Parkinson’s and Medical Marijuana: Our Experience

Last year Dr. Jill Farmer, a neurologist and movement-disorder specialist, gave a lecture on medical marijuana (MM) and how it may treat some Parkinson’s Disease (PD) symptoms. She also prescribed it to Margaret. In NJ, to obtain MM a physician must certify that you have a “qualifying debilitating condition.” While the NJ law currently does not include Parkinson’s disease as a qualifying condition, chronic pain and migraines, which Margaret suffered from, are.

After getting her prescription, Margaret asked if I would pick up the MM for her. While the request sounds easy enough, having a prescription does not mean you can simply head to the nearest pharmacy to get it filled. Instead, Margaret had to first complete an application with the state to obtain a Medical Marijuana Patient Identification card. I also had to complete an application (including a criminal background check and fingerprinting requirements) to obtain a Medical Marijuana Caregiver Identification card. Each state in which medical marijuana is legal has its own requirements. In NJ, the information is here.

With caregiver card and prescription in hand, it was time to visit Breakwater Alternative Treatment Center, the nearest “Alternative Treatment Center” (ATC), which are the only facilities in NJ allowed to sell MM. All new patients (or their card-card-carrying caregiver) are required to attend a first time appointment. Since I did not want to wait more than a month for a private appointment, I selected a group appointment.

The ATC was located in an area populated with many large warehouses. The small sign and non-nondescript area made it easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. Upon walking in, I found a small, plain, white room, some chairs, with a receptionist seated behind a window. The door from the reception area to the dispensary was heavy and shut tight. When it was my turn to enter, the door unlocked. I walked in and was surprised to see a much larger, well-lit area alive with activity. There were many people looking through long glass counters filled with various products, questions were being answered, and people patiently waited on a small line to make their purchases.

The health consultant took me to a windowed-private office on the outskirts of the main dispensary area where we waited for another patient who was part of our meeting (the “group appointment” was me and one other person). After she arrived, Dani, our consultant, gave an overview of how things worked. She gave us printed material that explained the different types of products offered, such as “buds” for smoking and “concentrated oils” for direct application or “vaping.” She also gave us a “current menu” of products with names like Kush, Blueberry, Lemon G, Bubble Gum, ChemStar, Grape Ape, and others. We learned that these funky sounding names actually represented various strains of medical cannabis carefully grown and blended in their state-of-the-art facility (in other words, not the same as “street pot” where one has no idea what the blend may contain). She also mentioned that death from overdose of MM is virtually non-existent.

We learned that there are three main ways of MM consumption that Breakwater ATC offers: smoking, vaporizing, and tinctures. Smoking is the most common form and delivers an almost immediate response. Tinctures (or oils) can be taken under the tongue with an eyedropper and absorbed through the mucus membranes of the mouth. The effect generally takes more time, anywhere from five to ten minutes or even longer, depending on your metabolism. Dani said vaporization is most recommended because it has the immediate effect like smoking but without the health risks. She also explained that some strains could help with issues other than chronic pain, such as constipation, joint inflammation, depression, anxiety, nausea, and vomiting.

In addition to Margaret’s qualifying conditions, she also suffered with insomnia at night but could get very sleepy mid-day. Both important for the health consultant to know. We also discussed Margaret’s migraine headaches. After reviewing options and Margaret’s Parkinson’s medications, Dani recommended that Marge first start with oils. We selected two: one for pain relief, but also helpful for fatigue with an energizing side-effect for use during the day. The other for pain relief, but better to take in the evening as it produced a sleepy, sedative side-effect. Dani recommended starting with one oil. Then, after it is tolerated, to add the second. She explained the dosage and how to use the measured dropper. After Amy told Dani about her debilitating headaches, Dani explained that a drop of oil could also be massaged directly onto the temples to help lessen and even break a headache.

Dani also went over what seemed like common sense direction, such as using MM only at one’s residence and not in public places. She explained MM should not be shared or redistributed, and it should always be kept in its original labeled package. However, I was surprised to learn that you cannot transport MM over state lines, even if that state allows legal MM. In other words, if you go on vacation outside of your state, you cannot take your MM along with you.

Armed with information, Amy and I both headed to the dispensary to make our purchases. Because it was filled with people and we needed to wait our turn, we were able to listen to additional answers to questions and comments. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. Amy and I were also able to chat. Amy said she initially felt embarrassed about getting MM, fearing what others would think of her. She said, “I’m looking around and seeing people who are no different than me. We all just want to feel better and are willing to do what it takes.” Another woman, overhearing her, said “I use to feel embarrassed too. But, believe me, it is a godsend.”

I then delivered the oils to Margaret. She wanted to first try the evening oil to help with pain and possibly get a better sleep. Initially, she did get a better sleep, sleeping straight through the night without waking several times as she generally did. However, then she started sleeping too long and being more drowsy upon waking than she wanted. I called Dani, and she explained MM can remain in the system for 6-12+ hours, depending on your metabolism, and she suggested cutting back the amount and taking it every other day. We did this. Margaret was very pleased that her sleep improved, and she was very optimistic about using MM. The goal was to introduce the second oil, and eventually to try vaping so that she could get the immediate needed effect whenever needed. Unfortunately, that was not to happen. While Marge’s experience with using MM was sadly cut short, she did want the Parkinson community to know that she fully supports it use, believing it is another tool in the arsenal to help improve qualify of life.

If you are considering medical marijuana, please first discuss it with your doctor. Additionally, you can watch Dr. Jill Farmer’s complete lecture on medical marijuana on our blog here.
We also invite you to share your MM and Parkinson’s experience with us.

Gloria Hansen for The Parkinson Alliance

Medical Marijuana and Parkinson’s Disease

On April 27, 2018, Dr. Jill G. Farmer, a neurologist and movement-disorder specialist, gave a lecture on medical marijuana and its possible use in helping to treat Parkinson’s Disease (PD) symptoms. (Note: You an watch the the complete lecture following this post.)

While there is no evidence that supports medical marijuana is effective for treating the motor symptoms of PD, there is evidence that it is effective for treating the non-motor and hyperkinetic symptoms of PD.

While some may fear the “high” associated with marijuana and the stigmas associated with using it, Dr. Farmer explained that medical marijuana is not the same as recreational-use marijuana. Specifically, the chemical component that produces the feeling of euphoria (THC) is greatly reduced or eliminated leaving the component (CBD) that is more therapeutic. In fact, there are already Cannabinoid-based (coming from Cannabis, or marijuana) medications on the market for multiple neurological conditions.

How one can get medical marijuana, however, depends on if it is legal in the state where you live and what its requirements are. For example, in NJ where it is legal, you need to have a qualifying condition such as chronic pain or anxiety. In Pennsylvania, however, Parkinson’s itself is an indicated diagnosis for medical marijuana.

Once you and your doctor decide to go forward with medical marijuana, it is not as simple as bringing a script to your local pharmist. Instead, you first need to obtain a certification from an approved doctor that you suffer from a covered medical condition. Next you need to apply for an ID card through your State’s medical marijuana website. Once you have that ID card, you need to go to an approved dispensary to obtain the medical marijuana. You can have a caregiver get this for you. However, that caregiver will also need to be registered with the State, and this includes a criminal background check.

For more information on the requirements in NJ, see the NJ Medicinal Marijuana Program website. In Pennsylvania, see the PA Medical Marijuana Program website. For more information in the State where you live, do an Internet search on your State’s name and medical marijuana.

If you cannot view the lecture above, please use this link.

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