Linda Ronstadt Explores Alternative Treatments For Parkinson’s Disease: Is Marijuana An Effective Treatment?

LindaRonstadt
Although she has been diagnosed only recently, Linda Ronstadt believes she had early warning signs of Parkinson's disease years ago. Now, she is questioning which alternative treatments, including marijuana, may help her. Carl Lender, CC-BY-SA-3.0-migrated

As she prepared to release 'Simple Dreams: A Musical Memoir,' Linda Ronstadt, 67, revealed to AARP that although she has only recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, she first noticed the symptoms seven or eight years ago.

“I didn’t know why I couldn’t sing — all I knew was that it was muscular, or mechanical,” the well-loved singer told AARP in August. Sensing the problem was more than age or normal wear on her vocal cords, she performed her last concert in November 2009 in San Antonio. Although she had been experiencing symptoms for some time, she said that when she finally went to a neurologist, who diagnosed her with the disease, she felt shocked.

“I wouldn’t have suspected that in a million, billion years,” Ronstadt told AARP even if now she believes her vocal difficulties were one early warning sign of the disease.

Symptoms

Tremor is probably the most well-known symptom of Parkinson's disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system. The disease develops gradually and over time begins to affect all your movements. The disorder also commonly causes stiffness or a general slowing of movement in those who suffer from it. Other symptoms include your speech becoming soft or slurred.

Parkinson's disease symptoms worsen as your condition progresses over time and although there is no cure, medications may improve symptoms. In rare cases, surgery may be performed to regulate certain regions of the brain and improve symptoms. The most effective medication for the disease, according to the Mayo Clinic, is Levodopa, a natural chemical that passes into the brain and is converted to dopamine. Over time, though, the benefit from levodopa may wear off as the disease progresses. Other commonly prescribed medicines include dopamine agonists, which mimic dopamine effects in the brain. Although not as effective as levodopa, they last longer. MAO B inhibitors help prevent the breakdown of brain dopamine by inhibiting the enzyme that metabolizes brain dopamine: monoamine oxidase B (MAO B). Anticholinergics help control the tremor associated with Parkinson's disease, while amantadine provides short-term relief of symptoms of mild, early-stage Parkinson's disease.

I’m learning from other Parkinson’s patients that there are different treatments besides the drugs they give you,” Ronstadt told AARP. “A lot of patients tell me marijuana is very effective for Parkinsonism.” Although far from abundant, some scientific research supports this very idea.

Medical Marijuana?

In 2002, Dr. Evzin Ruzicka, a neurologist at Charles University in Prague, reported his findings in Movement Disorders after investigating the effect of marijuana use by those suffering from Parkinson's disease. After requesting patients with Parkinson’s complete a questionnaire asking about their cannabis use and particular Parkinson's symptoms, 39 patients (46 percent) reported their disease symptoms were relieved in general after they started using cannabis. More specifically, 26 respondents (about a third) reported an improvement in tremor while at rest, and 38 patients (about 45 percent) experienced a relief of bradykinesia --- extreme slowness of movement. Relief of muscle rigidity was reported by 32 respondents (38 percent), while 12 patients (14 percent) said they had an improvement in levodopa-induced dyskinesias (involuntary movements).

Such a small study can hardly be called definitive, but the results certainly speak to those who feel their symptoms have been relieved.

Source:  Venderova K, Ruzicka E, Vorisek V, Visnovsky P. Survey on cannabis use in Parkinson’s disease: subjective improvement of motor symptoms. Movement Disorders. 2004

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