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Cbd oil replace ropinirole for parkinson’s

Marijuana Compounds: A Nonconventional Approach to Parkinson’s Disease Therapy

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Parkinson’s disease (PD), a neurodegenerative disorder, is the second most common neurological illness in United States. Neurologically, it is characterized by the selective degeneration of a unique population of cells, the nigrostriatal dopamine neurons. The current treatment is symptomatic and mainly involves replacement of dopamine deficiency. This therapy improves only motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and is associated with a number of adverse effects including dyskinesia. Therefore, there is unmet need for more comprehensive approach in the management of PD. Cannabis and related compounds have created significant research interest as a promising therapy in neurodegenerative and movement disorders. In this review we examine the potential benefits of medical marijuana and related compounds in the treatment of both motor and nonmotor symptoms as well as in slowing the progression of the disease. The potential for cannabis to enhance the quality of life of Parkinson’s patients is explored.

1. Introduction

Marijuana, the crude product (dried flowers, stems, seeds, and leaves) derived from the cannabis sativa plant, consists of more than 85 phytocannabinoids [1, 2]. The term phytocannabinoids is used to differentiate these plant-derived cannabinoids from the synthetic cannabinoids and the structurally different endogenous cannabinoids (endocannabinoids). Among the phytocannabinoids, Cannabidiol (CBD) and Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC, THC) are the major constituents of marijuana [3]. Δ9-THC is a psychoactive agent with analgesic and muscle relaxant property [3, 4]. While CBD is a nonpsychoactive compound and has been shown to have hypnotic, anxiolytic, antipsychotic, antioxidant, and neuroprotective effects [5], THC is a partial agonist at the cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) and receptor 2 (CB2). Unlike Δ9-THC, CBD has antagonistic/inverse agonistic property at CB1 receptor and appears to modulate Δ9-THC-associated side effects including anxiety, tachycardia, and hunger [3]. CBD also appears to potentiate the effect of endocannabinoids by inhibiting their inactivation, thereby alleviating psychotic symptom [6].

Despite the placement of marijuana in the schedule 1 category under the US Federal Controlled Substance Act [7] and the US Federal Government’s continued opposition on its legalization, 24 states and Washington DC have enacted laws allowing marijuana to treat certain medical conditions [8]. The range and types of disease conditions for which medical marijuana have been approved vary from state to state. The most common disease conditions approved by the states include cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, chronic and/or severe pain, seizure/epilepsy, cachexia, and multiple sclerosis. Moreover, two cannabinoids (dronabinol and nabilone) have been approved by the FDA for clinical use. The synthetically produced Δ9-THC, dronabinol (Marinol®), is a schedule III drug, which is indicated in the treatment of chemotherapy-induced nausea and emesis as well as anorexia associated with weight loss in AIDS patients. A synthetic cannabinoid, nabilone (Cesamet®), is a schedule II drug that is indicated for the treatment of nausea and vomiting associated with cancer chemotherapy. Another cannabinoid, Cannabidiol (Epidiolex®), is in a clinical trial for the treatment of drug- resistant epilepsy in children [9]. A phytocannabinoid preparation, nabiximols (Sativex®), has been approved for the treatment of spasticity due to multiple sclerosis in a number of countries outside the United States. Nabiximols is an extract of Cannabis sativa L that consists of mainly THC and CBD [10, 11].

Although recent studies have provided strong evidence for the therapeutic benefit of medical marijuana [12–16], increasing access to cannabis and/or cannabinoids can result in side effects such as addiction, respiratory illness, and decline in cognitive processing. Cannabis use has been indicated as a potential cause, aggravator, or masker of major psychiatric symptoms, including psychotic, depressive, and anxiety disorders, particularly in young people [17–19]. Other negative effects include working memory deficits, reduced attention and processing speed, anhedonia, abnormal social behavior, and susceptibility to mood and anxiety disorders [20, 21]. While adult users seem comparatively resistant to cannabis-induced behavioral and brain morphologic changes, the individuals who start using cannabis during their early teens can have more severe and more long-lasting effects [22].

The target of medical marijuana and its constituents is the endocannabinoid system, which is involved in the modulation of a number of physiological functions. The endocannabinoid system includes the endocannabinoids, the cannabinoid receptors, and the enzymes involved in the biosynthesis and inactivation of the endocannabinoids [23] The cannabinoid receptors are mainly expressed in the central nervous system and the immune system, but they have also been identified in a number of other parts of the body including the cardiovascular system, the peripheral nervous system, the reproductive system, and the gastrointestinal tract. Due to its wide distribution and effects on a range of biological process, the cannabinoid system has become an attractive target for the development of drugs that can potentially be used for the treatment of a number of pathological conditions including mood disorders and movement disorders such as PD [24]. Components of the endocannabinoid system are abundant in the striatum and other parts of the basal ganglia and play a crucial role in modulating dopamine activity and motor functions [25–27].

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder following Alzheimer’s disease and the 14th leading cause of death in all age groups in the United States [28]. The prevalence of PD increases with age and is shown to be higher in males than females in some age groups [29]. The number of people with PD is projected at approximately 9 million by 2030 in the 15 most populous countries in the world [30, 31]. Neurologically PD is characterized by the destruction of dopaminergic cells in the pars compacta region of the substantia nigra in the midbrain, resulting in dopamine deficiency in the nerve terminals of the striatum in the forebrain [32]. These changes cause impairments not just to the motor system but also to the cognitive and neuropsychological systems [33]. The nigrostriatal pathway is one of the dopamine pathways in the brain that regulates movement. The exact cause for the loss of neuronal cells is unknown, and the trigger of dopaminergic degeneration seems to be multifactorial including environmental factors and genetic susceptibilities [34–36]. Clinically, PD is characterized by resting tremor, muscle rigidity, bradykinesia, and postural instability [32, 34, 37, 38] and it is also associated with a number of nonmotor symptoms including depression, anxiety, constipation, orthostatic hypotension, fatigue, and sleep disorders, as well as, in advanced disease, dementia [39–44]. Although dopamine deficiency accounts for the major motor symptoms of the disease, loss of noradrenergic and serotoninergic nerve terminals in the limbic system may account for several of the nonmotor features seen in Parkinson’s disease [45, 46].

Current therapy involves treatment of motor symptoms of PD through replacement of dopamine deficiency [47]. This includes (1) enhancement of the synthesis of brain dopamine by administration of levodopa, a dopamine precursor, (2) direct stimulation of dopamine receptors, (3) decreasing dopamine catabolism, and (4) stimulation of dopamine release and inhibition of dopamine reuptake from presynaptic sites. Another therapy involves restoring the normal balance of cholinergic and dopaminergic actions on the basal ganglia using anticholinergic drugs [47–49].

However these drugs treat only motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and are associated with a number of adverse effects. Long-term use of levodopa, the mainstay therapy for PD, is associated with motor fluctuations [50] and levodopa-induced dyskinesia [51–53]. The monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B) inhibitors (selegiline and rasagiline) as well as inhibitors of catechol-o-methyltransferase, COMT (tolcapone and entacapone), are used mostly to reduce the motor fluctuations associated with levodopa therapy due to their levodopa-sparing effect [54–59]. Several dopamine agonists including pramipexole, ropinirole, rotigotine, and apomorphine are used as monotherapy in early stage of Parkinson disease or as adjunctive therapy with levodopa in patients with advanced PD in order to reduce motor fluctuations [56, 60–64]. In addition to their limited efficacy on motor symptoms and their adverse effects, drugs that are currently used for the treatment of PD do not have an effect on disease progression. Therefore, there is an urgent need for the development of safer drugs that treat both the motor and nonmotor symptoms of PD as well as drugs that slow the progression of the disease.

Medical marijuana has been demonstrated to improve motor symptoms including tremor, rigidity, and bradykinesia as well as nonmotor symptoms such as pain and sleep disorders of PD in observational studies [65]. Survey of PD patients in Colorado, USA, also indicated the beneficial effects of marijuana in alleviating nonmotor symptoms of PD [66]. Cannabidiol (CBD), one of the major constituents of marijuana, has been shown to be effective in the treatment of psychosis and sleep disorders in PD patients [67–69]. Another phytocannabinoid, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabivarin (Δ9-THCV, THCV), was studied in animal disease model of PD and found to have neuroprotective and symptom-relieving effects [70]. Therefore, marijuana may provide an alternative or add-on therapy for Parkinson’s disease. In addition, Parkinson’s disease has been listed as one of the disease conditions for which medical marijuana is allowed in Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and New York. However, it may also be covered under chronic illnesses in several other states.

In this review we seek to investigate any scientific evidence that indicates the potential use of marijuana and/or its components for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. The review aims to (i) examine briefly current treatment and the unmet need of PD therapy, (ii) assess the role of the cannabinoid system in the modulation of movement and neuroprotection, (iii) look at the mechanism of action of marihuana constituents in the modulation of movement and PD-associated disorders, (iv) assess other beneficial effects of marihuana that contribute to the amelioration of PD, and (v) gather scientific evidence on the clinical benefit of marijuana and/or its constituents in PD patients.

2. Marijuana and Its Influence on the Endocannabinoid System

Cannabis has been used to treat disease since ancient times. Marijuana is derived from the Cannabis sativa L. plant. Marijuana contains the active chemicals known as cannabinoids. At least 85 cannabinoids have been identified as unique compounds in Cannabis [1]. The therapeutic potential of many of these ligands still remains largely unexplored prompting a need for further research. The chemicals responsible for the medicinal effects of marijuana are D9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) [71, 72]. THC is the major psychoactive ingredient, acting primarily upon the central nervous system where it affects brain function. CBD is the major nonpsychoactive ingredient in cannabis and produces neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects [73]. Both compounds, TCH and CBD, have anticonvulsant properties [74]. Cannabinoids have also potential to alleviate motor disorders by reducing motor impairments and neuron degeneration [75]. In addition, cannabinoids have been shown to be effective in preclinical studies involving excitotoxicity, oxidative stress, neuroinflammation, and motor complications associated with PD [76].

Some cannabinoids (endocannabinoids or ECBs) are found in the body. Initially, ECBs were discovered in the brain and subsequently in the periphery in humans and animals. Endocannabinoids are produced by cultured neurons [77], microglia, and astrocytes [78]. ECBs interact with the endocannabinoid system and aid in regulation of memory, pleasure, concentration, thinking, movement and coordination, sensory and time perception, appetite, and pain [24, 79, 80]. The ECBs activate two guanine nucleotide-binding protein- (G-protein-) coupled cell membrane receptors, consequently named the cannabinoid type 1 (CB1) and type 2 (CB2) receptors [81]. CB1 receptors are located primarily in the central and peripheral neurons and CB2 receptors are predominantly found in immune cells [82]. CB1 receptors are important mediators in signaling pathways and have been identified on both glutamatergic and gammaaminobutyric (GABA) neurons [83]. It is believed that one important role of the neuronal CB1 component is to modulate neurotransmitter release in a manner that maintains homeostasis by preventing the development of excessive neuronal activity in the central nervous system [82]. Animal models illustrate that activation of the CB1 receptor by their endogenous ligands can result in prominent neuroprotective effects and may prevent epileptic seizures [84]. Other studies suggest that activation of CB1 receptors offers neuroprotection against dopaminergic lesion and the development of L-DOPA-induced dyskinesias [85]. CB2 receptors are closely related to CB1 and are mainly expressed on T cells of the immune system, on macrophages and B cells, and in hematopoietic cells [86]. They are also expressed on peripheral nerve terminals where these receptors play a role in antinociception and the relief of pain [87]. In the brain, CB2 receptors are mainly expressed by microglial cells, where their role remains unclear [88].

The major identified ECBs are arachidonoyl ethanolamide (anandamide, AEA), 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG), O-arachidonoyl ethanolamine (virodhamine), and 2-arachidonoyl glyceryl ether (noladin ether) [89]. Both AEA and 2-AG are specific ligands of CB1 and CB2 receptors. Besides having activity on CB1 and CB2 receptors, AEA also has full agonistic activity at TRPV1 receptor [90]. AEA is localized in the brain and periphery [91]. In the brain AEA shows high distribution in the hippocampus, thalamus, striatum, and brainstem and to a lesser extent in the cerebral cortex and cerebellum [92]. Lower concentrations of AEA are found in human serum, plasma, and cerebrospinal fluid [93]. Similarly, 2-AG is observed in both the brain and periphery, although its concentration is almost 150 times higher in brain compared to that of AEA [92, 94, 95]. 2-AG has greater potency, stability, and agonistic activity at CB1 and CB2 receptors compared to that of AEA [96, 97]. Two prominent areas involved in the control of movement, such as the globus pallidus and the substantia nigra, contain not only the highest densities of CB1 receptors [88], but also the highest levels of ECBs, especially AEA [98, 99]. Tissue levels of AEA are regulated by fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) [100]. It has also been shown that the basal ganglia contain the precursor of AEA [98, 99], supporting the theory of in situ synthesis for this compound. Studies have demonstrated that AEA synthesis is regulated by dopaminergic D2 receptors in the striatum, suggesting that the endocannabinoid system acts as an inhibitory feedback mechanism countering the dopamine-induced facilitation of motor activity [101].

