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Medicinal Cannabis and Parkinson’s Disease Guide Published by the Michael J Fox Foundation

In March 2022, the Michael J Fox Foundation published a guide for Medicinal Cannabis and Parkinson’s disease (PD). Michael J Fox, the iconic actor best known for his role as Marty McFly role in the Back to the Future series, disclosed his 1991 Parkinson’s diagnosis, at age 29. His Foundation, launched 22 years ago, is actively involved in researching the disease and new therapies.

The guide was put together after a survey of nearly 1900 people with PD, conducted through the Foundation, shed more light about their experiences with cannabis. The results have been published in Movement Disorders Clinical Practice journal and showed that, among survey participants:

  • More than 70 percent of people were taking cannabis. The most common way was by mouth, once a day
  • About 13 percent of people did not know what type of cannabis they were taking
  • Among those who did, 54.6% took higher cannabidiol (CBD) formulations, 30.2% higher tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and 15 % took similar amounts of CBD and THC
  • Many reported small improvements in pain, anxiety, agitation or sleep
  • The most common side effects included dry mouth, dizziness, and memory and thinking (cognitive) changes. People taking higher THC reported more side effects like dry mouth, dizziness, cognition and balance but also more benefit especially for nausea, depression, tremor, poor sleep, agitation, decreased appetite, anxiety, sexual dysfunction and pain. Higher THC group were also more likely to report reductions in prescription medications with cannabis than the ones in higher CBD group
  • Likelihood of symptomatic benefit was not the main driver in product selection, with avoidance of unwanted side effects being considered more important
  • Thirty percent of people did not inform their doctor about cannabis intake
  • While clinical trials have not yet proven safety or benefit, PD patients are trying cannabis as an alternative treatment option.

Without specific recommendations on what type or dose to take for which symptoms, patients and their doctors are currently figuring out what works best through their experiences in the “real world.” In New Zealand, medicinal cannabis is an unregistered prescription medicine. For more information, access the survey results here.