Member Ian (Selfbuilder) blogs and vlogs about using cannabis products to treat his Parkinson’s disease symptoms, even though marijuana (including medical marijuana) is illegal and stigmatized where he lives in the U.K. Why is he speaking up? “I know that I would not be here now if it wasn’t for the relief provided by my medicinal cannabis,” he says.
Tremors “through the roof”
Ian has been living with Parkinson’s disease symptoms since the mid-1990s. At one point, his tremors were “through the roof,” he says. He experienced severe side effects while on prescription medications for PD – including nausea, acid reflux, heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome that kept him from sleeping and worsened over time. He searched online for natural relief for tremors and read accounts of people successfully treating their PD symptoms with different forms of cannabis. “I tried a little and was amazed at the effect it had,” he said
The U.K. has approved one cannabis-based treatment as a prescription medication for multiple sclerosis, called Sativex, but marijuana itself is not legal as a treatment for PD or other conditions. The U.S. FDA has not recognized or approved marijuana as medicine and says the purity and potency of it can vary greatly. Neurology experts like the National Parkinson Foundation say more research is needed on medical marijuana as a treatment for PD because studies have been inconclusive so far, and it can even be harmful for some patients with mental health or psychological symptoms.
Ian says his doctors are aware of the potential benefits of cannabis as an alternative treatment for Parkinson’s but declined to prescribe it because it’s not licensed as a PD treatment in the U.K. So Ian has sourced cannabis products on his own and chronicled his positive experiences on his personal blog and YouTube channel, and – in the spirit of openness – here on PatientsLikeMe.
Ian’s initial video about his tremor control using cannabis went viral (with more than 45 million views online), and a Polish medical marijuana website contacted him with a box full of cannabidiol (CBD) products to try. He admits he was “initially skeptical” but ended up being pleased with the relief CBD products offer him. So he added reviews of medicinal cannabis products like Charlotte’s Web and Olimax CBD oils and CBD tea to his vlog.
Ian’s reviews resemble a cooking show – with ingredients like solid CBD oil mixed with coconut oil in a saucepan, melted down and then solidified and eaten.
For Ian, CBD oil helps alleviate tremors, anxiety and dystonia in his feet, and the effects last four to eight hours.
What’s cannabidiol, or CBD? It’s a compound found in cannabis known to have milder psychological effects than (whole-leaf) “street” marijuana. Cannabidiol is one type of a cannabinoid – the chemicals in cannabis plants that may be responsible for the various effects of marijuana. Just to break it all down: there’s cannabis (the plant), cannabinoids (the name for all chemicals in the plant) and cannabidiol (the specific cannabinoid found in the products Ian uses).
Many CBD products come from hemp plants and are very low in THC (the mind-altering cannabinoid, primarily responsible for the high associated with marijuana use). Ian says the CBD oil he uses contains less than 0.2% THC, in compliance with European Union laws. (Read up on both state and federal U.S. laws here.)
News outlets in the U.K., including Metro and BBC Radio (pictured below), have picked up Ian’s story about treating Parkinson’s with cannabis.
Cannabis treatments got him through his hardest time with PD, when he couldn’t tolerate prescription drugs and wasn’t sure if he was a candidate for deep brain stimulation (DBS).
“I was able to get some relief from medicinal cannabis, which made life tolerable,” he says, noting that the side effects of CBD include a mild high (which he considers undesirable) and increased tiredness (beyond his usual PD-related fatigue).
Ian ultimately learned that he was a good fit for DBS, and he had his implantation surgery in April 2016. His blog (called “DBS – A Complete No Brainer”) follows his DBS experience, from his surgery and recovery to the day-to-day “challenges and victories.”
He currently doesn’t take any prescription treatments for PD. Now that he’s had DBS surgery, he still uses cannabis products to alleviate his symptoms “when the DBS needs some assistance.” He says having DBS hasn’t changed the effects of CBD products he uses, for better or worse.
“Other people may not get the relief from medicinal cannabis that I do – everyone is different and everyone’s PD is different,” he says. “Talk to your doctor about it. Many are open to discussion. The PD meds are well tolerated and effective for many PD sufferers, but not for me.” As always, talk with your physician before starting any type of new treatment.
Addressing the stigma
Ian says medical marijuana use isn’t as socially accepted in the U.K. as it is elsewhere. “I believe there is less of a stigma, and wider acceptance of its use as a medicine, in other European countries,” he says. “People are slowly waking up to it, though, so it will hopefully become a more mainstream treatment in the not-too-distant future.”
BBC News reports that medical marijuana is gaining support among doctors and politicians in the U.K., amid concerns about falling behind other countries.
Ian plans to continue spreading the word about cannabis treatments. “I am open about sharing my experiences because it could help others in the same situation as me,” he says.
“I believe that it is important that this plant is legalized for medicinal use, and that will never happen if those who benefit from it don’t shout about it!”
A 2015 survey of more than 200 members with certain conditions who use medical marijuana found that:
- 74% believe it is the best available treatment for them, with fewer side effects than other options and fewer risks
- 93% say they’d recommend medical marijuana treatments to another patient
- 61% said their healthcare provider is supportive of their medical marijuana use
See how many members report using cannabis or medical marijuana and for what symptoms or reasons. Members of the PD community have reported using various forms of cannabis to help treat symptoms such as pain, stiffness/spasticity, muscle tension/dystonia and restless legs syndrome.
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