Marijuana compound THC is CB1 and CB2 receptor partial agonist [82]. Due to the structural similarity of natural cannabinoid THC to the endogenous cannabinoid AEA, many therapeutic advantages of THC have been identified, such as lowering ocular pressure, inhibiting smooth muscle contractions, and increasing appetite [102]. When smoked, THC is rapidly absorbed from the lungs into the bloodstream and has an effect on the cannabinoid receptors. The central nervous system and specific areas of the brain contain the highest concentration of cannabinoid receptors. Therefore, cannabis or THC administration can create an overexcitation of the system that results in altered perceptions, pleasure, and mood [103].

Unlike THC, CBD has little affinity for CB1 and CB2 receptors but acts as an indirect antagonist of cannabinoid agonists. While this should cause CBD to reduce the effects of THC, it may potentiate THC’s effects by increasing CB1 receptor density or through another CB1-related mechanism [73]. CBD is also an inverse agonist of CB2 receptors. CBD can counteract some of the functional consequences of CB1 activation in the brain, possibly by indirect enhancement of adenosine A1 receptors activity through equilibrative nucleoside transporter (ENT) inhibition [73]. CBD helps to augment some of THC’s beneficial effects, as it reduces the psychoactivity of THC, enhances its tolerability, and widens THC’s therapeutic window [104].

Other cannabinoids can also contribute to the cannabis medicinal effects. Studies in experimental models and humans have suggested anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, anxiolytic, and antipsychotic properties of chemicals extracted from marijuana [6, 15, 82, 105, 106].

3. Cannabinoids and Parkinson’s Disease

3.1. Changes in the Cannabinoid System in Parkinson’s Disease

Recent data from several studies indicate the important role of the endocannabinoid system in Parkinson’s disease. The components of the endocannabinoid system are highly expressed in the neural circuit of basal ganglia, which is part of a complex neuronal system. This neuronal system coordinates activities from different cortical regions that directly or indirectly participate in the control of movement [107, 108]. In the basal ganglia, the endocannabinoid system bidirectionally interacts with dopaminergic, glutamatergic, and GABAergic signaling systems [109]. Endocannabinoids play a dominant role in controlling transmission at synapses between cortical and striatal neurons, in mediating the induction of a particular form of synaptic plasticity, and in modulating basal ganglia activity and motor functions [110]. The progressive loss of dopaminergic neurons that occurs in PD leads to lower striatal levels of dopamine. These low levels of dopamine result in the alteration of the equilibrium between the direct and the indirect basal ganglia pathways and ECB signaling [111].

The cannabinoid signaling system mentioned above experiences a biphasic pattern of changes during the progression of PD [112]. Early and presymptomatic PD stages, characterized by neuronal malfunction with little evidence of neuronal death, are associated with desensitization/downregulation of CB1 receptors and aggravation of various cytotoxic insults such as excitotoxicity, oxidative stress, and glial activation [113]. However, intermediate and advanced stages of PD, characterized by a deep nigral degeneration and manifestation of major Parkinsonian symptoms, are associated with upregulatory responses of CB1 receptors and the endocannabinoid ligands [113]. This could explain the potential of CB1 receptor ligands in alleviating common PD symptoms.

In the brain, CB1 receptors are expressed by GABAergic neurons innervating the external and internal segments of the globus pallidus and the substantia nigra [114–116]. CB1 receptors are also present in the corticostriatal glutamatergic terminals and in the excitatory projections from the subthalamic nucleus to the internal segment of the globus pallidus and the substantia nigra [114–116]. Within the striatum, CB1 receptors are expressed in parvalbumin immune-reactive interneurons, cholinergic interneurons, and nitric oxide synthase-positive neurons [117, 118]. Animal models of Parkinson’s disease show an increase in the density of CB1 receptors, levels of endogenous ligands, and CB1 receptor binding in the basal ganglia [119–122]. Endogenous cannabinoids activate CB1 receptors on presynaptic axons and reduce neurotransmitter and glutamate release, working as retrograde synaptic messengers released from postsynaptic neurons [123]. Similarly, activation of CB1 receptors inhibits both glutamate release from substantia nigra afferents and GABA release from striatal afferents. At the same time, activation of presynaptic CB1 receptors in the external segments of the globus pallidus can increase local GABA levels by reducing GABA reuptake from striatal afferents to the nucleus and decrease GABA release from striatal afferents of the substantia nigra [114, 116, 118]. Based on these evidences, it is thought that the function of the basal ganglia neuronal system is controlled by ECB. The presence of endocannabinoid systems in different neural structures and their interaction with dopaminergic, glutamatergic, and GABAergic neurotransmitter signaling systems make the components of endocannabinoid system ideal targets for a novel nondopaminergic treatment of PD.

Endocannabinoid signaling is also bidirectionally linked to dopaminergic signaling within the basal ganglia [118]. The CB1, D1, and D2 dopamine receptors are localized in the striatum [114, 115]. In animal models, CB1 and D2 dopamine receptors share a common pool of G proteins, suggesting the link of their signal transduction mechanisms [124, 125]. In addition, D2 receptor stimulation resulted in release of ECBs in the striatum [101]. However, stimulation of CB1 receptors completely inhibited D1-dopamine receptor mediated activation of adenylyl cyclase and decreased GABA release from striatal afferents of dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra resulting in an increased firing of these cells [114–116].

Another receptor involved in control of movement is transient receptor potential vanilloid type 1 (TRPV1), which is expressed in sensory neurons and basal ganglia circuitry of dopaminergic neurons [126, 127]. TRPV1 receptors are molecular integrators of nociceptive stimuli activated by endovanilloids [128]. TRPV1 also interacts with ECB. In particular, anandamide is one of the major endogenous activators of TRPV1 [129–131]. Studies have revealed that motor behavior can be suppressed by the activation of vanilloid receptors [98, 99], suggesting that TRPV1 receptors might play a role in the control of motor function.

3.2. Preclinical Data on the Endocannabinoid System as a Target for Parkinson’s Disease Therapy

The association of cannabinoids with regulation of motor functions is well established [132–135]. The effect of the cannabinoids on motor activity depends on the impact of the endocannabinoid system on the dopaminergic, glutamatergic, and GABAergic signaling systems throughout the basal ganglia [112, 136]. The high density of cannabinoid, dopamine, and vanilloid-like receptors coupled with ECBs within the basal ganglia and cerebellum suggests a potential therapeutic role for the cannabinoids in the control of voluntary movement and in movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease [98, 99, 121, 137]. Additional indications of an important role of the endocannabinoid system in the control of movement involve an inhibitory action of cannabinoids through fine tuning of various classical neurotransmitters activity [138], prominent changes in transmission of ECBs in the basal ganglia [139], and alteration of the CB1 binding as well as CB1 availability in the substantia nigra [85, 112, 119, 120, 140, 141]. These data support the idea that cannabinoid- based compounds act on vital pathways of endocannabinoid transmission and therefore might be of therapeutic interest due to their potential to diminish motor symptoms in extrapyramidal disorders such as Parkinson’s disease [27, 76, 142].

Research with cannabinoid agonists and antagonists demonstrates that the cannabinoids can modulate motor activity and produce alterations in corresponding molecular correlates [129, 143–145]. It has been widely reported that synthetic, plant-derived, or endogenous cannabinoid agonists exert a powerful motor inhibition in laboratory species [129, 144, 146–149]. This hypokinetic effect was shown to be mediated by the activation of CB1 receptors in neurons of the basal ganglia circuitry [88, 137, 141, 150–152]. Stimulation of the CB1 receptor by a synthetic cannabinoid HU-210 decreased spontaneous glutamatergic activity and reduced the rotations induced by levodopa/carbidopa by 34% in PD rats [153, 154]. Administration of CB1 receptor agonists THC and two synthetic cannabinoids WIN 55,212-2 and CP 55,940 increased extracellular dopamine concentrations in rats [152, 155, 156]. WIN 55,212-2 and CP 55,940 also weakened contralateral rotations induced by a selective D1/D5 receptor partial agonist > SKF38393 without developing catalepsy in PD rats [148]. In a gender study THC produced an increase in tyrosine hydroxylase activity in parkin-null male mice (a model of early stages of PD) and caused a motor inhibition that was significantly greater compared to wild-type animals [122]. Treatment with THC inhibited motor activity and produced catalepsy in rats [109, 144, 146, 147] and caused antinociception and ring immobility in mice [157]. In other studies THC diminished the motor inhibition caused by 6-hydroxydopamine [70] and potentiated the hypokinetic effect of reserpine in rats more than 20-fold [135]. However, in a primate model of Parkinson’s disease THC did not affect locomotor activity but increased bradykinesia [125].

Administration of WIN 55,212-2 increased stimulation of GTPγ S binding in the caudate nucleus, putamen, globus pallidus, and substantia nigra of marmosets, indicating an effective activation of CB1 signaling mechanisms [119, 120]. WIN 55,212-2 produced a dose-dependent reduction of the spontaneous motor activity and catalepsy in mutant Syrian hamsters, increased antidystonic efficacy of benzodiazepines [158], and significantly reduced the antikinetic effects of quinpirole in the reserpine-treated rats [159]. Treatment with WIN 55,212-2 also reduced levodopa-induced dyskinesias, attenuated axial, limb, and severe orolingual abnormal involuntary movements in 6-hyroxydopamine- (6-OHDA-) lesioned rats [160–163]. An endogenous cannabinoid agonist oleoylethanolamide (OAE) produced reduction in dyskinetic contralateral rotations correlated with reduction of molecular associates of L-DOPA-induced dyskinesia: reduced FosB striatal overexpression and phosphoacetylation of hystone 3 [164]. Another synthetic agonist levonantradol decreased general and locomotor activity and increased bradykinesia in a primate model of Parkinson’s disease [125]. Nabilone, a synthetic cannabinoid agonist, coadministered with levodopa significantly decreased total dyskinesia compared with levodopa alone treatment and increased the duration of antiparkinsonian action of levodopa by 76% in PD marmosets [165, 166].

Cannabinoid agonist anandamide (AEA) and its synthetic analog methanandamide increased the extracellular dopamine levels in the nucleus accumbens shell of rats by the activation of the mesolimbic dopaminergic system [167]. This dopamine increase was inhibited by the cannabinoid CB1 receptor antagonist rimonabant [167]. However, recent discoveries indicate that AEA is also able to activate vanilloid VR(1) receptors and that the activation of these receptors might also be responsible for changes in nigrostriatal dopaminergic activity and anandamide-induced hypokinesia [168–170]. AEA produced a tonic facilitation of glutamate release in the substantia nigra via stimulation of VR1 receptors, indicating the involvement of this receptor in motor and cognitive functions of the dopaminergic system [171]. Preclinical data have shown that AEA decreased the activity of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons and produced hypokinesia that was completely reversed by an antagonist of vanilloid-like receptors, capsazepine [129]. Additional studies have demonstrated that AEA inhibited ambulation and stereotypic behavior, increased inactivity, and occluded the effects of an agonist of vanilloid VR1 receptors, livanil, on locomotion in mice, suggesting a common mechanism of action for the two compounds [170]. Treatment with anandamide lowered motor activity with the maximal inhibition by approximately 85% and produced hypothermia and analgesia in mice, increased the inactivity time, and markedly decreased the ambulation and the frequency of spontaneous non-ambulatory activities in rats [146, 147, 172, 173]. Moreover, AEA produced a decrease in spontaneous motor activity in laboratory animals similar to the reported actions of THC [129, 145, 153, 170]. The hypokinetic actions of AEA were boosted by coadministration with a selective inhibitor of endocannabinoid uptake N-(3-furylmethyl) eicosa-5,8,11,14-tetraenamide, UCM707 [174].

