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Dr. Ethan Russo is a world-renowned authority on the medicinal use of cannabis; an academic researcher, author and industry leader whose expansive knowledge of cannabis therapeutics spans history, cultures and its myriad applications for improved health and wellbeing. A board-certified neurologist and former Senior Medical Advisor at GW Pharmaceutics, Dr. Russo is currently Director of Research and Development of the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute, a consortium of international academic institutions and private companies dedicated to promoting medical cannabis research.
In this interview, Dr. Russo shares an informed and insightful vision of how cannabis-derived medicine stands to benefit two of the more intractable neurological conditions facing older adults, Parkinson’s (PD) and Alzheimer’s (AD) diseases.
Abbie Rosner: If medicinal cannabis targets our endocannabinoid system (ECS), what is the involvement of that system in PD and AD?
Dr. Ethan Russo: The ECS regulates most physiological systems in the body, but above all the nervous system, where it helps to achieve the balance that allows individual nerve cells to communicate. The ECS is disrupted in both AD and PD.
Rosner: What is the research with cannabinoids and Parkinson’s disease showing?
Russo: In a mouse model of PD, treatment with nabiximols (Sativex®), a cannabis- based pharmaceutical approved in 30 countries outside the USA, resulted in improvement in dopamine neurotransmitter function, and reduced oxidative stress (akin to “rust” of the nervous system), as well as leading to improvements in anxiety and self-injury behaviors.
Clinical results with treatment of PD with cannabis have been quite mixed. Cannabidiol (CBD) helped a few PD patients with psychotic symptoms, and some with a rapid-eye movement sleep disorder. Observational studies with smoked cannabis, presumably high in THC, reportedly produced acute benefits on tremor, rigidity and slow movement (bradykinesia). The best results in PD were reported in a Czech study in 2004, in which patients ate raw leaves of cannabis for as much as three months and reported significant improvement in overall function, tremor, bradykinesia and rigidity, with few side effects.