Editor’s note: The Parkinson’s News Today team is providing in-depth coverage of the 2021 Virtual AAN Annual Meeting, April 17–22. Go here to read the latest stories from the conference.
People with Parkinson’s disease are using more cannabis-based products, especially those containing cannabidiol (CBD), as a treatment option to ease symptoms such as pain and mood, as well as to improve sleep, according to the results of an online survey.
A third of the respondents, however, reported they had not informed their physicians of their therapeutic use of cannabis.
The results were presented in a poster, titled “Cannabis use in people with Parkinson’s disease: Reported patterns of use, symptomatic benefits, and adverse effects via Fox Insight,” at the 2021 American Academy of Neurology Virtual Annual Meeting, which ran through April 22.
Recent surveys conducted across the U.S. and Germany have reported increasing interest among Parkinson’s patients regarding the use of cannabis as a strategy for relieving non-motor disease symptoms, like anxiety, pain, and sleep disturbances.
This has prompted the use of cannabis without medical guidance, and as such, evidence is lacking regarding which cannabis product types are most often used. There also is scant information on both the dosing and efficacy of cannabis products, researchers note.
The cannabis plant is composed of hundreds of biologically active compounds. The most notable are tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, which is responsible for the “high” associated with marijuana use, and CBD, which does not produce a “high” but has other effects on the body.
To learn more about the use of THC and CBD among people with Parkinson’s, researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine conducted an online survey. The 15-question survey, available via the Michael J. Fox Foundation’s Fox Insight platform, asked for patients’ perceptions regarding the impact of the cannabis product types in a set of 36-predefined symptoms.
Respondents rated their symptoms as either “markedly worse” or “markedly better” following cannabis use.
In total, 1,881 people diagnosed with Parkinson’s and with experience with cannabis responded to the survey. Their mean age was 66.5 and 58.5% were men. Just over half of the patients (50.5%) had early Parkinson’s, meaning they had been diagnosed for less than three years.
A total of 73% reported the use of cannabis for medical purposes. Notably, nearly a third of the respondents — 30.8% — had not informed their physician or healthcare team about their cannibis use. The majority (86.7%) knew the biologically active compound being used: 69.8% used high levels of CBD and 30.2% high THC-based products.
The results showed close to a third of the patients (30.7%) had used cannabis for less than six months, while 21.5% had used it for less than one month. Only 14.8% reported a use ranging from seven months to one year (12 months).
Cannabis was most often administered orally — for 62.5% of respondents — and once daily, per 30.6% of patients completing the survey.
Improvements in sleep, anxiety, agitation, and pain were reported by more than 50% of the respondents. The most common adverse effects, or side effects, reported by 20.9 to 30.8% of respondents, included dry mouth, dizziness, and cognitive changes.
The greater changes in symptoms, either beneficial and adverse, were reported by patients using high THC-based products.
Overall, this survey shows that people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease are “are using more CBD products, via oral administration, with mild subjective benefits in sleep, pain, and mood symptoms,” the researchers wrote. “Adverse effects were relatively less frequent, though of greater magnitude. Higher THC products may be higher risk/higher reward for symptomatic effects.”
The researchers noted that the survey was hosted by the Fox Foundation’s Fox Insight platform. Fox Insight is an online clinical study wherein people with Parkinson’s disease and their family members and caregivers are invited to share information with a goal toward improving the search for better treatments.
“This information may allow clinicians to better counsel patients and provide a foundation for future studies,” the researchers concluded.
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