Tissue concentrations of endocannabinoids are important for producing motor effects. Levels and activities of AEA and 2-AG can be manipulated by inhibition of FAAH enzyme, the action of which is reduced in experimental models of PD [153, 175]. Animal studies have shown that the FAAH enzyme inhibitor [3-(3-carbamoylphenyl) phenyl] N- cyclohexylcarbamate (URB597) magnified and prolonged a rapid, brief dopamine increase that was produced by AEA [167]. Additional studies have confirmed that FAAH inhibition remarkably increases AEA tissue levels but reduces 2-AG levels [176, 177]. To determine whether FAAH inhibition has beneficial impact on PD symptoms the effect of the FAAH inhibitor, URB597, was studied in MPTP- lesioned marmosets. Treatment with URB597 increased plasma levels of AEA, did not modify the antiparkinsonian actions of L-DOPA, and reduced the magnitude of hyperactivity to levels equivalent to those seen in normal animals [178]. In PD mice URB597 prevented induced motor impairment [179]. Moreover, other FAAH inhibitors, JNJ1661010 and TCF2, also have anticataleptic properties [179]. These results reveal that FAAH inhibition may represent a new strategy for treatment of PD.

Overall, these results indicate that endogenous or exogenous cannabinoid agonists activate the dopaminergic system and play a very important role in modulation of motor behavior [180]. In addition to the effects on movement activity, cannabinoid agonists have demonstrated neuroprotective properties, suggesting that the cannabinoids have a promising pharmacological profile for not only improving Parkinsonian symptoms but also delaying PD progression [70, 85, 181–183].

The CB1 receptor antagonists can also influence movement syndromes of Parkinson’s disease suggesting that modulation of the CB1 signaling system might be valuable in treatment of motor disorders. In a study with PD rats rimonabant (SR141716A), a selective antagonist of CB1 receptors has shown the potential to act as an antihypokinetic agent by enhancing glutamate release from excitatory afferents to the striatum [184]. Moreover, SR141716A prevented the effects of THC on dopamine release [156, 167] and also increased the locomotor activity in mice and rats preexposed to THC [170, 185]. SR141716A produced a 71% increase in motor activity in MPTP-lesioned marmosets with LID [136]. Coadministration of SR141716A with levodopa resulted in significantly less dyskinesia than administration of levodopa alone [136, 160]. SR141716A also reversed effect of the cannabinoid agonist WIN 55,212-2 and increased the locomotor activity in 6-OHDA-lesioned animals [159, 163]. Coadministration of SR141716A with a selective D2/D3 receptor agonist quinpirole reduced levels of AEA and 2AG by sevenfold in the globus pallidus, boosted the locomotive effects of quinpirole, and produced restoration of locomotion in animal models of Parkinson’s disease [98, 99, 101, 136, 186]. In parkin-null mice SR141716A produced a decrease in tyrosine hydroxylase activity in the caudate–putamen and as result formed a hyperkinetic response [122]. However, SR141716A did not alleviate the motor deficits in a primate model of Parkinson’s disease [125].

Another CB1 receptor antagonist AM251 and SR141716A produced antiparkinsonian effects in rats with very severe nigral degeneration (>95% cell loss) [187]. Local administration of these antagonists into denervated striatum, globus pallidus, and subthalamic nucleus reduced motor asymmetry in Parkinsonian rats [187, 188], which was inhibited by CB1 receptor agonist AM404 [187]. Another CB1 antagonist CE-178253 produced a 30% increase in motor behavior responses to L-DOPA in MPTP-treated rhesus monkeys but did not modify levodopa-induced dyskinesias [189]. THCV caused changes in glutamatergic transmission and attenuated the motor inhibition in PD rats [70]. Overall, these findings suggest that cannabinoid CB1 antagonists might be therapeutically effective in the control of Parkinson’s disease and levodopa-induced dyskinesia [114, 190].

The activation of CB2 receptors might also contribute to some extent to the potential of cannabinoids in PD [191]. THCV, which is not only a CB1 antagonist but also a CB2 partial agonist, reduced the loss of tyrosine hydroxylase-positive neurons in the substantia nigra with preservation of these neurons in CB2 receptor-deficient mice [70]. CBD has also reduced the loss of tyrosine hydroxylase-positive neurons in the substantia nigra of PD rats. Both compounds, THCV and CBD, have acted via neuroprotective and antioxidant mechanisms [70, 182, 191]. CBD has also demonstrated significant effects in preclinical models of neurodegenerative disorders in combination with other cannabinoids [15, 70, 192]. CB2 receptor agonists display a promising pharmacological profile for delaying disease progression.

The cannabinoid pharmacologic manipulation represents a promising therapy to alleviate movement disorders and levodopa-induced dyskinesias. Thus, CB1 antagonists appear to have antiparkinsonian effects, while cannabinoid receptor agonists may be useful in the treatment of motor complications in Parkinson’s disease.

3.3. Effect of Cannabinoids on Patients with Movement Disorders

Cannabis and related compounds have created significant research interest as a promising therapy in neurodegenerative and movement disorders. The successful use of tincture of Cannabis indica in treating PD was first described in Europe by Gowers [193]. Despite the lack of controlled studies, there is evidence that cannabinoids are of therapeutic value in the treatment of tics in Tourette syndrome, some forms of tremor and dystonia, chorea in Huntington’s disease, the reduction of levodopa-induced dyskinesia in Parkinson’s disease, and Parkinsonian syndromes [194–201].

A study with smoked cannabis queried 339 PD patients indicated that marijuana produced significant improvement of general PD symptoms in 46% of the patients; 31 % of them reported improvement in resting tremor, 38% reported relief from rigidity, 45% defined reduced bradykinesia, and 14% of the patients reported alleviated dyskinesias [202]. High urine concentration (>50 ng/ml) of the THC primary active metabolite, 11-HO-THC, was associated with relief from PD symptoms [202]. The dose and frequency of the cannabis administrations were important in relieving PD symptoms. Smoked cannabis also produced a statistically significant improvement in tremor, rigidity, and bradykinesia as well as improvement in sleep and pain scores in 22 PD patients [65]. In another study, smoked cannabis was responsible for a significant improvement in the mean total motor Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) score, tremor, rigidity, and bradykinesia in 17 patients with PD [203]. One dose of smoked marijuana provided symptoms relief for up to 3 hours [203]. Moreover, both studies reported significant improvement of nonmotor symptoms of PD, such as pain and sleep [65, 203]. However, smoked marijuana did not reduce Parkinsonian symptoms in 5 patients with idiopathic Parkinson’s disease and severe tremor [204]. A clinical trial in 19 PD and 6 patients with levodopa-induced dyskinesia demonstrated that oral cannabis extract was ineffective for alleviating parkinsonism or dyskinesia [205].

Few studies have evaluated the effects of CBD on PD symptoms. In a pilot study CBD lowered total UPDRS scores and significantly reduced psychotic symptoms in 6 PD patients with psychosis [67]. In another study CBD administration produced no improvement in measures of motor and general symptoms in 21 PD patients [68, 69]. However, the group treated with CBD had significantly different mean total scores in the Parkinson’s Disease Questionnaire, 39 compared to the placebo group [68, 69]. Oral CBD improved dyskinesia by up to 30% without a significant worsening of the parkinsonism in PD patients [206]. CBD withdrawal caused severe generalized dystonia [206].

Clinical studies have been conducted to evaluate the effect of a synthetic cannabinoid nabilone. Oral nabilone significantly reduced dyskinesia without aggravating parkinsonism in seven PD patients with severe L-DOPA-induced dyskinesia [207]. In another study, nabilone produced a 22% reduction in levodopa-induced dyskinesia in PD patients [208]. Nabilone showed efficacy not only against LID but also against bradykinesia in PD patients [209]. Some other cannabinoid related compounds such as > CE178253, OEA, and HU-210 have also been reported to be efficacious against L-DOPA-induced dyskinesia and bradykinesia in PD [199, 209]. However, SR 141716 did not improve Parkinsonian motor disability in PD patients [210]. The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) review deemed marijuana “probably ineffective” for treating L-DOPA-induced dyskinesia [211]. These conflicting results indicate the need for more research in this area.

Several clinical studies have been performed to evaluate the effect of marijuana on dystonia. Inhaled cannabis has provided a marked reduction in dystonia and complete pain relief in patients with right hemiplegic painful dystonia. Moreover, the patients have been able to completely discontinue opioid use [212]. Smoked cannabis also improved idiopathic dystonia and generalized dystonia due to Wilson’s disease [213, 214]. In a preliminary study, administration of CBD resulted in a 50% improvement in spasm severity and frequency in a patient with blepharospasm-oromandibular dystonia [215] and amelioration of the dystonic movements within 2-3 hours in patients with dystonic movement disorders [201]. CBD also improved dystonia by 20–50% in dystonic patients and stopped tremor and hypokinesia in 2 patients with Parkinson’s disease [200]. Another cannabis compound, THC, produced a reduction of abnormal movement patterns in a 14-year-old girl with marked dystonia [216] and decreased intensity of myoclonic movements in a 13-year-old boy with athetosis and myoclonic movements [216]. In contrast to these findings, one study found no significant reduction in dystonia following treatment with nabilone [165, 166].

Studies have looked at the potential benefits of medical marijuana and cannabinoids for the treatment of Huntington’s disease (HD). Nabilone versus placebo showed a treatment difference of 0.86 for total motor score; 1.68 for chorea; 3.57 for Unified Huntington’s Disease Rating Scale (UHDRS) cognition; 4.01 for UHDRS behavior; and 6.43 for the neuropsychiatric inventory in HD patients [217]. However, in previous study nabilone was found to increase choreatic movements in patients with HD [197, 198]. AAN guideline examining the efficacy of marijuana for treating chorea in HD stated nabilone can be used for modest decreases in HD chorea [218]. Available data regarding the effect of CBD on HD symptoms are inconsistent. CBD produced improvement (20–40%) in the choreic movements in HD patients [219]. However, a latter study did not confirm the earlier finding [220]. A comparison of the effects of CBD and placebo on chorea severity in neuroleptic-free HD patients indicated no significant or clinically important differences [220].

Few studies have indicated that marijuana and THC can reduce tics and associated behavioral disorders in patients with Tourette’s syndrome (TS) [221]. Cannabis inhalations produced a significant amelioration of TS symptoms [222]. Following marijuana administration 82% of TS patients (N = 64) reported a reduction, or complete remission of motor and vocal tics, and an amelioration of premonitory urges and obsessive-compulsive symptoms (OCB) [199]. Smoked marijuana also eliminated TS symptoms in one case study [223]. Administration of THC to a boy with TS improved tics and enhanced short-interval intracortical inhibition and the prolongation of the cortical silent period [224]. TCH significantly reduced tics and improve driving ability in a Tourette’s patient [225]. Treatment with THC lowered the mean C1 specific over nonspecific binding ratio (V 3′′) from 0.30 to 0.25 in six TS patients, although the difference was not significant. However V 3′′ clearly declined in a patient with a marked clinical response [226]. To date, there have been only two controlled trials that investigated the effect of THC on TS [194], both of which reported a significant improvement of tics and OCB after THC administration [195, 196].

Considering the relevance of these data, the need for alternative treatments for PD motor and nonmotor symptoms, medical marijuana, or related compounds may provide a new approach to the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

4. Beneficial Effects of Cannabinoids in the Amelioration of Nonmotor Symptoms and Progression of Parkinson’s Disease

4.1. Neuroprotective Actions of Cannabinoids

Cannabinoids have been shown to have neuroprotective effect due to their antioxidative, anti-inflammatory actions and their ability to suppress exitotoxicity. Plant-derived cannabinoids such as THC and CBD can provide neuroprotection against the in vivo and in vitro toxicity of 6-hydroxydopamine and this was thought to be due to their antioxidative property or modulation of glial cell function or a combination of both [182]. Studies found that CBD was able to recover 6-hydroxydopamine-induced dopamine depletion and also induced upregulation of Cu, Zn-superoxide dismutase, which is a key enzyme in endogenous defense against oxidative stress [70, 191, 227]. The reported data suggest that CBD also diminishes the increase in nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADPH) oxidase expression and decreases the markers of oxidative stress, inflammation, and cell death in the kidneys [228]. Another study has also emphasized a role for superoxide anion produced by microglial NADPH oxidase in augmenting the demise of dopaminergic neurons in the PD brain [229]. The mechanism by which CBD acts to reduce NADPH oxidase expression and inhibit oxidative injury within the PD brain has yet to be confirmed but it seems to act through mechanisms independent of CB1 or CB2 receptors [76]. However, data obtained from recent studies have hinted towards a direct relationship between the CB1 receptor and mitochondrial functions in the brain [230]. The phenolic ring moieties in cannabinoids display antioxidant activity guarding against glutamate-induced neurotoxicity in a cellular model [231]. CBD produced reduction of hydroperoxide-induced oxidative damage and was more protective against glutamate neurotoxicity compared to ascorbate and a-tocopherol, indicating that CBD is a potent antioxidant [232]. Taken together, these discoveries support the hypothesis that treatment with cannabinoids having antioxidant effects may modulate mitochondrial reactive oxygen species production [233] in the PD brain.

