Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease that affects 15,000 Coloradans. From feeling fatigued, depressed and anxious, to experiencing uncontrollable muscle spasms and tremors, symptoms can interrupt every aspect of daily life. Maureen Leehey, MD, has worked with Parkinson’s patients for over 30 years and is looking to the booming world of cannabis for potential treatment.
‘Let’s do the research’
Leehey, a neurology professor and director of the Movement Disorders Division in the CU School of Medicine, believes cannabidiol (CBD), most commonly known as cannabidiol (CBD), may provide some relief for patients. Cannabidiol (CBD) is a chemical component of cannabis that has anti-inflammatory properties and does not produce the high associated with marijuana.
“There is a lot of literature that suggests cannabidiol (CBD) might slow down Parkinson’s disease,” she explained. “This research is in basic science and in animal studies. We really wanted to look at how it could potentially benefit our patients. So we thought let’s do the research.”
‘Jumping through regulatory hoops’
Studying cannabis (marijuana) in a rigorous, scientific method is incredibly difficult. Due to its schedule, I rating from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a prospective researcher must navigate a complicated regulatory pathway to administer it to study participants. However, this didn’t stop Leehey.
“Once marijuana became legalized recreationally in Colorado, our patients started asking about how it could help them,” she said. “There was a lot of interest, and we wanted to look at how we could help our patients make informed decisions about it.”
After almost 2 years of attaining compliance to a seemingly endless amount of governing bodies, Leehey’s tenacity paid off.
“We were fortunate in that CU Anschutz provided us with the resources we needed to overcome obstacles and really make this study possible,” she said. A special ventilated room was created for the study participants to consume the marijuana-type study drugs on site, and a storage site for these products was bolted to the ground under the protection of a dual-key lock.
Following regulatory approval, Leehey then received the funds from a grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to start her study.
‘Less irritability and improved nighttime sleep’
Leehey was finally set to administer and monitor the effects of cannabidiol (CBD) pharmaceutical on Parkinson’s patients. Thirteen patients entered the study and each was given approximately 400 mg of cannabidiol (CBD) to start; dosing was increased as appropriate.
Overall, the participants reported they felt less irritable and that they were sleeping better, Leehey said. They even saw that some of their motor symptoms, including stiffness and slowness, improved.
Although the participants experienced some mild side effects, the benefits were clear. These outcomes, along with more anecdotal testimony from her patients outside of the research, encouraged Leehey to run a different study. This time, she wants to look at the potential benefits of a small amount of THC combined with cannabidiol (CBD) in patients with Parkinson’s. She is actively recruiting for this study.
‘Support for other researchers interested in cannabis’
Leehey wants other researchers at CU Anschutz who are interested in cannabis to have support in their endeavors.
“CDPHE gave out some grants for cannabis (marijuana ) research,” she said. “We came together and navigated this research path.”
The awardees have since created a group called the Colorado Cannabis Research Consortium, the C2RC.
“Anybody who is actually into cannabis study can be a part of this group,” said Leehey. “A lot of researchers get started and then run into problems. We have been there. We want to use this experience to mentor others and really get this research going.”