Parkinson’s and CBD: a learn as you go journey on life’s new normal
In honor of World Parkinson’s Day, a personal story on my father’s journey regaining a sense of normalcy in a world that seems to get smaller every day.
I’m not here to write about Parkinson’s Disease, you can google Parkinson’s and the hundreds of helpful resources that can explain what the disease is and how to manage it. However, for those that are interested in HEMP-DERIVED CANNABIDIOL (CBD for short) as part of a treatment plan, this story may help. If you google, “Parkinson’s and CBD testimonial”, you won’t find much which is why we’re sharing how CBD has become such an important part of our father’s Parkinson’s journey and daily routine. This is a testimonial on Parkinson’s and CBD which should be clearly stated that administering CBD is person specific as no two systems or experiences are alike and the clinical studies to date are inconclusive at best. However, there are promising signs that CBD may help alleviate the more problematic symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease.
My father is 1 of 1 million Americans or 1 of 10 million globally affected by Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Interesting that my father’s name, Jung Park shares the first initial and part of the last name of James Parkinson who is most famous for publishing “an Essay on the Shaking Palsy’ which established Parkinson’s as a medical condition back in 1817. Hence why James Parkinson’s birthday signifies World Parkinson’s day on April 11th. This is a disease without a cure and it not only impacts and impairs the individual but also loved ones and caretakers alike. Parkinson’s is an incurable degenerative disease and is the second most common neurological disorder (after Alzheimer’s Disease).
PD is a progressive disease (which means symptoms get worse over time) and the goal is to slow down PD from getting to that point. To continually strive to seek a better quality of life, while maintaining a sense of independence that is not heavily dependent on pharma medications with debilitating side effects. Side note: there is yet to be a drug or therapy that can be offered to patients without the onset of encumbering side effects which often times does more harm than good.
When our father was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s, he was prescribed Levodopa from our Neurologist, specialists and family doctor which is one of the main drugs used to treat Parkinson's symptoms. Levodopa regains “normalcy” and slows down the progression of PD but it does come with its own baggage including harsh side effects from nausea to depression (just to name a few). Although this is a miracle drug for many co-existing with PD, this medication just didn’t make sense to someone who barely took an Advil and craved a more natural alternative. It wasn’t until we came across a video of a retired police captain (who had spent decades arresting people for possession of Marijuana and was now being administered medical marijuana through a CBD oil) that we finally found some hope with a natural product and alternative my dad was seeking.
They tell you the first step to living well with Parkinson’s disease is to understand the disease and “work with your doctor.” But what if your doctor, or neurologist does not even want to talk about medical marijuana?
This was especially the case considering New Jersey at the time was not approved for medical marijuana and when it was finally approved, the lengths to apply for a medical marijuana card were challenging to say the least. When we brought up the idea of medical marijuana to our father’s neurologist, we were immediately hit with extreme judgement. In his defense, our neurologist had spent close to a decade disciplined in clinical based research and hard evidence. He was correct in saying there was no medical data to even back that medical marijuana could aid in Parkinson’s despite the few studies done and a viral video of 3 million viewers. However, we needed to listen to my father who couldn’t stomach the pharma medication. So jokingly, I became my father’s drug dealer as we were able to ‘send’ medical marijuana from a dispensary. It wasn’t until my father’s family physician saw the state he was in, that he finally signed the release for a medical marijuana card.
Smoking medical marijuana with both cannabinoids, CBD and THC (only purchased through dispensaries), although effective and provided some relief, was not sustainable in the long run. One of the most exasperating symptoms of Parkinson’s is what is known as “brain fog” or what my father references as “foggy brain”. The best way to describe this (according to my father) is that he is in a constant fog and spends most of his time trying to break from the prison in his mind and the cloud of confusion as he processes thoughts and tries to get through the day. Although smoking medical marijuana provided some relief with tremors and being in a state of calm, he did not like the intoxicating or mind-altering effects (caused by THC) on top of having a foggy brain. Not to mention, he had developed a respiratory cough. At this point, we didn’t need another physical challenge to layer on.
Trying to go “only natural’ and opt out of taking Levodopa was a choice (which we do not recommend) and this decision to rely only on plant-based alternatives had taken its toll. The symptoms of PD were winning and a desperate call from siblings to have my father come to California where we could speak to a medical professional about the different types of cannabis (whether it be medical marijuana (CBD + THC) or hemp derived CBD (CBD only and NO THC), proper dosing and what to expect, were all very critical. Cannabis in California is approved for medical and recreational use and there is an openness here to talk to specialists considering more institutions take a genuine interest in researching and clinical trials for CBD and Parkinson’s. Side note: It’s not a walk in the park, as the biggest obstacle for CBD clinical trials are the exorbitant costs associated on animal and human models, unlike the money big pharma companies have.
Despite the massive effort to get on a plane where anxiety and physical pain took over, my father finally arrived. I did everything to hold back the tears on his physical appearance. Of course, face time prepped us but seeing someone who was now just a shell of a person from the happy and healthy being he once used to be with an infectious smile, was difficult to say the least.
A loss of color in the face, “sunken” features with a blank stare, slow movements and barely responsive was just shocking. I would describe my father’s condition upon his arrival as a “walking zombie”. These physical traits are all too similar to many Parkinson’s patients and their loved ones.
Bring on the 3 C’s… California, Coaching and CBD.