Inflammation has been shown to be a crucial pathological factor responsible for the demise of dopaminergic neurons in PD [234–236]. Glial cells appear to play a key role in neuroinflammation, since higher levels of activated microglia are reported in the substantia nigra of patients with PD compared to brains of control subjects [237, 238]. Cannabinoids demonstrate anti-inflammatory activities by suppressing toxic cytokine release and microglia activation [181–183]. Increased CB2 receptor expression in nigral cells and stimulation of these receptors protect dopaminergic neurons from microglia-induced inflammation and regulate neuronal survival [70]. The cannabinoids are known to be able to activate the CB2 receptor, which mediate the anti-inflammatory effects of the compounds and preserve cells from excessive apoptosis. Recent evidence substantiates that some cannabinoids may attenuate the neuroinflammation associated with PD [191, 239–241]. Several studies showed that CBD has anti-inflammatory properties [242–246] and can produce beneficial effect in acute inflammation and chronic neuropathic states [5, 247, 248]. THC demonstrates anti-inflammatory effect via activation of the CB1 receptor [249–251]. In addition, cannabinoids provide anti-inflammation effect by reducing the vasoconstriction and restoring blood supply to the injured area [252]. All these data support that cannabinoids are potentially effective compounds for the treatment of neuroinflammatory conditions, including neurodegenerative diseases like PD.

Marijuana may prevent brain damage by protecting against neuronal injury. There are a few mechanisms by which cannabinoids provide neuroprotection. One of the mechanisms involves an induction/upregulation of cannabinoid CB2 receptors, mainly in reactive microglia, and regulates the influence of these glial cells on homeostasis of surrounding neurons [253]. In combination with the increased antitoxic effects observed in cell cultures containing glia, this suggests that immunomodulation produced by CB2 receptor activation may play a primary role in the neuroprotective properties of cannabinoids [182]. Another mechanism of neuroprotection is activation of CB1 receptors. Loss of dopaminergic neurons and greater degree of motor impairment in CB1 knockout mice have been reported [85]. Cannabinoids activating the CB1 receptor are antiexcitotoxic due to suppression of glutamatergic activity with a subsequent decrease in calcium ion influx and eventual nitric oxide production [254–256]. Sativex-like combination of phytocannabinoids has been demonstrated to produce neuroprotective effect via interaction with both CB1 and CB2 receptors [134, 257]. In addition, THC reduced the loss of tyrosine hydroxylase-positive neurons in the substantia nigra [70] and exhibited neuroprotective effect by activation of the PPARγ receptors [258]. Overall, these data suggest that cannabinoids are neuroprotective in acute and chronic neurodegeneration and can delay or even stop progressive degeneration of brain dopaminergic system, a process that cannot be prevented currently.

4.2. Analgesic Effect of Cannabinoids

Pain is a relevant and often underestimated nonmotor symptom of PD [259, 260]. Pain affects more that 50% of people with this disorder and can cause extreme physical, psychological, and social disorders and worsen Parkinsonian disability [261, 262]. Different treatment options are used to treat PD pain [262–265]. However, these medications have significant side effects and do not provide universal efficacy [264, 265]. Cannabis is well known as a pain-relieving plant. The cannabinoid receptors in the central and peripheral nervous systems have been shown to modulate pain perception [266, 267].

Several clinical studies have been performed to investigate the effect of marijuana or cannabinoids on pain. Smoked cannabis significantly reduced neuropathic pain intensity as well as significantly improved mood disturbance, physical disability, and quality of life in HIV-patients [268]. Cannabis was effective at ameliorating neuropathic pain in patients with central and peripheral neuropathic pain [269]. Inhaled cannabis significantly reduced pain intensity (34%) compared to placebo in a clinical trial of painful distal symmetric polyneuropathy (DSPN) [270]. Whole plant extracts of Cannabis sativa produced statistically significant improvements on the mean pain severity score [271]. Cannabis-based medicine significantly decreased chronic pain intensity as well as sleep disturbance in multiple sclerosis patients [272, 273]. Oromucosal nabiximols (1 : 1 combination of the THC and CBD) produced a reduction in pain intensity scores in patients with neuropathic pain [274].

These findings are consistent with other discoveries supporting the efficacy of cannabis in relieving pain. The analgesic effect of cannabinoids has been reviewed [75, 211, 275–281]. The review of the literature suggests that marijuana and/or cannabinoids may be efficacious for pain relieving in various disease states including PD.

4.3. Antidepressant Effect of Cannabinoids

Depression is one of the common nonmotor symptoms of PD and the estimated rate varies widely, with an average prevalence of up to 50%. [282–284]. Despite its association with poor health outcomes and quality of life, depression in PD patients is underdiagnosed and undertreated [285–287]. Studies have indicated that the endocannabinoid system is involved in the regulation of mood and emotional behavior, and the loss or blockade of the endocannabinoid signaling system results in depressive symptoms [288]. For example, the CB1 receptor antagonist rimonabant has been shown to induce symptoms of anxiety and depression [289–291]. In addition, polymorphism of the gene that encodes the CB1 receptor has been associated with depression in PD [292]. In animal models, low level of THC produced antidepressant activity and increased serotogenic activity via activation of the CB1 receptor [293]. Animal studies have also shown that inhibition of hydrolysis of the endocannabinoid anandamide exerts antidepressive effect [294] and resulted in an increased serotonergic and noradrenergic neuronal activity in the midbrain. Currently available antidepressant drugs act via increasing serotonin and/or noradrenaline levels. These, and many other studies, indicate that the cannabinoid system is a potential target for the development of novel antidepressant drugs. Epidemiological studies have demonstrated that people who used cannabis daily or weekly exhibit less depressed mood and more positive effect than nonusers of cannabis [295]. Other studies have shown an association between heavy cannabis use and depressive symptoms. However, it is not clear whether the increased depressive symptoms are due to cannabis use or other factors that increased the risk of both depression and heavy use of cannabis [296]. Therefore, moderate use of cannabis in PD patients may help alleviate depressive symptoms and improve quality of life.

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4.4. Effect of Cannabinoids on Sleep Disorders

Sleep disorders are common in PD patients and negatively affect the quality of life. The reported prevalence ranges from 25% to 98% and this wide variation could be due to differences in study design and diagnostic tools used [297]. The causes of the sleep disturbances in PD are multifactorial and include neurodegeneration and the medications used to treat motor symptoms of PD [298]. Various sleep disorders including rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder, insomnia, sleep fragmentation, excessive daytime sleepiness, restless legs syndrome, and obstructive sleep apnea have been described in PD patients [299, 300]. Cannabidiol, the major nonpsychotic component of marijuana, has been reported to improve rapid eye movement sleep behavior disorder in PD patients [68, 69]. Marijuana has also been shown to improve nonmotor symptoms of PD including sleep [65]. In clinical trials involving 2000 patients with various pain conditions, nabiximols has been demonstrated to improve subjective sleep parameters [301]. Thus, marijuana could be used to enhance the quality of life of PD patients by alleviating sleep disorders and pain.

5. Summary

Cannabis and related compounds have recently been studied as promising therapeutic agents in treatment of neurodegenerative and movement disorders including Parkinson’s disease. In this review we have examined the potential benefits of medical marijuana and cannabinoids in the treatment of both motor and nonmotor symptoms as well as in slowing the progression of the disease. We have looked into any scientific evidence that indicates the potential use of marijuana and/or related compounds for the treatment of PD. Current treatments of PD provide only relief of motor symptoms and are associated with adverse effects such as dyskinesia. In addition, these therapies do not slow the progression of the disease. Therefore, there is an urgent need for safer drugs that can treat both motor and nonmotor symptoms of PD as well as drugs that slow the progression of the disease.

In spite of the placement of marijuana in schedule 1 category under the US Federal Controlled Substance Act, 24 states and Washington DC have enacted laws allowing the use of marijuana to treat a range of medical conditions. Parkinson’s disease has been listed as one of the disease conditions for which medical marijuana is allowed in a number of states. Research studies have provided evidence for the potential effectiveness of medical marijuana and its components in the treatment of PD as cannabinoids act on the same neurological pathway that is disrupted in Parkinson’s disease. Involvement of the endocannabinoid system in the regulation of motor behavior, the localization of the cannabinoid receptors in areas that control movement, and the effect of cannabinoids on motor activity indicate that cannabinoids can be potentially used in the treatment of movement disorders. Cannabinoid agonists and antagonists have been shown to modulate the endocannabinoid system and modify motor activity. Cannabinoid receptor antagonists appear to produce antiparkinsonian effects while cannabinoid receptor agonists exert a powerful motor inhibition and may be useful in the treatment of motor complications. In addition, we have assessed the role of the cannabinoid system and marijuana constituents in neuroprotection as well as considered other beneficial effects of marijuana. Marijuana has been shown to improve nonmotor symptoms of PD such as depression, pain, sleep, and anxiety. Moreover, components of cannabis have been demonstrated to have neuroprotective effect due to their anti-inflammatory, antioxidative, and antiexcitotoxic properties. Due to combination of the above mentioned beneficial effects, cannabis may provide a viable alternative or addition to the current treatment of Parkinson’s disease. However, there are concerns regarding the use of medical marijuana including lack of standardization and regulation, imprecise dosing, possible adverse effects, and medication interactions. Further studies are needed to provide more data on efficacy, safety, pharmacokinetics, and interactions of cannabinoids.

Competing Interests

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interests regarding the publication of this paper.


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New Research, Medications and CBD for Parkinson’s

There are a lot of medications on the market to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s and finding the right ones for you can take some trial and error.

In this episode with Dr. Trevor Hawkins, you will learn:

  • About the most common medications that people with Parkinson’s take
  • The biggest problem people with Parkinson’s face when relying on oral medications
  • About current research and clinical trials that may result in better solutions in the future
  • The one proven activity we know about that can slow down the progression of Parkinson’s
  • About marijuana, CBD, how they work and what the research says about their efficacy


  • One of the biggest issues with oral medications is that you may have a lot of ON and OFF periods
  • Rytary is an extended-release combination of carbidopa-levodopa designed to maintain a steady level of relief and minimize peaks and valleys
  • Duopa is a suspension form of carbidopa-levodopa that is delivered continuously by a pump through a tube into your intestine for up to 16 hours is a continuous flow patch that is in clinical trials and may be available in 2019 is an oral dopamine agonist that’s used to treat the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s is a dopamine agonist that is delivered via a patch is an injection to treat loss of body movement control and it’s currently in clinical trials in the US
  • Current research and clinical trials are focused on developing medications that are more specific and only hit certain receptors so they produce fewer side effects
  • Exercise is the one proven way to slow down the progression of Parkinson’s
  • There are exciting trials being done with the cancer drug Nilotinib to test if it can modulate dopamine in people with Parkinson’s
  • Using CBD oil to treat symptoms of Parkinson’s is becoming more and more common; however, the lack of oversight and inconsistency from batch to batch are big problems
  • There’s a trial going on at the University of Colorado right now for a CBD pill to treat Parkinson’s tremor
  • The biggest hurdle for CBD studies is that there’s no monetary support – unlike the money that big pharma companies get
  • If you want to experiment with CBD oil, make sure that you tell all of your providers about it because there can be serious drug interactions and be aware that each batch you get can be very different
  • There are two species of cannabis – marijuana (15-40% THC) and hemp (.3% THC)
  • THC is what produces the high
  • CBD oil that is derived from hemp is legal in all 50 states
  • CBD oil that is derived from marijuana is not legal in every state
  • There’s new research being done on CBD oil so keep an eye out for it

As with every therapy you try to treat your Parkinson’s symptoms, be sure to consult with your doctor, movement disorder specialist, neurologist and everyone on your care team. Anecdotal evidence is great; however, not everything works the same for everyone. Do your due diligence and make sure all of your experimentation is under the direct and frequent supervision of your doctors.

Concepts Mentioned in this Podcast & Further Reading

[The Parkinson’s Podcast™] Episode Transcript

This is not a word for word transcript. We have cleaned up sentences, added punctuation and, in some cases, deleted extra words to make it easier to read.

Kelsey Phinney: Last week, we learned about medications available to treat the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s and how they work in the brain. Just to recap, the three main classes of motor-specific drug therapies for Parkinson’s are carbidopa-levodopa, dopamine agonists and MAO inhibitors.

My interview with Dr. Hawkins was so awesome that I realized I had enough for two podcasts, because after he explained how the medications work, we got to talking about some newer medications available and some trials for potential medications or treatments in the future.

We talked about some research that he was just starting when we initially talked, and then he emailed me to give me an update after the summer about the research that CU Denver is doing on CBD and Parkinson’s.

Today, we’re going to delve into that.

This is the Parkinson’s Podcast™ brought to you by the Davis Phinney Foundation. I’m your host, Kelsey Phinney, and this is episode seven, part two of my interview with Dr. Trevor Hawkins.

