Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson’s is a chronic condition, where parts of the brain become increasingly damaged over time. There is anecdotal evidence to support the use of medical cannabis in alleviating such symptoms as uncontrollable movements, stiffness, and loss of sleep. However, medical practitioners are as yet unable to legally prescribe medical cannabis for the treatment of Parkinson’s.

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Condition overview

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic neurodegenerative disorder of the central nervous system (CNS) that affects motor neurones within the body. The most obvious symptoms include tremors, slow movement and difficulties with balance and coordination. Dementia typically sets in during the latter stages of the disease.

Common symptoms

Parkinson’s sufferers experience the gradual onset of symptoms, which become worse over time. Those who have had the condition for some considerable time may have difficulty walking and talking. Parkinson’s is also associated with mental health problems such as depression, memory loss and anxiety.

Other symptoms of Parkinson’s include:

Common causes

While all people are at risk of Parkinson’s, it is reported to affect more women than men. Age is another known risk factor, with the majority of sufferers being aged over 60. However, some people experience early-onset Parkinson’s before the age of 50, with an apparent link to specific gene mutations.

The development of Parkinson’s involves the loss of nerve cells from the area of the brain known as the substantia nigra. Such cells would otherwise maintain the production of dopamine, which connects the brain and central nervous system necessary for the control and coordination of bodily movements. While research is ongoing into the reasons for nerve cell depletion, suggested causes include genetic changes and environmental factors.

Other potential causes include:

  1. Accumulation of Lewy body proteins in neurones
  2. Physical head trauma/brain injury
  3. Intake of antipsychotic medications 
  4. Other progressive brain conditions, such as progressive supranuclear palsy, multiple systems atrophy and corticobasal degeneration
  5. Cerebrovascular disease

Standard treatment

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for Parkinson’s disease. However, there are a number of treatments which can reduce the effects of the symptoms and allow for continued quality of life. Physiotherapy is one recommended option for the relief of muscle stiffness. Speech and language therapy may also be undertaken for improved swallowing.

Commonly prescribed medications include levodopa (L-DOPA), Monoamine Oxidase (MAO)-B inhibitors, and dopamine agonists. The positive impacts of such medications may lessen over time, with known side-effects such as involuntary muscle movements. A type of surgery known as deep brain stimulation may also be considered in some instances.

How medical cannabis could help

There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that medical cannabis can alleviate muscle spasms, pain, sleep problems and low mood associated with Parkinson’s disease. Studies have also reported medical cannabis to be effective in improving tremor rigidity and movement.

A 2022 survey of 1,881 patients with Parkinson’s Disease revealed that high-THC users reported greater improvements in symptoms but they were also more likely to experience adverse effects, compared to those taking high-CBD or balanced THC:CBD preparations.

FAQs about Medical Cannabis

FAQs about Medical Cannabis FAQs about Medical Cannabis
Is medical cannabis legal in the UK?

Yes. Cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) have been legal since the 1st of November 2018, when they moved from a Schedule 1 product to a Schedule 2 product. This reflects their potential for medical use.

Who is allowed to prescribe medical cannabis in the UK?

Cannabis-based medicinal products, also known as CBMPs, can be prescribed by private consultants, when appropriate, within their specialty area when there is unmet clinical need.

In the UK cannabis medicines are accessed primarily via private clinics. However, any specialist physician can prescribe cannabis medicines. GROW® is here to provide education and support to any specialists looking to prescribe or just to find out more.

Is medical cannabis available on the NHS?

There are 3 licensed medicines which contain cannabinoids – Epidiolex for some forms of epilepsy, Sativex for multiple sclerosis (MS), and Nabilone for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV). However, only a handful of prescriptions have been issued in the NHS to date.

Most cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) are instead unlicensed, and they must be written on a private prescription, typically issued by private clinics specialising in medical cannabis treatment.

What cannabis medicines are available?

Cannabis medicines come in multiple forms; flowers, often referred to as herbal cannabis (to be vaporised, rather than smoked), oils (taken under the tongue) and capsules. Cannabis medicines come in high-THC, high-CBD and balanced varieties.

Smoking medical cannabis is illegal. Medical cannabis can instead be taken in different forms depending on the desired speed of onset and duration of action, which is discussed between the patient and their doctor.

Which clinic should I use?

It’s important to find a clinic that works for you. Most importantly you need to find a Doctor that specialises in your condition. For example, patients with pain will need to see pain specialist, while those with a mental health condition must see a psychiatrist.

Which pharmacies can I use?

It’s important for patients to know they can use any pharmacy that supplies the appropriate medicines in the UK.

Some clinics have a preferred pharmacy but will be able to send prescriptions to others if needed. If patients have any questions about available medicines, they can contact IPS Pharma.

What should I do before my consultation?

To speed up the process, patients should bring a copy of their medical records. These are then forwarded to the clinic in advance of the first consultation.

Is medical cannabis the same as over-the-counter CBD?

No. Cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) are only prescribed by GMC-registered specialist doctors. As they are medicinal, CBMPs are regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA); which ensures the safety, quality, and effectiveness of medicines in the UK.

Over-the-counter (OTC) CBD products can be purchased without a prescription in pharmacies, health food shops, or online. These may come in forms such as oil tinctures, capsules, or vapes. They are not medicinal products as they are regulated by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) as a food supplement, with a 0.3% limit on THC.

What if I don’t get a prescription?

Patients are free to seek a second opinion from another clinic. Patients should ensure the clinic has communicated their reasons for deciding not to prescribe. It may be that they feel you should try other medicines before trying cannabis medicines, or that they need to see more information about your medical history before they are happy to prescribe.

How can I learn more about medical cannabis?

For patient enquiries - [email protected]

For doctor enquiries - [email protected]

For all other enquiries – [email protected]

Healthcare professionals can also sign up to our Doctor Portal.

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