Imagine a three-week boot camp if you will. The first objective, we met with Dr. Jamie Corroon, ND, MPH, founder and Medical Director of the Center for Medical Cannabis Education in San Diego, CA. It was the first time where we didn’t feel judged, we could openly discuss what was happening and seek an expert opinion on how to incorporate cannabis in my father’s treatment with guidance on dosing. Dosing is a common challenge with CBD as the advice is to always “go low and go slow” and find the right method to administer CBD whether it’s vaping or sublingually (under the tongue). Dr. Corroon was nurturing, compassionate, knowledgeable and instead of focusing on Parkinson’s, he focused on the symptoms. He immediately recognized my father needed sleep. A lack of sleep, tossing and turning, tremors, joint pain and nightmares are a result of PD. He also recommended we heal my father’s lungs which was a result from smoking and caused an upper respiratory cough. Dr. Corroon recommended administering CBD in the form of capsules that are measured doses of 15mg each, 3x a day. Talk about small world too, Dr. Corroon located in CA went to an all boys school just down the street from my parents home in NJ. A school my parents walk past every day to stay active. Why hello Universe, thank you for connecting us.
CBD has many delivery methods: cbd oils and tinctures, topicals and lotions, consumables (aka edibles), vape and transdermal patches. Now focusing on the symptom versus the idea that we could miraculously cure Parkinson’s was our family’s first step to acceptance and offered some comfort. After just a few days, we noticed a huge difference in our father’s overall mood. He was calmer, his muscles were more relaxed, and the tremors were not as noticeable. Being in a state of relaxation then resulted in a better night’s sleep without the intoxicating effects (THC) from medical marijuana. Most importantly CBD helps with sleep as he went from 1-2 hours a night to sleeping up to 8 hours. You read that correctly, EIGHT HOURS! Side note: my father takes a CBD + melatonin capsule at night, which helps when you’re having trouble sleeping along with a CBD + THC combined topical for muscle stiffness (another symptom of PD). We also tried several CBD brands and different products as this is also important in finding the right companies that are transparent and on the same mission to highlight CBD’s many benefits.
According to Michaeljfox.org, studies have shown whether marijuana and CBD can ease Parkinson's motor (movement-related) symptoms of PD, such as shaking and trouble walking and non-motor symptoms, such as depression and trouble sleeping. These challenges are also exacerbated with long-term use of levodopa and many years of living with PD. Overall, trials show mixed results (some positive, some negative), which leaves patients, doctors and researchers with insufficient evidence that medical marijuana and cannabinoids are an effective treatment for Parkinson’s… however…
… It is amazing to see my father finally get a good night’s rest as a restful night’s sleep can improve concentration and productivity especially for brain function. It then dawned on us that Parkinson’s disease is about seeing the whole picture from a bird’s eye view and attack the most bothersome symptom as opposed to trying to attack it all. A balance of plant-based medicine and pharma medication, finding harmony and the right formulation for both.
ProjectCBD.org has a very helpful article on Parkinson’s and CBD as they highlight the link between the endocannabinoid system, a biological system composed of endocannabinoids our body uses to help maintain homeostasis and balance, and targeting the problems of PD. They mention when you take CBD, you’re enhancing the function of the endocannabinoid system. CBD is one of many identified cannabinoids and has an effect by binding to the receptors in the brain.
Research on cannabinoids including CBD, THC, and THCV has demonstrated that cannabis medicine may help to manage PD symptoms. These cannabinoids have neuroprotectant, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which can be beneficial for managing PD, primarily focusing on providing relief for PD symptoms.
This in addition to (remember the boot camp?):
Regular exercise – especially a new form of boxing, focused on Parkinson’s where one of the world’s greatest boxers of our time, Muhammad Ali also suffered from.
A Healthy diet
And... LOTS OF LOVE + POSITIVITY for both the patient AND caregiver.
There are good days and there are bad, the goal is keeping up in the Parkinson’s race and finding the right pace. A simple way, we look at getting through this PD journey is understanding and accepting we’re running up a mountain. At first you don’t know where you’re headed, you wear the best equipment possible, you get your body in the best shape, you talk to coaches, you prepare yourself mentally and you start your run. Once you finally figure out where you’re going and adapt to the pace, you suddenly come to a new obstacle. This next leg of the race is a rougher terrain, one that’s uphill and the weather conditions have worsened but you once again adapt, wear different equipment and keep running up the mountain.
You find better ways to run the course, despite the new obstacles and continually try to find a calmer and more forgiving pathway (not a shortcut). Ultimately, it’s to get to the top and to embrace this new normal…
We don’t want to paint a picture that this is providing a cure, however, we do want to share that incorporating CBD oil in our father’s daily routine, has provided great relief to his symptoms and has given him the confidence to balance both plant-based and pharma medications. I am confident within my lifetime, we will find a cure soon, as the findings for CBD oil for PD are overwhelming but for now, we’re accepting and embracing this new normal.
If you’re interested in learning more about Parkinson’s and CBD, please find the resources below and here are a few products we recommend. Please remember, different strokes for different folks, no two systems are alike and go low, go slow and find what works best for you.
(left side – first 3x days in California where I asked him to “smile”, every single photo looked the same versus the right side – last evening enjoying a traditional Korean meal at a restaurant after 3x weeks in California). Side note: my mom says her cooking tastes better and according to my dad is the real medicine ☺
It is important to note; I am NOT a medical doctor. I am only here to share OUR journey as every individual’s experience will vary. Like trying CBD oil for the first time or finding the right cannabinoid profile, this requires some trial and error as well as seeking the right method of delivery and dosage. Please consult with your physician when it comes to incorporating CBD to treat specific ailments or diseases.
Written by: Grace Saari, Co-founder of Svn Space and daughter of Jung Park