Dr. Trevor Hawkins: Part of the reason why there probably hasn’t been an explosion of different varieties of medications working on a variety of different mechanisms, is that it’s really hard to beat levodopa. Dopamine agonists are the closest to it. A lot of the advancements we’re looking at involve fine tuning what we already know about that mechanism between the dopamine agonists and between levodopa, so we can avoid the pitfalls that come from the medication itself.

So number one, when you’re talking about Sinemet, the issue is the fluctuations that occur naturally with different concentrations. You get these peaks and valleys. Ideally, if you’re able to give a steady load, you can fine tune the amount of dopamine that the cells are receiving, so they can send out the appropriate amount of dopamine without getting too high, without getting overwhelmed, and without causing dyskinesias and not being able to produce enough to make up for the deficit. So most of the treatments are kind of trying to hone in on that.

There are some medications that are available on the market now. There’s the true long acting sinemet like Rytari, that’s the name it goes by, and it has both immediate release and the long acting, extended release sinemet.

What that allows it to do is maintain that kind of steady level that the brain is seeing for much longer periods and avoiding those peaks and valleys.

There are other pills that are coming in clinical trials that are trying to do the same kind of thing where they have to sit in your stomach and slowly diffuse out the levodopa over time to again, keep those steady concentrations. The patch is actually a very similar concept. It’s actually very similar to the insulin pumps you may have seen for patients with diabetes. You get a little pump that connects to the skin patch, a little barb that kind of digs into the medication which infuses in a steady level through the skin with the idea again, you know, to maintain that steady state level.

That one is still in clinical trial in terms of the levodopa version.

They do have one that is available for use with levodopa, which is the duopa or duodopa, which is the gastrointestinal infusion. That one is put into a feeding tube and hooked up to a pump that can infuse medication. The nice thing about that is it goes straight into your gut. So you might not have to worry about absorption issues or anything because it’s getting straight to the system and again avoid those peaks and valleys. Obviously the downside to that one is the complications that do arise from having a feeding tube and managing that.

So, the skin patch version and the pump work and potentially get the same benefit of steady infusion and hopefully, less complications. But ultimately, that’s what the clinical trials will be able to tell us.

Kelsey Phinney: To recap what Dr. Hawkins was just explaining about the levodopa therapies, the main issue with the oral medication is navigating and managing the on/off periods of when the medication is working and when it’s not, and being on that cycle throughout the day.

Dr. Hawkins explains that there are two potentially helpful newer drugs already on the market. I’m not sure how expensive these drugs are, or what that looks like.

One is Rytary, which combines fast acting and long acting carbidopa-levodopa. The other is Duopa, which is a gastrointestinal infusion. And that one’s nice because it goes straight into the gut. But it can be pretty invasive, because there’s a feeding tube involved. And then he also brings up Neuroderm, which is like an insulin pump. But with the levodopa medication in it that would again provide this continuous flow of medication, but would ideally be less invasive than the Duopa. That is in clinical trials. And from what I was reading, it might be on the market as soon as 2019. So it’ll be interesting to see how widely that gets used and if it’s helpful and effective for people navigating ON and OFF periods of Parkinson’s.

Next we get into what options are available for the second class of drugs, the dopamine agonists, and if there’s any research going into future medications for that as well.

Dr. Trevor Hawkins: The dopamine agonist has a similar concept. They actually have true extended release, once a day versions of both the Ropinirole, there’s the patch version with the Neupro patch, for example. And then in Europe since the late 1990s, they’ve had a pump that was very similar to that sinemet pump, the insulin pump, as one of the dopamine agonists called Apomorphine. Nothing to do with the actual drug morphine, it’s a dopamine agonist just like the other ones. And that one, again, is being used in Europe to do the same thing. It gets hooked up to the palm and it fuses to the skin and is a steady level throughout the day to avoid those peaks and valleys. And that’s actually currently in clinical trials here in the US. And hopefully soon, we’ll see it come available on the open market for patients. And again, the only caveat to that one is for me, like the side effects I’ve mentioned before about dopamine agonists, is sometimes that prevents patients from being able to use that but it’s very commonly used in Europe as an option for patients that would benefit from things like Deep Brain Stimulation, but aren’t able to tolerate the surgery for various reasons. And Deep Brain Stimulation is even kind of doing the exact same thing in terms of providing a constant signal in the brain to give that benefit, but give it a steady level to avoid those peaks and valleys from the medications.

Kelsey Phinney: So for dopamine agonist, we have the Nupro patch already available, and that provides that steady stream of medication throughout the day or night. And then the other thing he mentioned is the Apomorphine pump, which is available in Europe, but hasn’t been officially approved to be used in the US. Although, as he says there are clinical trials going on that might make that available soon.

And then that leads him into talking a little bit about Deep Brain Stimulation, which isn’t a drug based therapy, but it also provides continuous support for the brain to offset the symptoms of Parkinson’s. And if you’re a candidate for it, and can handle undergoing a deep brain surgery, it can be really life changing. And amazing, as has been the case with my dad.

Next I was wondering about a lot of times, especially in later stages of Parkinson’s, the OFF periods can happen quite suddenly and intensely. And I wondered what was available to try to get medication into the system quicker than with a pill. Is there anything out there? And is there anything being researched that could help with those OFF periods?

Dr. Trevor Hawkins: The interesting thing about the research is that there’s also a lot of active mechanisms to look into what you do if a patient experiences a sudden OFF, like their medications just drop out or they’re taking medication and it doesn’t really work for them, called dose failure, which tends to happen as you get into later stages of the disease. And sometimes OFF can come on and be pretty debilitating for patients.

It would be nice if we had a way to get them out of it as opposed to having to take their pill and wait a half an hour to kick in and get through their stomach and absorb it. They’ve looked at a lot of different ways – there’s one already, a dopamine agonist called Apokyn. They’re also looking at different formulations of both the dopamine agonists and Levodopa. One looks like an asthma inhaler. That way the medication gets into your lungs and goes directly into your bloodstream, and doesn’t have to sit in your gut waiting to be processed before it can get in. So the early studies, at least when you look at how quickly it kicks in, you’re talking about five to ten minutes. So for patients with that OFF that hits you out of the blue, that’s potentially very, very useful to get patients rescued out of that OFF and jumpstart the system.

Kelsey Phinney: Dr. Hawkins explains that the option already available on the market is the Apokyn injection, which is kind of like an EpiPen with dopamine agonist in it, and that delivers that medication quickly into the system. And then he also talks about the research going into creating an inhaler, similar to an asthma inhaler, that could deliver a dopamine agonist or sinemet into the system much more quickly through the lungs than through the gut. And I’m really excited to see what happens with that research. So next, Dr. Hawkins will explain some newer research going into ways to improve the medicines and their effectiveness within the brain.

Dr. Trevor Hawkins: Most of the medication trials that we have are really trying to hone in on specific receptors that it’s working on. Because levodopa kind of will work everywhere that defers dopamine and will work on all the receptors that dopamine worked on. And so sometimes that can cause the good, but with it also you get the bad if it’s hitting another receptor. It’s the same thing with dopamine agonist.

One example being those impulse control disorders, there is some evidence to suggest that if you can eliminate one type of those dopamine receptors, potentially you lower the risk of getting that side effects. So we are making medications that are more specific. It’s like if you have all these doors on the street to houses – some have red doors and white doors and black doors. If you only want it to go to the red doors, now because that’s where the good receptors are, and they give it to the white or the black, you’re getting the side effect. That’s where we can eliminate giving the message to those and only give it to the right “doors”. So that’s actually pretty fascinating to see if we can maximize the good parts of the medication and really eliminate a lot of side effects. So, I think we’re really close on having a few breakthroughs on that side of it as well.

Kelsey Phinney: I for one am very excited to see this research, I think it’s really cool. And I’m very curious to know more about how they’re able to pinpoint specific receptors or specific locations in the brain, because that would be huge and improving those negative side effects with the dopamine agonist like with a compulsive behavior. And yeah, I’m looking forward to knowing more.

Another thing that I know we’re always curious about is if there’s anything going into ways to slow down the progression of the disease. And so here’s Trevor explaining that.

Dr. Trevor Hawkins: Yeah, there is going to be a lot of active interest looking into potentially developing treatments that slow down the disease, still far and away, the most important thing now is exercise. We know it is the one thing that does slow down progression of disease. There’s definitely a lot of trials that are always ongoing, animal models, and even in the human model, and looking at medications that potentially can do it. Some kind of work in a logical manner to kind of turn down like an overactive immune system. Others have become very weird mechanisms. And some are kind of by accident, either in animal models or other humans, oh, what’s going on here, doing something to slow down progression of symptoms. Certainly we have a couple of trials over at Colorado now. One of which is looking at chemo drugs used for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. One of them showed that maybe it was slowing down the progression of disease. So right now they’re actually going to do a true placebo controlled study to see if that actually is accurate. One tricky thing in Parkinson’s, and it’s true in most diseases, is if you really believe medication is going to work for you, it will, and if you walk out the door thinking it’s not going to work for you, it won’t. Sometimes we have to be cautious about giving too much credit when it’s just the patient’s subjective improvement from the placebo effect.

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Kelsey Phinney: The one proven way to prevent the progression of Parkinson’s is exercise. And we’ll actually get into more about exercise and Parkinson’s next week. But that is something to keep in mind. The other interesting research you mentioned has to do with a cancer drug that has been shown to potentially slow down the progression of Parkinson’s by pinpointing a specific protein.

But the issue with the initial study is that the patients knew that they were taking something that could slow down the progression. And so as with most drug therapy research, we have to be careful about placebo effect, which is proven that when people believe that something will work for them, even if they’re given a pill with nothing, if they think that it’s going to work, then a lot of times that’s enough to make something work.

So, they’re still doing trials that will be blind trials so that people won’t know if they’re getting the placebo or the real drug so they can actually accurately test how effective this drug could be in slowing down the progression of Parkinson’s.

We’ll close out today explaining a little bit more about CBD and what it is, why it’s being used with Parkinson’s, what kind of research is going into CBD and any precautions we should be taking about CBD. I’ll let Dr. Hawkins explain. And then I’ll come in with a follow up on some of the preliminary research findings that he emailed me about from this summer.

Dr. Trevor Hawkins: The whole marijuana, CBD, cannabinoid issue is very fascinating. Especially being in Colorado and being kind of on the front line of a lot of it. I think the big takeaway is there’s so much anecdotal evidence out there that it definitely warrants taking a deeper look at what’s actually going on.

Some of the problems with where the field is at is that there are so many different active chemical compounds within marijuana. So it’s about which are the right ones? What’s the right dose? How do you deliver it: do you have to smoke it, is it edible, does it have to be a pill? You do an ointment and with symptoms in particular, is it actually going to be helping?

So, there are still a lot of pieces to be worked out on that front. And certainly the other big problem is that there’s really no oversight. So even the individual, this is where I find a lot of issues with my patients, where they’ll tell me that they found a particular batch or strain or pill that works really, really well for them. Then they’ll get a refill and that same one that was the miracle drug is putting them in the hospital with psychosis. I think part of that is just you have to be buyer beware on a lot of that, with the current state of affairs. But I think it’s going to be an area, you know, that will hopefully take off research wise and really start honing in and hopefully the industry itself will start being a little bit more regulated – kind of similar to what we with herbal supplements and how there are self regulating groups that will still give their medication for testing to the FDA, like the Costco brands and Sam’s Club. But right now, there’s still a lot of variability.

We are going to be potentially doing a clinical trial, the second phase at the University of Colorado, hopefully sometime in the summer looking at CBD as a kind of a pill, oil suspension, and its treatment of Parkinson’s trauma. We are starting to hopefully unravel the mystery, so to speak.

We went through the phase one part of that already, which was really just looking at dose. But there are certainly a lot of hurdles when you’re talking about trying to do studies on this method. One practical point is that unlike with the medications, where you have the drug companies who are willing to fund the big trial and kind of look at if they’re working, there’s really no monetary support for looking at whether or not the CBD and marijuana products work.

That’s where some of this is being dragged out is that it’s really not as big of a push to get some of those big drug trials going. And all the federal hoops you have to jump through to make sure that that’s okay. We’ll see. We are very excited to be able to start putting together what is the right form and looking at potential CBD products and then seeing what is it going to do for us for our Parkinson patients.

