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Parkinson's Disease

Does marijuana help with Parkinsons Disease?

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June 19, 2008 6:11PM

YES,

Nearly half of Parkinson's disease patients who

have tried marijuana say the drug helped relieve their symptoms, according

to a survey of patients with the degenerative neurological disorder.

Dr. Evzin Ruzicka, an attending neurologist at Charles University in Prague

in the Czech Republic, reported the findings here at the Movement Disorders

Society's Seventh International Congress of Parkinson's Disease and

Movement Disorders. Ruzicka is also a consultant at the Prague Movement

Disorders Center.

"It's difficult to directly study the medical effects of cannabis in the

Czech Republic, where we conducted our research, because of its illegal

status," Ruzicka told Reuters Health. "Therefore, we had to conduct

anonymous surveys. To our knowledge, this is the first study to assess the

effect of cannabis on Parkinson's disease, and our findings suggest it may

alleviate some symptoms."

Ruzicka and his colleagues chose to investigate marijuana's effects on

Parkinson's disease after hearing from several patients that they had tried

the drug and it had helped them.

The investigators asked all patients who were treated for Parkinson's

disease at their center to complete a questionnaire that asked about

cannabis use and about several Parkinson's disease symptoms, including

overall symptoms; tremor while at rest; bradykinesia, or slow movement;

muscle rigidity; and dyskinesias, or involuntary movements. Dyskinesias are

caused by levodopa, the mainstay medication in Parkinson's treatment.

Among the 630 patients to whom the investigators sent questionnaires, 339

(54%) returned them. The responders' average age was about 66, and they had

had Parkinson's disease for an average of roughly 9 years. Among the

responders, 25% reported that they had used cannabis. Most had used it

orally, either as fresh or dried leaves.

Within this group, 39 patients (46%) reported that their Parkinson's

disease symptoms in general were relieved after they started using

cannabis. In terms of specific symptoms, 26 (31%) reported an improvement

in tremor while at rest, and 38 (45%) experienced a relief of bradykinesia.

Relief of muscle rigidity was reported by 32 (38%), and 12 (14%) said they

had an improvement in levodopa-induced dyskinesias.

The respondents reported that the improvement in symptoms occurred an

average of 1.7 months after they had started using cannabis. Patients who

used it for at least three months were more likely to experience symptom

relief than those with shorter experience, the investigators reported.

This delay between the beginning of cannabis use and the relief of symptoms

made it unlikely that the respondents were having a placebo effect, Ruzicka

said. A placebo effect can occur when the individual taking a treatment

experiences a benefit even if the "treatment," such as a sugar pill,

contains no active ingredients.

They found no relationship between the length of cannabis use and the

effect on involuntary movements. However, daily marijuana users reported

more improvement in their dyskinesias than those using it less often.

The investigators speculated that the effect of cannabis on Parkinson's

disease symptoms may be due to interaction among cannabis, certain brain

receptors that respond to cannabis and endogenous cannabinoids or

cannabis-like substances within the body.

He and colleagues plan to investigate a relationship between cannabis use

and relief of Parkinson's disease symptoms by collaborating in further

studies with investigators in the United Kingdom, Ruzicka told Reuters Health.

Scientists hope to use a marijuana-like chemical in the brain to treat Parkinson's Disease and schizophrenia. The chemical, known as anandamide, helps to regulate body movement and coordination. A team from the University of California Irvine believes it can be used to treat diseases which produce uncontrollable movements such as tics and shaking. The researchers have used anandamide to limit brain activity in rats. Writing in the journal Nature Neuroscience, they said anandamide interferes with the effects of nerve cells that transmit dopamine, the message-carrying chemical responsible for stimulating movement and other motor behaviour in the brain. Uncontrolled production of dopamine has been blamed for some of the symptoms of schizophrenia and the nervous tics and outbursts associated with Tourette's syndrome. A lack of dopamine is blamed for the shaking and motor hesitation that marks Parkinson's disease. Major breakthrough
The actor Michael J Fox has Parkinson's Disease

Daniele Piomelli, an associate professor of pharmacology at UCI, said the research had shown for the first time how anandamides work in the brain to produce normal motor activity. He said: "Patients with schizophrenia and other diseases have reported that marijuana appears to relieve some of their symptoms, but scientists have never found a physiological reason why. "By understanding how the anandamide system works similarly to marijuana, we can explore new ways to treat these diseases more effectively." But Professor Piomelli said cannabis itself did not offer any kind of cure. "Marijuana doesn't provide the regulatory effects on dopamine in the brain that we're looking for," he said. Anandamide, named after the Sanskrit word for "bliss and tranquillity," is used by a network of nerve cells in an area of the brain called the striatum, which coordinates body movements and other motor behaviour, the researchers said. Normally nerve cells regulate this behaviour by releasing anandamides at the same time they release dopamine. The anandamides bind to cannabinoid receptors, which are where tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, docks onto cells. When the team blocked these receptors, rats experienced severe nervous tics and other uncontrolled motor activity. Professor Piomelli said new drugs that mimic the effects of anandamides could offer gentler treatments for some diseases. He said: "Current drugs certainly halt the actions of dopamine, but the side effects, including sedation and dizziness, are very severe," he said. In a commentary, Professor David Self of Yale University said the approach could be used to develop drugs that help Parkinson's treatments, which try to boost production of dopamine in the brain but whose effects wear off after a few years. Drugs that stimulate the cannabinoid receptor might also be used against Huntington's disease, a fatal and incurable disease first marked by jerks and spasms, Professor Self added.