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Marijuana And Parkinson’s Disease: What New Research Uncovered

Researchers say a new strategy is ‘a potentially promising way to slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease and related neurological disorders.’

New research coming to light about how Parkinson’s disease progresses is helping scientists better understand the complex proteins involved. Just unveiled in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the research titled, “Translation of the intrinsically disordered protein α-synuclein is inhibited by a small molecule targeting its structured mRNA,” illuminates a barrier that could be put in place to prevent the progression of Parkinson’s. 

Knowing that Parkinson’s disease and dementia both could be caused by elevated levels of a-synuclein, a protein located in the brain, scientists thought on a much, much, smaller scale to find a solution. Instead of trying to manipulate the protein that could cause Parkinson’s directly, scientists looked to encode or program another molecule to change its behavior towards the protein.

Interestingly, scientists were successful when targeting RNA, a single strand molecule that encodes or programs the a-synuclein protein. Designing a small molecule that targeted the RNA to turn off a-synuclein, scientists also found that the compound they used was cytoprotective, meaning it could act as a shield to cells when needed. 

An exciting advance for science and Parkinson’s patients, researchers said, “This strategy is a potentially promising way to slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease and related neurological disorders.” According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, almost one million individuals will have Parkinson’s disease by 2020, more than those with muscular dystrophy, ALS and MS combined, making this discovery a fantastic step towards the future of care. 

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Also getting attention for its potential effects on Parkinson’s disease is marijuana, which is being investigated both in labs and throughout the country to see if it may alleviate symptoms and give a better quality of life to patients. The Parkinson’s Foundation recently launched an initiative to study their members’ views on marijuana and gain insight from the community on its effects. 

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Photo by Yuichiro Chino/Getty Images

Explaining the importance of the study, Parkinson’s Foundation Chief Scientific Officer, James Beck, PhD, explained, “When it comes to research, this is an unexplored area that has the potential to treat Parkinson’s symptoms.” Held after the organization hosted its first-annual medical marijuana research conference in March 2019, the foundation shared results from an earlier study in understanding how patients use cannabis.  

According to their study:

  • 80% of patients with PD have used cannabis
  • 23% of doctors received formal education on medical marijuana
  • 95% of neurologists have been asked to prescribe medical marijuana

Research in the past decade has showcased possible benefits and risks of cannabis for individuals with Parkinson’s and dementia. A 2015 study published in the journal Movement Disorders found no benefits for tremors but possible help for tics associated with the disease. The University of Colorado recently began research on the subject as well, helping Parkinson’s patients like Gary Griffin to raise his voice on how medical marijuana has helped him to live a longer, better life.

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A 2019 study published in Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience on marijuana and Parkinson’s may sum it up best: While Parkinson’s has many of the same debilitating conditions for patients, each human body reacts differently to medicine and more research is needed. With small sample sizes of studies and a cited lack of standardized clinical outcomes, many organizations like the Parkinson’s Foundation have taken to beginning their own non-scientific research, rather than waiting for approval from the FDA.

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