Medical Marijuana and Its Use Focus of March Meeting Set by Parkinson’s Foundation

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by Mary Chapman |

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With the goal of establishing a consensus on medical marijuana use by Parkinson’s patients — which a recent survey co-sponsored by the Parkinson’s Foundation put at 80 percent — the group will host its first conference focused on this compound and the disease.

Set for March 6-7 in Denver, the invitation-only meeting will include a mix of experts from academia, healthcare, government, and the private sector to consider the implications and make recommendations for the use of medical marijuana by patients. Parkinson’s advocates, who are patients, will also attend.

“Now that medical marijuana is legal in 33 states and in many other countries, people are equating access to efficacy,”  James Beck, the Foundation’s chief scientific officer, said in a news release. “It is imperative that we address the clinical implications of medical marijuana use among people with PD [Parkinson’s disease].”

Specifically, attendees will discuss both the perceived benefits and hazards of marijuana use in treating Parkinson’s symptoms, in addition to safety issues, potential delivery means, possible sanction as a therapeutic, and areas for more scientific investigation.

Following the meeting, the Foundation will issue suggested practices and highlight areas where more research is needed.

“Having worked as a clinician for the past decade in Colorado, a state at the forefront of medical marijuana use, it is clear that people with PD and their families are intensely interested in the potential of marijuana and cannabinoids in helping manage symptoms and other aspects of their disease,” said Benzi Kluger, associate professor of University of Colorado Hospital and a conference co-chair.

“To date, there is more hype than actual data to provide meaningful clinical information to patients with PD. There is a critical need to analyze existing data on medical marijuana and to set priorities for future research.”

Few clinical studies have evaluated marijuana’s effect on Parkinson’s symptoms in patients. Other than anecdotal evidence that use can help with sleep, pain, appetite, nausea, tremors, and anxiety, definitive scientific research does not back that up.

Preclinical findings, however, suggest a correlation between cannabinoids — marijuana’s active compound — and a reduction of Parkinson’s symptoms such as slowness and excessive movement.

Cannabinoid receptors that make up the brain’s endocannabinoid system are linked to neurons that regulate thinking and various body functions. Some researchers believe that cannabis may be neuroprotective, easing the damage caused by Parkinson’s to brain cells, the Foundation notes on its website.

Still, possible adverse effects include impaired cognition, dizziness, blurred vision, mood and behavioral changes, balance loss, and hallucinations.

A. Jon Stoessl, a conference co-chair and co-director of the Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health at the University of British Columbia, said the field needs a clearer understanding and determination regarding which cannabinoids are likely to help or harm, what symptoms could be affected, and how to go about clinical trials.

A survey conducted by the Foundation and Northwestern University found that 80 percent of Parkinson’s patients have used cannabis, 23 percent of physicians have been formally educated about medical marijuana use, and 95 percent of neurologists have gotten requests to prescribe the medicine.

The Foundation also notes that “[s]ince cannabis has been approved through legislation rather than regulation, there are no labels, dosage recommendations or timing instructions that physicians can reference.”

Visit this site for more information on medical marijuana and Parkinson’s, or call the Foundation’s helpline at 800-473-4636.