The only caveat is that I tell all my patients two very important things about it:

If they are using CDB or marijuana, make sure you’re telling all your providers that you’re doing it because it is a drug that has a lot of drug to drug interactions. So it’s important to make sure that they’re dosing their other medications correctly. Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe. Same as arsenic, it’s natural and not safe. So treat it like it’s a medication just like anything else you’re being prescribed by your doctor. That means that if you’re going to take it, you’re not immediately jumping behind the wheel of a car, you’re not down by yourself to take a bath, not putting yourself or anything in harm’s way where you wouldn’t do that with your other medications as well.
Buyer beware. Each batch is like getting a brand new medication. You don’t know 100% what it’s going to do for you; so, you’ve got to treat it as if you’ve never taken it before.

But I think it’s a very exciting time to be in Colorado. As this field is taking off, I think we’re very close to hopefully figuring out some of these things in a more scientific way about what they can potentially do for us.

Kelsey Phinney: One thing I want to reiterate is that Dr. Hawkins cautions all of us and all of you that it’s important to treat CBD like any new medication, tell your doctor if you want to try it, or if you’re already taking it. And please make sure it doesn’t interact with any of your other medicines.

Never try it before doing anything potentially dangerous like driving a car and treat every new batch you get, even from the same company, as if you’re trying it for the first time.

If you aren’t in Colorado or another state where all marijuana is legal, recreationally and medicinally, you may be wondering if CBD is even legal. I’ve done some research on CBD and we’ve come to use the terms cannabis, marijuana and hemp interchangeably in popular culture. But it turns out that those are three distinct plants. Marijuana and hemp are two species of cannabis. And the plants look different and have different chemical properties. And because of this, they have different definitions and are legal in different places.

The important thing and the primary difference chemically and medically between hemp and marijuana has to do with the two primary cannabidiol compounds found in the plants, THC and CBD. So hemp by definition contains less than 0.3% THC concentration, while marijuana can contain between 15 and 40% THC concentration. Both of these plants contain CBD as well.

THC, if you don’t know, is the psychoactive compound in cannabis. It’s what produces that high feeling when someone takes it recreationally or for medical purposes. So what does this mean? CBD oil derived from hemp is legal in all 50 states. On the other hand, CBD oil derived from marijuana is not legal in every state. So you need to research your own state’s laws, and make sure that whatever you want to take is legal and then chat with your doctor about if they think it could be beneficial and doesn’t interact with any of your current medicines.

When I reached out to Dr. Hawkins about how the research was going on CBD at CU Denver and what they’ve discovered, he got back to me in an email and explained that Dr. Leheay had completed the analysis on the phase one open label trial they did. And they were just getting started on the phase two to trial which will be the placebo controlled study.

He said that the first study showed improvement in motor scores, and the sleep and mood control portion of the Parkinson’s disease rating scale. The biggest side effects were likely in part related to the fact that they use an oil based supplement and they included diarrhea and abdominal pain. Additionally, two thirds of patients reported sleepiness and one third did have elevation in liver enzymes. He goes on to say, “My take is it most likely does have true treatment benefits, including helping with mood and sleep, and perhaps motor symptoms.” He says that it’s maybe unclear if these motor symptoms improve because of the improved sleep or mood, or if there is an independent effect on the actual motor symptoms. And he concludes his sentiment by saying “however, the adverse effects reflect the potential risks and lack of unified understanding of best dose as well as how it is prepared”.

So a couple takeaways from all of this is to hopefully give all of you a little bit more information so that you can ask your doctor questions about alternative therapies for your motor symptoms and other symptoms. And keep an eye out for new research and hopefully feel some hope that new things are in the works.

And you never know what could be truly helpful. As always, because everyone’s Parkinson’s is a little different and everyone responds differently to medications, it is so important to have an open dialogue with your doctors about anything that you even try, or take. Especially if you’re adding in a supplement like CBD, you need to be careful and check in with your doctor about it. So that’s all for this episode. Thank you so much to Dr. Hawkins for all the information. Please tune in next Wednesday for an episode about exercise. And thank you for listening.

Safety and Tolerability of Cannabidiol in Parkinson Disease: An Open Label, Dose-Escalation Study

1 Department of Neurology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado, USA.

Ying Liu

1 Department of Neurology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado, USA.

Felecia Hart

2 Department of Clinical Pharmacy, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado, USA.

Christen Epstein

1 Department of Neurology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado, USA.

Mary Cook

1 Department of Neurology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado, USA.

Stefan Sillau

1 Department of Neurology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado, USA.

Jost Klawitter

3 Department of Anesthesiology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado, USA.

Heike Newman

4 Regulatory Compliance Office, University of Colorado, Aurora, Colorado, USA.

Cristina Sempio

3 Department of Anesthesiology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado, USA.

Lisa Forman

5 Department of Gastroenterology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado, USA.

Lauren Seeberger

1 Department of Neurology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado, USA.

Olga Klepitskaya

1 Department of Neurology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado, USA.

Zachrey Baud

1 Department of Neurology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado, USA.

Jacquelyn Bainbridge

2 Department of Clinical Pharmacy, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado, USA.

* Address correspondence to: Maureen A. Leehey, MD, Department of Neurology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, 12631 E 17th Avenue, MS B185, Aurora, CO 80045, USA [email protected]


Background: Cannabis is increasingly used in Parkinson disease (PD), despite little information regarding benefits and risks.

Objectives: To investigate the safety and tolerability of a range of doses of cannabidiol (CBD), a nonintoxicating component of cannabis, and it’s effect on common parkinsonian symptoms.

Methods: In this open-label study Coloradans with PD, substantial rest tremor, not using cannabis received plant-derived highly purified CBD (Epidiolex ® ; 100 mg/mL). CBD was titrated from 5 to 20–25 mg/kg/day and maintained for 10–15 days.

Results: Fifteen participants enrolled, two were screen failures. All 13 participants (10 male), mean (SD) age 68.15 (6.05), with 6.1 (4.0) years of PD, reported adverse events, including diarrhea (85%), somnolence (69%), fatigue (62%), weight gain (31%), dizziness (23%), abdominal pain (23%), and headache, weight loss, nausea, anorexia, and increased appetite (each 5%). Adverse events were mostly mild; none serious. Elevated liver enzymes, mostly a cholestatic pattern, occurred in five (38.5%) participants on 20–25 mg/kg/day, only one symptomatic. Three (23%) dropped out due to intolerance. Ten (eight male) that completed the study had improvement in total and motor Movement Disorder Society Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale scores of 7.70 (9.39, mean decrease 17.8%, p=0.012) and 6.10 (6.64, mean decrease 24.7%, p=0.004), respectively. Nighttime sleep and emotional/behavioral dyscontrol scores also improved significantly.

Conclusions: CBD, in the form of Epidiolex, may be efficacious in PD, but the relatively high dose used in this study was associated with liver enzyme elevations. Randomized controlled trials are needed to investigate various forms of cannabis in PD.


Parkinson disease (PD) is a common neurodegenerative disorder characterized by motor symptoms of resting tremor, bradykinesia, rigidity, and impaired balance that often has nonmotor symptoms of cognitive dysfunction, anxiety, and psychosis. Since standard treatments may only partially relieve symptoms many patients are turning to complementary and alternative medications. In many states across the United States, cannabis use has been permitted medicinally and recreationally, so increasing numbers of PD patients are using formulations with a myriad of cannabinoid components. In an anonymous web-based survey, 47.8% of PD patients reported that cannabis reduced their use of prescription medication. 1 Since the major component of the cannabis plant, Δ-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is known to sometimes cause psychosis, 2–4 cognitive dysfunction, 4–6 anxiety, 7–9 and balance impairment, 10,11 it may be especially harmful in PD. Conversely, cannabidiol (CBD), the next largest cannabinoid plant constituent, may have neuroprotective, anxiolytic, and antipsychotic effects, 12 as well as relatively good tolerability; thus, it may have benefits in PD. The purpose of this study is to begin investigating the effects of cannabis in PD by focusing on the safety of a range of doses of a purified CBD formulation, Epidiolex ® . In addition, the effect of CBD on common PD symptoms was studied.

Review of the literature shows that CBD is well tolerated at doses up to 1500 mg/day, 13–15 or ∼13 mg/kg/day, and most definitively has a central nervous system effect, for example, reduction of seizures, at 25 mg/kg/day. 16 However, the literature is sparse and inconclusive, and most studies used much lower doses, usually in combination with THC, and have shown a range of effects. A study in Huntington’s disease using purified CBD at 10 mg/kg/day showed no effect. 17 Thus, we designed this study to evaluate doses ranging from 5 to 25 mg/kg/day.

The U.S. governmental policies at the time this study was conducted required that human interventional cannabis research uses a study drug that is obtained from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) or another Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)-registered source. NIDA did not have a cannabis product with the desired dose of CBD that also had low enough THC content. Thus a highly purified form of CBD with minimal THC content was used for this study that was obtained from a DEA approved source.


Study participants

The trial was conducted at the University of Colorado Movement Disorders Center, an academic, tertiary referral center. Participants were eligible if they were 45–78 years old; lived in Colorado; met U.K. PD Society Brain Bank Clinical Diagnostic Criteria for idiopathic PD; and had resting tremor with at least an amplitude of ≥1 cm, that is, score of ≥2 on item 3.17 of the Movement Disorder Society Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale (MDS-UPDRS), in any limb while taking their usual PD medication, that is, while in the ON state. Participants had to agree not to operate a motor vehicle while taking the study drug, as required by the FDA. Key exclusion criteria included the following: cannabis detectable at the screening visit or THC detectable at the baseline visit; history of drug or alcohol dependence; use of dopamine antagonists within 180 days; and currently taking specified medications that are known to increase the risk of hepatotoxicity.

Written informed consent was obtained from all participants. This study is registered with, > NCT02818777, and approved by the Colorado Multiple Institutional Review Board. Study progress and safety were monitored by its Colorado Clinical & Translational Sciences Institute Drug Safety and Monitoring Board.

Study design and procedures

Participants in this open label, dose escalation study had a screening visit, a baseline visit within 3 weeks, a final assessment visit on their maximal dose, and a safety visit 2 weeks later. From the baseline visit, qualified study participants took a pharmaceutical formulation of highly purified CBD derived from Cannabis sativa L. plant in oral sesame oil solution (100 mg/mL, Epidiolex in the United States; GW Research Ltd., Cambridge, United Kingdom) with ≤0.15% THC twice daily. CBD was started at 5 mg/kg/day and was titrated by adjusting the dose every ≥4th day, by up to 5 mg/kg/day, until the maximum targeted (20–25 mg/kg/day) or tolerated dose was achieved. Participants maintained their maximal dose, as tolerated, for 10–15 days, and then stopped it the next day. A registered nurse or nurse practitioner interviewed participants using a standardized phone script at each dose regarding study drug effects and at 3 days after stopping CBD to check for signs of withdrawal. At study visits, efficacy assessments were conducted when the participants’ PD medications were in optimal effect, that is, when participants were in their ON state. To monitor study drug compliance, participants filled out home diaries and study drug bottles were weighed. Participants maintained the same PD medications throughout the study period.

Dopaminergic medications were converted into levodopa equivalents (LE), according to the accepted formula 18 (LE=immediate-release levodopa × 1 + controlled-release levodopa × 0.75 + pramipexole × 100 + ropinirole × 20 + rotigotine × 30 + selegiline × 10).

CBD analysis

Cannabinoid concentrations were measured in plasma samples collected during the screening visit, baseline visit (before the first dose was administered), at final assessment visit (3 h after the maximal dose was administered), and at the safety follow-up visit. A previously validated high-performance liquid chromatography atmospheric pressure chemical ionization mass spectrometry-based assay determined cannabinoid levels. 19


The primary outcome was safety and tolerability of CBD and was measured in four ways: (1) the frequency and severity of adverse effects, using Common Terminology Criteria for Adverse Events terminology and grading, at each dose level; (2) vital signs, orthostatic blood pressures, physical examinations, electrocardiograms, and laboratory values (hematology, complete metabolic liver function tests, and urinalysis); (3) standardized assessment tools on relevant symptoms of PD; and (4) the proportion of participants that dropped out of the study due to study drug intolerance.

