Role of Marijuana in the Treatment of PD & Dystonia: Weeding through the Hype:By Dr. De Leon

AS consumption of recreational marijuana has skyrocketed over the last few years reaching 20 million people in the last month alone, the use in medicine has also begun to loosen in several states. But is this a good thing? or are we setting our selves for greater disappointment and worst problems down the road? My personal opinion is a resounding Yes!  Any drug that heightens the depressive factors and magnifies the potential for memory loss, sleep problems, slows reaction time, causes dizziness, paranoia, anxiety, and hallucinations in a disease that already has the potential to do this can’t be a good thing….

In fact, there is a 1% risk of serious psychiatric side effects including suicide…this is a risk I as a d PD doctor would not be willing to take on behalf of my patients who already have tendency to get depressed and become suicidal.

However, I know many a patient that swear by the medicinal effects of this drug. So, is this a placebo effect or is there something really to this?

The American Academy of Neurology just spent an inordinate amount of time reviewing this issue. The first statement they said was “weed may be easy to find but finding credible information about its role in medicine is becoming increasingly challenging.”

Part of the challenge in identifying its efficacy in neurological disease such as PD or dystonia is the number of preparations available on the market which include synthetic which mimic the effects of whole marijuana plants or its extracts. Furthermore, the plant can be consumed in a variety of ways which then can influence its chemical composition, dosing and efficacy. For instance smoking it can have a completely different effect than if it is chewed or eaten. Another challenge in determining its potential benefit is the lack of quality control for testing, labeling, etc.  Thus, like most holistic remedies which are outside of the FDA jurisdiction have no objective consistent information about its effects on patients upon which physicians can make reliable informed decisions to treat their patients.

Yet, despite all the limitations to their review the AAN report concluded that to date the use of smoked marijuana is uncertain but has shown to worsen posture and balance. Oral cannabinoid drugs were not considered effective in the treatment of levodopa induced dyskinesias.

An open label observational study revealed improvement in pain and sleep in PD however because it was open there is potential for a lot of bias and more research is needed in this area. another study done in Israel revealed improvement in pain and tremors of PD patients however tremors in MS patients were not improved …

As far as cervical dystonia is concerned in a study partially-funded by DMRF, the results were inconclusive necessitating further studies to confirm or deny efficacy. But of concern to me is the fact that dystonia when hereditary and familial starts at a young age and instituting a drug like marijuana at a young age before brain has completely developed could be more detrimental. According to a study looking at routine marijuana use in young people, those who smoked pot routinely had smaller brains, less white matter, lower IQ’s, more psychiatric problems, even caused poor driving. We need more extensive research into the effect of prolonged use in adults as well before we as physicians can sign off on it as a routine therapy, I believe.

Nevertheless if you are still interested- A word of caution: when considering new treatments not approved by FDA or non traditional treatments ALWAYS consider the SOURCE CAREFULLY when pondering over anecdotal information especially on the internet!!! the internet can be a cesspool of unverifiable accounts of all sorts of treatments including marijuana which could potentially cause a great deal of harm if not discussed with the physician first.

But, I know that this will not deter those who are determine to find an alternative treatment to their disease – if you are thinking about it before you do, you should follow these simple guidelines for your own safety:

  • Always initiate the subject of outside non-traditional treatment interests as well as complementary treatment options.
  • Openly discuss with your physician the risks, benefits, safety issues, possible interactions, concerns you and physician might have.
  • only after an open discussion will your physician be able to make full informed decisions about your disease and make strategies to avoid unsafe conditions and interactions.


Sources: “Weeding through the Hype :American Academy of neurology Reviews Use of Medical Marijuana:”(Winter 2015) Dystonia Dialogue 20-21.


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