Fox Foundation Offers Guide for Using Medical Marijuana

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by Mary Chapman |

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The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) is offering a free guide about medical marijuana and Parkinson’s disease (PD) in response to a survey, conducted through Fox Insights, that found more than 70% of patients use cannabis for medical purposes.

Nearly one in three respondents (31.8%) also reported not having spoken with their healthcare providers about such use.

The nine-page downloadable guide covers issues such as how to speak with a doctor about cannabis — the plant from which marijuana is derived — what’s known about its potential safety and effectiveness, and the accessibility of medical marijuana.

As of March, 37 states and the District of Columbia allow the use of medical cannabis, it states.

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The guide was written by Rachel Dolhun, MD, a movement disorder specialist and senior vice president of medical communications for the MJFF. She also hosts the organization’s educational “Ask the MD” video series.

“Many people wonder about medical marijuana for Parkinson’s,” the MJFF states in its announcement. “Research hasn’t yet proven benefits or safety. And doctors don’t have strong evidence to guide recommendations on what to use or how. Still, many people are interested in trying this therapy.”

Dolhun, in an accompanying video, noted that “several small trials have looked at whether marijuana and cannabinoids can help Parkinson’s motor symptoms such as tremor, slowness and stiffness, and non-motor symptoms such as sleep changes, mood problems, or hallucinations.”

But, she added, “the results of all these trials are mixed. Some show benefits and other don’t.”

A total of 1,881 Parkinson’s patients answered the University of Colorado survey between January and June 2020. It was undertaken to gain “real-world” knowledge of cannabis use to help doctors in counseling patients and to support future clinical trials.

Some 73% reported using cannabis strictly for medical reasons, 7.3% for recreational use, and 19.7% said they used cannabis both medically and recreationally.

More than half of respondents reported some easing of disease symptoms, particularly better sleep, and lesser agitation, anxiety, and pain. Common side effects included dry mouth, dizziness, cognitive issues, increased appetite or weight gain, fatigue, and balance problems.

Cannabis research, the guide explains, is hampered by federal regulations and studies to date that are too small to apply widely, fail to compare marijuana to current disease treatments, and lack standardized doses necessary to compare results across trials, Dolhun said.

The guide notes that studies in “small numbers of participants” are unlikely to represent “the broad Parkinson’s population,” or show results that can “apply to the majority.” They also frequently lack a placebo group, “making it difficult to determine how much benefit may truly be from cannabis and how much may be placebo effect.”

In the video, Dolhun advises patients to speak with their physician about marijuana’s potential benefits and risks, as well as possible interactions with medications.

“The bottom line is that marijuana and cannabinoids may be potential therapies for Parkinson’s, but more work is necessary to evaluate their safety and efficacy,” she states.

In addition to its guide, the foundation offers an archived webinar addressing medical marijuana and other alternative treatments.