The prespecified major secondary outcome was the effect of CBD on severity and duration of tremor: the change from baseline to the maximal dose in the total of scores on items 3.17 and 3.18 in part III of the MDS-UPDRS in the ON state if the participant was taking anti-PD medication. Item 3.17 measures rest tremor amplitude, ranging from 0 (no tremor) to 4 (>10 cm in maximal amplitude) for each extremity and ranging from 0 (no tremor) to 4 (>3 cm in maximal amplitude) for lips/jaw. Item 3.18 measures constancy of rest tremor, ranging from 0 (no tremor) to 4 (present >75% of the examination). Other secondary outcomes were other motor signs and the common nonmotor symptoms of PD. The other motor signs were evaluated with the MDS-UPDRS parts II, III, and IV, as well as the Unified Dyskinesia Rating Scale (UDysRS). The effect of CBD on common nonmotor symptoms was measured using the following tools: MDS-UPDRS part I, Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), parts of Quality of Life in Neurological Disorders (Neurol-QOL) short forms for anxiety, depression, and emotional and behavioral dyscontrol, the Neuropsychiatric Inventory Questionnaire (NPI, © JL Cummings, 1994), Scales for Outcomes in PD-Sleep Scale (SCOPA-Sleep), 20 Fatigue Severity Scale (FSS, © Lauren B. Knupps), the Patient Reported Outcome Measurement Information System (PROMIS) pain intensity and pain interference short forms, Impulsive-Compulsive disorders in Parkinson’s disease Rating Scale (QUIP-RS), the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS), 21 International Restless Legs Syndrome Study Group Rating Scale (IRLS), 22 and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep behavior disorder screening questionnaire (RBDSQ). 23

Statistical analysis

Proportions presented for each adverse event type are the number of patients with any instance of the event divided by the total number of patients. Mean severity and standard deviation were calculated by averaging all the severity scores for each adverse event type across all the occurrences of the event within each patient and then taking the mean and standard deviation of the patient means, weighted by number of events. The same procedure was performed on any event type and by dose for any event type and several of the most common adverse event types. Generalized estimating equations (GEE) logistic regression models and Cochran-Mantel-Haenszel statistics were used to investigate the effect of dosage on the odds of adverse events.

Pre–Post changes in the motor and nonmotor scores were analyzed by performing permutation paired t-tests, with a univariate alpha=0.05 considered statistically significant. The Benjamini–Hochberg procedure was considered to control the false discovery rate (FDR) at alpha=0.05.


Participant characteristics

Between October 17, 2016 and June 19, 2017, 15 participants were enrolled, one was a screen failure due to electrocardiogram changes, one withdrew consent before starting treatment, thus 13 started study drug. Safety data are presented on these 13 participants. Three dropped out due to treatment related adverse events, thus 10 completed the study. Efficacy data are presented on these 10 participants. Note that these 10 participants are also in the Safety Group. Baseline characteristics of the 13 participants that took at least 1 dose of study drug, the Safety Group, and of the 10 participants, the Efficacy Group, that finished the study are described in Table 1 .

Table 1.

Characteristics of the Participants at Baseline

Safety analysis group (n=13) Efficacy analysis group a (n=10)
Age, years, mean (SD) 68.1 (6.05) 68.7 (6.65)
Male, n (%) 10 (77) 8 (80)
Total MDS-UPDRS score, mean (SD) 39.2 (13.3) 43.2 (12.2)
Motor MDS-UPDRS score, mean (SD) 22.9 (9.3) 24.7 (8.9)
Disease duration, years, mean (SD) 6.1 (4.0) 6.3 (4.5)
H&Y, mean (SD) 1.73 (0.56) 1.75 (0.59)
MoCA, mean (SD) 28.2 (1.6) 27.9 (1.6)
Levodopa daily dose equivalent, b mean (SD) 398.3 (331.0) 443.8 (349.0)

a The 10 participants in the Efficacy Analysis Group are a subgroup of the 13 in the Safety Analysis Group. These are the 10 participants that completed the study.

b Levodopa Daily Dose Equivalent (LE)=immediate release levodopa × 1 + controlled release levodopa × 0.75 + Pramipexole × 100 + Ropinirole × 20 + Rotigotine × 30 + Selegiline × 10.

H&Y, Hoehn and Yahr scale; MDS-UPDRS, Movement Disorder Society Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale; MoCA, Montreal Cognitive Assessment.

Safety and tolerability

Due to adverse events experienced by the first five enrolled participants, the maximal targeted dose was reduced from 25 to 20 mg/kg/day. The mean maximum CBD dose was 19.4 (SD 5.2) mg/kg/day, that is, 1623.0 mg/day (range 552.5–3458.8 mg/day) in the safety analysis group and 20.3 (3.4) mg/kg/day in the efficacy analysis group, that is, 1731.4 mg/day (range 1014.0–3458.8 mg/day). The mean maximum volume of sesame oil taken per participant per day was 16 mL (range 5.5–34.5 mL) in the safety analysis group. The average length of time on study drug was 26.8 (8.0) days in safety group and 28.5 (3.4) days in efficacy group.

Adverse events, shown in Table 2 , reported in all participants, were transient and mild (1.17±0.49) on average. The adverse events reported at each dose are shown in Figure 1 . There were no serious adverse events and no withdrawal symptoms. The percentage of participants reporting diarrhea directly correlated with dosage, as shown in Figure 1 . A GEE logistic regression model found that each 5 mg increase in the dosage increased the odds of diarrhea by an estimated factor of 2.32 (95% CI: 1.46–3.69, p=0.01).

Adverse event frequency by dosage.

Table 2.

Adverse Effects Reported in Safety Group Analysis (n=13)

Adverse effects a Frequency, n (%) Severity, mean (SD)
Any 13 (100) 1.17 (0.49)
Diarrhea 11 (84.6) 1.24 (0.68)
Somnolence 9 (69.2) 1.10 (0.31)
Fatigue 8 (61.5) 1.17 (0.22)
Weight gain 4 (30.8) 1.17 (0.33)
Abdominal pain 3 (23.1) 1 (0)
Dizziness 3 (23.1) 1 (0)
Weight loss, nausea, anorexia, increased appetite, headache b 2 (15.4) N=6 (46.2%) 1.29 (0.37)
Vomiting, flatulence, gastroesophageal reflux disease, allergic reaction, spasm, fever, weakness b 1 (7.7) N=6 (46.2%) 1.13 (0.27)

a Adverse effects terminology and severity is as per the Common Terminology Criteria for Adverse Events. Regarding severity, 1=mild, 2=moderate, 3=severe.

b Individually each of the miscellaneous conditions occurs in only one or two patients, but when pooled for calculating the severity, 6 patients experience at least one.

There were no clinically significant adverse changes in other outcome safety assessments, except for increases in liver enzymes, especially alkaline phosphatase. Liver enzymes were measured at baseline and not again until the final assessment visit when participants were on their highest tolerated or the targeted dose. Elevations, shown in Table 3 , occurred in five (38.5%) participants, one symptomatic and four asymptomatic, all on 20–25 mg/kg/day. The symptomatic participant, ID 02, developed moderate anorexia, diarrhea, somnolence, mild abdominal pain, dizziness, fatigue, fever, headache, and weight loss; had a cholestatic pattern of liver enzyme changes; and his liver ultrasound was normal. All symptoms and laboratory changes resolved after discontinuation of study drug.

Table 3.

Liver Function Test, Final Dose, and Medications

ID Age Sex ALT (normal 7–52 U/L) BL, final, SF AST (normal 12–39 U/L) BL, final, SF GGT (normal 9–64 U/L) BL, final, SF ALP (normal 39–117 U/L) BL, final, SF, FU T. Bili (normal 0.1–1.3 mg/dL) BL, final, SF Final dose, mg/kg/day Medications known to cause ANY hepatotoxicity a Other medications
02 b 70 M 11, 150, 49 16, 58, 23 9, 206, 116 99, 503, 247, 103 0.9, 1.4, 1.0 25 Aspirin, celecoxib, rasagiline None
06 b 71 M 36, 64, 34 27, 46, 25 49, 101, 75 54, 81, 60 1.3, 1.8, 1.2 25 Acetaminophen, fish oil, lisinopril, rasagiline, sildenafil, vitamin B6 Biofreeze, glucosamine chondroitin, loperamide, magnesium, potassium citrate, vitamin B12, vitamin D3
08 b 70 M 12, 41, 9 17, 80, 29 29, 229, 229 12, 317, 182, 94 0.7, 0.9, 0.4 20 Acetaminophen, aspirin, atorvastatin, doxazosin, esomeprazole, meloxicam Carbidopa/levodopa, finasteride
09 b 68 M 13, 29, 11 19, 22, 16 46, 129, 68 108, 137, 107 0.7, 0.7, 0.4 20 Aspirin, ibuprofen, lisinopril, methylphenidate, ropinirole, selegiline, trazodone Melatonin, vitamin D3
10 b 68 M 16, 20, 12 15, 30, 18 20, 162, 62 75, 134, 84 0.6, 0.6, 0.6 20 Amantadine, aspirin, atorvastatin, citalopram, ibuprofen, omeprazole, Ropinirole Carbidopa/levodopa, coQ10, folic acid, melatonin, vitamin C
01 68 F 4, 8, N/A 17, 20, N/A N/A, 13, N/A 62, 53, N/A 0.4, 0.4, N/A 17.5 Escitalopram, fish oil, gabapentin, lansoprazole, lorazepam, ropinirole, prasterone Carbidopa/levodopa, CoQ10, garlic, magnesium, melatonin, MiraLAX ® , nystatin, senna, turmeric, vitamin B complex, vitamin D2
03 75 M 13, 14, N/A 15, 19, N/A 17, 16, N/A 33, 31, N/A 0.8, 1, N/A 25 Amlodipine, aspirin, hydrochlorothiazide, metoprolol, telmisartan Docusate, calcium, etanercept, magnesium, vitamin B12
04 74 M 3, 8, N/A 17, 25, N/A 20, 24, N/A 38, 38, N/A 0.4, 0.5, N/A 25 Diclofenac, hydrochlorothiazide, docosahexaenoic acid, propranolol, selegiline Carbidopa/levodopa, coQ 10, Heart Burn Relief ® , multivitamin, stool softener.
05 62 M 25, 25, N/A 21, 29, N/A 54, 51, N/A 53, 49, N/A 1, 0.8, N/A 5 Fish oil, ibuprofen (Advil ® ), meloxicam, olmesartan, rasagiline Albuterol, coQ10, fluticasone, melatonin.
07 74 M 3, 4, N/A 19, 17, N/A 13, 11, N/A 54, 49, N/A 0.5, 0.7, N/A 20 Aspirin, clonazepam, entacapone, loratadine, omeprazole, simvastatin, tramadol Carbidopa/levodopa, Centrum ® , ocuvite, omega 3, pramipexole, vitamin D3
11 58 F 20, 26, N/A 18, 18, N/A 15, 20, N/A 57, 63, N/A 0.5, 0.4, N/A 20 Estradiol, lisinopril, prasterone, progesterone, rasagiline CoQ10, magnesium, melatonin, pramipexole
13 73 M 25, 37, N/A 26, 42, N/A 24, 56, N/A 52, 64, N/A 0.7, 0.7, N/A 12.5 Acetaminophen, gabapentin, Ibuprofen, niacin/chromium Carbidopa/levodopa, coQ10, ferrous sulfate
14 56 F 4, 6, N/A 19, 20, N/A 11, 14, N/A 80, 84, N/A 0.4, 0.4, N/A 20 Conjugated estrogens, naproxen, nortriptyline, sumatriptan Bone Nutrient ® , carbidopa/levodopa, cellular vitality, diphenhydramine, essential oil, Food Nutrient ®

ALP, alkaline phosphatase; ALT, alanine transaminase; AST, aspartate transaminase; BL, baseline visit; final, final visit; FU, follow-up visit, participants had ALP checked until it was in the normal range; GGT, gamma-glutamyl transferase; M, male; mg/dL, milligrams per deciliter; SF, safety follow-up visit 2 weeks after final visit; T. Bili, total bilirubin; U/L, units per liter.

Three participants (23%) stopped study drug due to intolerability, one due to rash at 5 mg/kg/day, one to abdominal pain and gas at 17.5 mg/kg/day, and one, described above, to fatigue, diarrhea, and elevated liver enzymes, that is, hepatitis, at 25 mg/kg/day.


The mean decreases in the total and motor MDS-UPDRS scores at the maximal dose compared with baseline were a 17.8% (p=0.012) and 24.7% (p=0.004) improvement, respectively. Two nonmotor assessments also showed significant improvement, the SCOPA-Sleep nighttime and the emotional and behavioral dyscontrol short form. At 2 weeks follow-up, the total MDS-UPDRS and nighttime sleep assessments remained improved; the other two assessments did not. Enrolled subjects had minimal levodopa induced dyskinesia, cognitive dysfunction, restless leg syndrome symptoms, REM sleep behavior disorder, and impulsivity at baseline, and these assessments did not change on study drug. Table 4 shows the data for all assessments.

Table 4.

