Cannabidiol (CBD) is gaining popularity for its potential to assist many chronic or short-term conditions. CBD is a cannabinoid molecule produced by the cannabis plant that can naturally be consumed in marijuana or hemp products. It can also be removed from the plant through a process of extraction and made into a variety of CBD products like oil, edibles, or salves.
One area that researchers are especially curious about is CBD’s potential to help neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease. With research compounding and new studies beginning regularly, scientists are finding more intriguing benefits of CBD and learning more about the way it interacts with the brain. Understanding how CBD and other cannabinoids function in the brain is complicated because the brain itself is incredibly involved and contains a wide variety of receptors conducting a multitude of interactions every second. As complex as the research is, it’s already showing positive results and many are hopeful for what further research will bring.
The Endocannabinoid System
Before learning more about CBD and the brain, it’s important to understand the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and how it operates. The ECS is responsible for maintaining a constant state of homeostasis in the body. This is an important function because all of our internal systems need to be in equilibrium to work effectively. When any sort of instability is registered, the ETS kicks in and rushes to the location of the issue to stabilize the condition.
There are three primary elements that make up the endocannabinoid system:
- Endocannabinoids. The chemical compounds the body naturally produces. These are structurally similar to endocannabinoids, the chemical compounds found in cannabis.
- Cannabinoid receptors. Found on the surface of cells throughout the body, endocannabinoids and cannabinoids are both able to attach to receptors allowing them to communicate with a variety of systems inside the body. This communication is what enables the ECS to detect and correct instability.
- Enzymes. Proteins that work to break down the cannabinoids and endocannabinoids after they’ve attached themselves to the receptors and after homeostasis has been achieved. Enzymes are there to make sure the cannabinoids do not create an overcorrection once the risk has been effectively corrected.
Inside the brain are highly specialized cells called neurons which connect to other neurons through electrical structures called synapses. These neurons release chemicals known as neurotransmitters which are able to communicate with each other. Each neuron has its own receptor and these receptors respond to chemicals produced by the brain (like dopamine and serotonin) as well as chemicals produced outside the body, like cannabinoids.
Since cannabinoids from cannabis plants are similar to naturally produced compounds in the body, it’s possible for CBD to attach to the receptors just as endocannabinoids do. CBD has the ability to bind to both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, and once attached acts as a blocker, binding to receptors and dampening their signals.
As an example, CBD has been shown to inhibit the FAAH enzyme. FAAH breaks down anandamide, a natural enzyme that produces a calming feeling. By keeping the enzymes from destroying this compound a therapeutic effect should be felt immediately .
Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a deeply destructive condition that affects the nervous system, usually presenting symptoms around age 60. Parkinson’s causes the brain cells that produce important neurotransmitter dopamine to die. The loss of those cells means the brain cannot transmit messages to the body about movement. The death of these cells results in tremors, lack of facial expressions, loss of balance, and stiffness of muscles. Some common symptoms related to Parkinson’s disease are the following:
- Difficulty standing after sitting
- Lack of facial emotion
- Slowness of movement
- Balance issues
- Loss of smell
- Trouble swallowing
- Slurred speech
- Visual hallucinations
- Lack of judgement
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory loss
It’s also common for those suffering from Parkinson’s to experience depression, anxiety, irritability, pain, and trouble sleeping. Many people who suffer from Parkinson’s also later develop Parkinson’s disease dementia, a condition that inhibits a person’s ability to remember things, make good decisions, and pay attention.
CBD for Parkinson’s
A recent study suggests that CBD reduced the anxiety and tremors that many people are affected with when faced with public speaking. The subjects took 300 mg of CBD before giving a high pressure speech and showed less symptoms than those who took the placebo . What does this have to do with Parkinson’s? That particular study helps enforce a previous study that found CBD acts as an inverse antagonist on certain receptors in the brain, specifically those found in the basal ganglia region . Those specific regions drive functions like movement, learning, and emotion. This could potentially mean that CBD is able to respond to those receptors and provide therapeutic benefits to those suffering from Parkinson’s disease. By increasing the dopamine levels, CBD could help counteract the otherwise steady decrease of neurons that go along with PD.
As mentioned above, the cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body and regulate many different systems including physiological processes such as hunger, pain sensitivity, temperament, and memory. These natural receptors are also some of the most affected in patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease. CBD has the ability to attach to these same receptors and offer relief from tremors, psychosis, insomnia, depression, anxiety, and pain .
As more studies about CBD’s general ability to offer therapeutic relief to a variety of conditions are released, researchers become more optimistic about its potential to help those suffering from Parkinson’s. Some research has concluded that it’s possible for CBD to help improve the quality of life for PD patients , that CBD can help treat PD patients suffering from psychosis , and that CBD can offer excellent results when PD patients use it for help with their nonmotor symptoms .
It’s understandable that there would be confusion about CBD. It’s a new product that is only recently making its rounds and becoming a more common household name. There are a handful of common concerns people have about CBD, so let’s address them:
CBD is intoxicating. This is a common misconception, and it stems from the fact that marijuana, another cannabis product, famously makes the user feel “high.” However marijuana and CBD are very different. Marijuana contains the compound THC, which is responsible for the psychoactive feeling many experience when consuming marijuana. Most CBD products do not contain THC. Some do, however, so it’s always important to carefully read the label of products you purchase to make sure you know what you’re getting. It’s more common to find CBD without THC, though. Sometimes there will be trace amounts of THC in the CBD product, however it will be in such small quantities that the user will not experience any sort of intoxication from consuming it. It is really only there to provide some additional medicinal benefits. CBD on its own, or with trace amounts of THC, will not make the user feel high.
CBD is a regulated product. Because it has become so popular for medicinal purposes, many think CBD is regulated by the government. It is not. While many aspects of the cannabis industry are federally regulated, CBD products are not included. This means you’ll likely see a lot of inconsistencies between CBD products. Until there is some sort of regulation process put into place it will be up to consumers to make sure what they’re purchasing is of good quality and comes from a reputable source. Most companies are very forthcoming about their products so always look at the label and check for any included certifications or analysis results.
CBD is a sedative. CBD itself does not have a sedative effect, however some of the terpenes found within it do. CBD on its own actually produces alertness in the user, but if the terpene myrcene is included in the mix of cannabinoids a sedative effect will be felt. There are several cannabis strains that produce strains with high levels of myrcene. Whether or not you’re looking for sedative effects in your CBD, you’ll want to check the label or analysis results for levels of that terpene.
CBD has the potential to be extremely beneficial to those suffering from Parkinson’s disease, but research is still new. If you or someone you know would be interested in trying CBD to help with Parkinson symptoms, please consult your doctor first. While CBD does not usually interfere with other treatments or medications it is possible and could be a potential problem. Your doctor will know the correct dosage to add to your treatment plan and can advise you in other matters relating to the treatment of symptoms.