Parkinson’s patients to receive cannabis oil in ‘pioneering’ trial to test drug’s effectiveness

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By Paul Gallagher

Study important as more people using expensive and unregulated CBD supplements that have not been monitored for effectiveness.

Parkinson’s patients will receive cannabis oil in a “pioneering” clinical trial that aims to demonstrate the benefits, safety and efficacy of the treatment to help with hallucinations and delusions, two frightening symptoms of the disease.

Parkinson’s UK said the trial is particularly important as an increasing number of people are using expensive and unregulated cannabis oil, or CBD, supplements that have not been monitored for their effectiveness. The charity is partnering with King’s College London and investing ÂŁ1.2m in the trial.

A change in UK law last year meant medicinal cannabis can be prescribed legally. The change was made after the mother of Billy Caldwell, who has treatment-resistant epilepsy, publicly defied the authorities to bring cannabis oil into the UK.

Since then more charities have begun lobbying the government for easier access to CBD treatment as doctors have been reluctant to prescribe cannabis-based medicines in the UK because of the lack of clinical trial evidence of its benefits and safety.

Affect of psychosis

The Parkinson’s study, set to begin early next year, is the first large-scale trial which will aim to provide preliminary evidence for the potential benefits and safety of CBD to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s-related psychosis, characterised by hallucinations and delusions.

There are currently 145,000 people living with Parkinson’s in the UK and between 50 and 60 per cent of them will be affected by psychosis at some point in their life.

The main symptoms – hallucinations and delusions – are typically managed with the removal of medication used to treat Parkinson’s.

If the symptoms persist, antipsychotic drugs are sometimes used, however this can result in worsened motor symptoms and side effects. In the UK, there are no medications licenced for Parkinson’s-related psychosis.

‘Bizarre feeling’

Paula Scurfield, 71, from Beckenham, London, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2014 after developing a very slight tremor on one side of her body. To treat the symptoms of slowness of movement, stiffness and rigidity in muscles and fatigue, she was given the drug Levodopa.

As a result she developed a common side effect called dyskinesia – uncontrolled, involuntary movements – and took the drug Amantadine to treat this, which caused hallucinations at the periphery of her vision.

She said: “I would see animals running past me in the periphery of my vision every day. At the beginning I thought I was imagining it but then I realised it was a phenomenon. I knew it wasn’t real but it was the most bizarre feeling and I felt a bit scared.

“My doctor cut the dose in half, which stopped the hallucinations for now.  The clinical trial is very exciting and if it provides evidence for the safety and effectiveness of CBD, it could benefit those affected by Parkinson’s-related psychosis.”

Unanswered questions

The three-and-a-half-year project is part of the Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech, led by Parkinson’s UK, which is plugging the funding gap in drug development and fast-tracking the projects with the greatest scientific potential to transform the lives of people with Parkinson’s.

The announcement comes ahead of final guidance on medicinal cannabis which is due to be published by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence next month.

Dr Arthur Roach, Director of Research at Parkinson’s UK, said: “There are many unanswered questions about the value of CBD for people with Parkinson’s, but this trial will help us to determine whether it can help with the debilitating symptoms of hallucinations and delusions.

“If successful, this trial could result in people with Parkinson’s being able to access a regulated medicine, rather than reverting to expensive and unregulated supplements that haven’t been monitored for their effectiveness.”