medical cannabis had a marked decrease in tremors and motor impairment, as well as in pain and sleep disturbances. In a Brazilian study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, people with Parkinson’s who used medical cannabis reported higher well being and quality of life scores. According to the National Parkinson Foundation, these positive effect may be traced to the heavy concentration of cannabanoid receptors in the areas of the brain that are affected by the disease. Medical marijuana is currently legal to treat Parkinson’s disease in most states that allow cannabis for therapeutic use.
Beyond these treatments, research shows that lifestyle changes can also have a positive effect on Parkinson’s disease symptoms. These include eating a healthy diet; exercising regularly if your doctor says it’s safe to do so; and making changes to your home to help you get around more easily. In the later stages of the disease, physical and occupational therapy can be beneficial.