Change in Motor and Nonmotor Scores Among Efficacy Analysis Group (n=10)

Baseline, mean (SD) Final, mean (SD) Change from baseline to final, mean (SD) p a Follow-up, mean (SD) Change from baseline to follow-up, mean (SD) p a
Rest Tremor b 3.10 (2.23) 2.70 (2.31) −0.40 (1.26) 0.471 4.20 (2.10) 1.10 (2.56) 0.109
Total MDS-UPDRS 43.20 (12.21) 35.50 (14.31) −7.70 (9.39) 0.012 a 35.70 (14.97) −7.50 (6.74) 0.008 a
Motor MDS-UPDRS 24.70 (8.93) 18.60 (9.66) −6.10 (6.64) 0.004 a 27.40 (10.51) 2.70 (4.74) 0.188
H&Y 1.75 (0.59) 1.80 (0.89) 0.05 (0.76) 1.000 1.95 (0.685) N/A N/A
SCOPA-Sleep NS 5.70 (2.95) 2.90 (2.60) −2.80 (3.91) 0.040 a 3.30 (2.36) −2.40 (3.66) 0.023 a
SCOPA-Sleep DS 2.60 (2.27) 2.20 (1.69) −0.40 (1.65) 0.575 2.10 (2.42) −0.50 (1.84) 0.453
Emotional and behavioral dyscontrol SF 44.39 (7.91) 39.70 (6.75) −4.69 (6.14) 0.047 a 40.17 (7.08) −4.22 (7.24) 0.125
NPI 0.78 (1.20) 0.75 (1.39) −0.13 (1.55) 1.000 N/A N/A N/A
Anxiety SF 46.24 (6.35) 46.57 (7.27) 0.33 (3.57) 0.783 45.99 (7.05) −0.25 (4.11) 0.945
Depression SF 43.09 (6.03) 42.24 (7.04) −0.85 (3.13) 0.440 41.1 (5.85) −1.99 (4.55) 0.500
Fatigue Severity Scale 28.50 (15.54) 28.00 (14.49) −0.50 (11.46) 0.907 27.4 (14.91) −1.10 (9.85) 0.648
Pain interference SF 52.25 (8.63) 49.93 (8.99) −2.320 (6.008) 0.253 49.94 (9.16) −2.31 (6.99) 0.438
Pain intensity SF 44.64 (7.36) 42.78 (9.20) −1.860 (4.711) 0.311 42.96 (9.78) −1.68 (5.20) 0.469

a Paired t-test, permutation distribution; p-values of less than 0.05 were considered to indicate statistical significance.

b Rest tremor score was the prespecified major secondary outcome: total of the severity (MDS-UPDRS item 3.17) and duration (MDS-UPDRS item 3.18) of rest tremor.

NPI, Neuropsychiatric Inventory Questionnaire; SCOPA-Sleep DS, Scales for Outcomes in Parkinson’s Disease-Sleep, Daytime Sleep; SCOPA-Sleep NS, Scales for Outcomes in Parkinson’s Disease-Sleep, Nighttime Sleep; SD, standard deviation; SF, Short Form.

Applying the Benjamini–Hochberg procedure to control the FDR at alpha=0.05 found none of the tests to be statistically significant. The small sample size severely limits power for multiple testing adjustment.

CBD plasma levels

Three hours after the final dose was administered, the participant on 12.5 mg/kg/day had a CBD plasma level of 181 ng/mL, while those on 20 mg/kg/day, n=7, showed plasma levels of 376±78 ng/mL (mean±SEM) and those on 25 mg/kg/day, n=2, showed plasma levels of 340±4 ng/mL. Fourteen days after discontinuation of CBD, the values were 13, 24±5, and 39±14 ng/mL for the 12.5, 20, and 25 mg/kg/day treatment groups, respectively.


In this study five participants (38%) had transient elevated liver enzymes, one symptomatic and four asymptomatic, resolving after discontinuation of the study drug. In this study, the pattern of enzyme changes, particularly in the symptomatic patient, was consistent with a cholestatic rather than hepatocellular process. The drug may have caused idiopathic or bland cholestasis and, much less likely, granulomatous hepatitis or vanishing bile duct syndrome, since all liver tests normalized. Liver biopsy was not performed. None of these participants had significant elevated bilirubin or internalized normalized ratio, suggesting no change in liver function.

While liver enzyme elevations in a hepatocellular pattern have been reported with Epidiolex 16 on doses similar to those taken by the present study participants, the cholestatic pattern has not. Single or multiple factors, such as older age, having PD, concomitant medications, and relatively high CBD dosage, may contribute to this. To date Epidiolex has been used primarily in pediatric populations. Perhaps older age and/or pathologic mechanisms that underlie PD, for example, mitochondrial dysfunction, are relevant factors. Regarding concomitant medications, most of the participants in prior epilepsy studies on Epidiolex were also on valproate; and while none in this PD study was, they were taking concomitant medications with potential hepatotoxicity, as shown in Table 3 . Generally medications specific for PD have little potential for hepatotoxicity, with the exception of tolcapone, which none of the study participants was taking. There was no apparent diffence in the overall hepatotoxic potential of concomitant medications being taken by those that did and did not develop liver enzyme changes. Table 3 also shows the final CBD dose of participants, and again there was no apparent difference between those that did and did not have liver enzyme changes. Thus, it is unlikely that the liver enzyme elevations were solely due to hepatotoxicity of concomitant medications or CBD dose. Regarding dose, in this study liver enzymes were tested at the final, that is, highest dose, and not at lower doses, so the dose at which liver enzymes started to change is unknown. Perhaps persons with PD would have better tolerability of lower doses. Taken in whole, it is likely that multiple factors contributed to the liver enzyme changes that occurred in this study, with older age and relatively high CBD dosage being particularly relevant.

This was an open label study so no conclusions can be drawn regarding efficacy. However, assessments were done to check for hints of efficacy to inform future studies. The results suggest that CBD has a beneficial effect on total and motor MDS-UPDRS scores, nighttime sleep, and emotional and behavioral dyscontrol. Interestingly, the p-values on these assessments were still significantly or close to significantly improved 2 weeks after stopping CBD, compared to baseline. It is possible that CBD was still having some effect, since participants still had low plasma levels at that time.

A review of the literature of clinical studies of cannabinoids in PD shows that four randomized, blinded controlled studies have been reported, one Class 1 25 (according to the American Academy of Neurology Classification of Evidence for Rating of a Therapeutic Article, © 2014 American Academy of Neurology,, one Class 2, 26 and two Class 3. 27,28 Other studies were open label, 29–31 case reports, 32,33 or surveys. 34–36 These other studies mostly evaluated cannabis; one included CBD, 25 and three studied 99% pure CBD. 26,29,32

The presented study is the first study of the effects of relatively high dose, ∼20 mg/kg/day, purified CBD in humans with PD. There were three prior studies of purified oral CBD, with reports of effects of lower doses. A double-blind study in 21 participants using ∼4.5 mg/kg/day found no change in UPDRS and other outcomes, except improved scores on the PD Questionnaire-39, which assessed functioning and well-being. 26 An open label study in six patients found an improvement in total UPDRS scores and psychotic symptoms on ∼5 mg/kg/day of pure oral CBD. 29 The third study was open label and reported that four participants taking ∼1–4 mg/kg/day had improvement in REM sleep behavior disorder, that is, reduction in acting out dreams. 32 These three studies reported no adverse events. Other studies in PD examined the use of cannabis: two measuring the acute effects of smoked cannabis, total n=42, reported significantly improved motor UPDRS scores and reduced pain, 30,31 another administered a medium dose of oral THC (0.25 mg/kg/day) and very low dose of CBD (0.125 mg/kg/day), n=17, and showed no significant change on all measured outcomes. 25 Adverse effects of cannabis included somnolence, dizziness, decreased concentration, palpitations, and altered taste. Accumulating literature suggests that CBD may reduce psychosis, 29,37 which is a frequent debilitating symptom in PD.

Most previous pre-clinical studies using animal models of PD have focused on cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) agonists and antagonists, rather than pure CBD. The studies show evidence of therapeutic effects, improving motor symptoms, and levodopa induced involuntary movements, that is, dyskinesia. However, these effects were found with both CB1 agonists and antagonists. Furthermore, there is a dose dependent effect: low doses of CB1 antagonists have been reported to improve motor function and dyskinesia more consistently than CB1 agonists, while high doses of both CB1 agonists and antagonists have no effects or impair motor function. 38–47 Regarding CBD, a study using the 6-hydroxydopamine rat model of PD found that CBD, and also THC, attenuated neurodegeneration from the toxin, perhaps through antioxidant or anti-inflammatory mechanisms. 48 Another study with the same toxin inducing PD, but in mice, studied pain thresholds and suggested that CBD modulated analgesic effects by increasing anandamide, a major endocannabinoid, levels and acting on CB1 and the transient receptor potential vanilloid receptor 1 (TRPV1) and that lower doses are more effective than intermediate doses. 49 Evidence from pre-clinical studies to date suggests that there is more to learn about the effects of different types of cannabinoids on the motor signs of PD. 38–47,50–54

How CBD influences PD is unclear, as its effect in humans is complex. CBD has low affinity for the endogenous cannabinoid receptors, but it can upregulate the levels of anandamide, by inactivation of fatty acid amide hydrolase, which metabolizes anandamide. Equally important, CBD interacts with many noncannabinoid signaling systems, and these functions may vary depending on its concentration. 55 Activation of the serotonin 5-HT1A receptor may underlie improvement of motor signs. 56 Other theories involve actions at G-protein coupled receptor 55, 57,58 TRPV1, 59,60 and GRP6 receptors. For example, the G-coupled protein receptor GPR6 is highly expressed in the basal ganglia. Depletion of GPR6 causes an increase of dopamine. By acting as an inverse agonist at the GPR6 receptor, CBD boosts dopamine levels in pre-clinical studies. 61 A neuroprotective effect has been proposed due to studies showing anti-oxidant activity, for example, upregulating superoxide dismutase mRNA levels in the substantia nigra, 62–65 and through anti-inflammatory activity, for example, activating peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma. 62,66–69

The plasma concentrations of CBD in our participants were consistent with prior pharmacokinetic studies of Epidiolex. Taylor et al. 70 showed in a multiple ascending dose study of Epidiolex at 750 mg and 1500 mg twice daily (21.4 and 42.8 mg/kg/day for a 70 kg person) a tmax of ∼3–5 h after administration, depending on fasting versus nonfasting state. The Cmax was also dependent on the fasting state: 335 ng/mL when subjects were fasting versus 1628 ng/mL when subjects received a high-fat breakfast. In our study CBD plasma peak concentrations 3 h after the last administration of study drug of the treatment period (10–15 days) were 376±78 ng/mL (mean±SEM) for the 20 mg/kg/day (n=7). This is consistent with the Epidiolex PK study 70 where 290 ng/mL (in the morning, fasting) and 732 ng/mL (in the afternoon, not fasting) were reported in the 750 mg (∼21 mg/kg/day) twice daily group. However, relatively high interindividual variabilities were observed in our study, likely because we did not control for food intake.

This study has some limitations. First, conclusions about adverse effects, but especially efficacy, are limited by the absence of a placebo arm. Also rater bias can occur in an open label design, both with regard to noting adverse effects, as well as rating scale assessments. Note, however, that the data that showed improved sleep and emotional and behavior dyscontrol were collected from participant questionnaires, rather than a rater. Furthermore, the number of participants was small and those included had minimal dyskinesia, cognitive dysfunction, restless leg syndrome, REM sleep behavior disorder, and impulse control disorder. These important problems may be altered by CBD treatment, but they were not addressed in this study. Furthermore, efficacy did not achieve significance when adjusted for multiple testing.

There was not a significant change in the major secondary outcome, tremor. Tremor was chosen because of the author’s clinical experience: persons with PD in clinic frequently reported reduction in tremor with CBD, but rarely reported changes in other motor symptoms. Participants had to have a tremor amplitude in the ON state of at least 2 cm to be in the study, but tremor is variable from time to time and thus may be a less reliable motor symptom to measure. Quantifying tremor at home with a device may yield a more accurate measurement.

Further study of the effects of cannabinoids in PD is greatly needed, since presently these persons are trying products with various cannabinoid compositions despite little data regarding safety and efficacy. The usual dose of CBD in dispensary products is quite variable, for example, 2–200 mg/day, is much lower than that used in this study, and the CBD is often combined with clinically relevant doses of THC. Besides dosage, routes of administration might alter outcomes, for example, smoking or vaping would likely cause more immediate intense and shorter lasting effects. As increasing numbers of persons with PD visit cannabis dispensaries, they are presented with a wide range of choices. Randomized controlled studies are needed to confirm this study’s findings and to investigate lower doses of CBD, CBD in combination with THC at varying compositions, and the effects of routes of administration.


The authors are grateful to Emil Diguilio, Sarah Fischer, and Candace Ellman for their assistance in preparation of this article, to Nicole Gendelman and the University of Colorado Department of Neurology Core Clinical Trials Team for their help with all aspects of conducting this study, and especially thank the patients that participated in this study.