According to a January 2020 survey of people with Parkinson disease (PD), nearly half the respondents used cannabis for anxiety, pain, and sleep, but nearly a quarter of them stopped due to lack of symptom improvement.

Researchers sent an anonymous survey to people with PD to better understand that community’s attitudes toward, and use of, cannabis. Results were published in NPJ Parkinson’s Disease.

Researchers sent an anonymous survey to 7607 people with PD who had engaged with the Parkinson’s Foundation. They received 1064 complete responses.


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Respondents averaged 71.2 years of age and had PD for a mean of 7.4 years. Most of them (75.5%) had not used marijuana in the past 6 months. The most common reasons for not partaking include lack of evidence of efficacy, fear of side effects, and “other.” Respondents wrote in reasons such as legality of the drug, lack of a need, and plain disinterest.

Of those that did use cannabis, 24.5% reported they had used cannabis in the past 6 months, primarily for medical reasons (63.6%). Less than half the cannabis users said it “somewhat” addressed their motor symptoms (41%). The most common non-motor symptoms addressed included anxiety, pain, and sleep disorders. The most common motor symptoms addressed include stiffness and tremor.

Overall, 78% of cannabis users who sought non-motor symptom relief reported moderate or considerate improvement in anxiety. Of those who sought relief from motor symptoms, 64% reported relief from stiffness and 63% from tremor.

Limitations include that respondents were queried through a convenience sample. Most were white, married, and educated, which does not reflect the entire PD population. Cannabis users may have been more inclined to respond to the survey and report positive results. Also, the electronic survey format may have excluded potential respondents who did not have email or were less familiar with the Internet.

“Most of these [cannabis] users recognize that cannabis is not a substitute for their current medications and also see the limited efficacy of cannabis for symptom management,” the researchers concluded.

“Many people with PD justifiably are not using cannabis because of a lack of evidence to support its use with PD. Despite the lack of evidentiary support, it is a concern that PD cannabis users lack resources to guide them on the potential use of cannabis for PD. PD cannabis users identify several non-motor symptoms that may be responsive to cannabis and should be the target of future clinical experiments to see if this reported experience bares out in a larger population.”

Reference

Feeney MP, Bega D, Kluger BM, et al. Weeding through the haze: A survey on cannabis use among people living with Parkinson’s disease in the US. NPJ Parkinsons Dis. 2021 Mar 3;7(1):21. doi:10.1038/s41531-021-00165-y

This article originally appeared on Psychiatry Advisor