New Study Uncovers Benefits (And Lack of Knowledge) of Medical Cannabis

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A new study from Germany has found that about eight percent of Parkinson's patients report using cannabis to treat the disease's symptoms. More than half of those who tried cannabis said it provided relief from pain and the severity of muscle cramps.

Of those in the study who had not tried cannabis, 65 percent said they are interested in medical marijuana but have not been given information about it. For example, many of the study participants did not know the difference between THC and CBD.

The study provides another example of how a portion of the population is not waiting around for medical science to determine what medical cannabis can do. For good or ill, patients have decided to check out the impacts of cannabis, in some cases with little or no physician guidance. 

Patients forged ahead with cannabis even as little information was made available.

Parkinson's disease is a nervous system disorder that progressively worsens. It typically starts with small tremors in the hand. Eventually, the tremors increase in frequency and duration. Symptoms include severe muscle cramps, impaired posture and balance, speech difficulties, and overall slowed movement.

Researchers at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf analyzed 1,300 responses of a questionnaire sent to Parkinson's patients in the new survey. The goal was to assess attitudes toward medical cannabis by medical patients and the frequency of use.

They discovered that more than 8 percent of respondents had used cannabis to treat their condition, and 54 percent of that group reported that cannabis proved beneficial, according to findings published in The Journal of Parkinson's Disease.

Researchers wanted to use the survey's results to determine how much people know about medical cannabis. They found that while Germany legalized medical cannabis in 2017, knowledge about its potential use and information availability remains low.  

For example, only 9 percent knew the difference between THC and CBD. Also, survey respondents ranked lack of knowledge about cannabis and fear of potential side effects as the chief reasons they had not tried medical marijuana. 

While Parkinson's patients meet the national criteria for using medical cannabis, "There are few data about which type of cannabinoid and which route of administration might be promising for which [Parkinson's disease] patient and which symptoms," Dr. Carsten Buhmann of the Department of Neurology at University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf said in a news release.

Cannabis helped Parkinson's patients better manage many symptoms.

Of those who had not tried medical cannabis, 65 percent expressed interest in it. But the lack of knowledge about cannabis, including its potential impact on Parkinson's and the most effective method of use, has held them back.

Other findings of the survey included:

  • Researchers associated the use of medical cannabis with younger people who live in urban areas and have more knowledge about the legal and clinical aspects of medical cannabis
  • More than 40 percent of cannabis users reported a reduction of pain and muscle cramps
  • More than 20 percent reported improvement in stiffness, akinesia (the loss of the ability to move muscles voluntarily), freezing, tremors, depression, anxiety, and restless legs syndrome
  • Overall, symptoms improved for 54 percent of users using oral CBD and 68 percent of those inhaling THC-containing cannabis

Overall, the study found strong interest in cannabis as a potential treatment for Parkinson's disease symptoms. That's a key takeaway for clinicians, as is the lack of knowledge about cannabis and the self-reported areas of improvement from Parkinson's patients.

"Physicians should consider these aspects when advising their patients about treatment with medicinal cannabis," Buhmann said. "The data reported here may help physicians decide which patients could benefit, which symptoms could be addressed, and which type of cannabinoid and route of administration might be suitable."

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