Modulating the endocannabinoid system with cannabinoids appears to offer neuroprotection and be beneficial for improving motor symptoms.
Cannabis-based medicines may possess therapeutic benefits for treating Parkinson’s disease, according to a research review published in Molecular Neurodegeneration. In the review, researchers from South Korea’s Konkuk University investigated the available literature examining cannabinoids for Parkinson’s disease, the second most common neurodegenerative disorder.
Parkinson’s disease involves the malfunction and eventual death of dopamine-producing nerve cells in the brain. As neurons die, the progressive disorder leads to movement issues, like tremors, bradykinesia, rigidity, and instability.
According to the review, evidence suggests that cannabinoids encourage neuronal survival by offering neuroprotection. By interacting with the endocannabinoid system’s cannabinoid receptors in the basal ganglia – the area of the brain responsible for controlling voluntary movements — the natural compounds stimulate a reduction in oxidative injury, excitotoxicity, and calcium influx. They also regulate glial processes to decrease inflammation. Electrophysiological, anatomical, and pharmacological findings all reinforce these conclusions.
The study also found evidence that cannabinoids play a role in neurogenesis, the physiological process in which new brain neurons and generated. Neurogenesis has been linked to the body’s endocannabinoid system. The loss of the system’s cannabinoid 1 receptors (CB1), for example, has been associated with defective neurogenesis. Other studies have found that the stimulation of CB1 receptors increases levels of a neurotrophin required for the neuron-generating process. Additionally, the activation of the system’s cannabinoid 2 receptors (CB2) elicits the inhibition of fatty acid amide hydrolase, which in turn stimulates neurogenesis.
These neuroprotective properties have also shown in preclinical studies and a small number of clinical trials to alleviate the motor dysfunction symptoms commonly associated with Parkinson’s disease. In particular, compounds that selectively antagonize CB1 receptors and perhaps vanilloid receptor 1 (TrpV1) may improve disease-related motor disabilities like bradykinesia and impaired movement.
“Numerous investigations have supported the observation that significant modulation of the cannabinoid signaling system occurs in [Parkinson’s disease],” the researchers concluded in the review.
“Therefore, pharmacological modulation of this this system with compounds that selectively target different elements of cannabinoid signaling may improve anomalies of motor behavior and provide neuroprotection,” they added.
The researchers did acknowledge that most studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of cannabinoids for Parkinson’s disease have been animal models. They urged for more clinical trials, which at the time of publication they considered “insufficient.”
However, targeting the endocannabinoid system with cannabinoids, they concluded, “may provide desired benefits” by both improving anomalies of motor behavior and providing neuroprotection. Of all the existing therapies for Parkinson’s disease, the researchers noted, none alleviate motor disabilities and provide neuroprotection.
“To conclude, development of safe, effective cannabis-based medicines targeting different mechanisms may have a significant impact in [Parkinson’s disease] therapy.”
You can access the entire research review, “Promising cannabinoid-based therapies for Parkinson’s disease: motor symptoms to neuroprotection,” via the National Center for Biotechnology Information and the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Previous studies have also found cannabis beneficial for reducing pain and motor symptoms in patients with Parkinson’s disease.
You can read more about what research has so far discovered about cannabinoids and their therapeutic potential for Parkinson’s disease by visiting our education page. Keep up with the latest cannabis-related studies through our news feed.