On June 3, 2016, Muhammad Ali, “The Greatest”, passed away due to complications related to his lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease. Ali was known as the greatest fighter on the planet during his heavyweight-boxing reign, but he was famous for much more than his speed and agility as a heavyweight. Ali was one of the first boxers to move beyond his manager and speak directly to the media; at times boastful, eccentric, insightful, political, and proactive. His personality and intense political and religious beliefs were nearly as powerful as his boxing style, helping propel him into worldwide stardom after his 1964 heavyweight championship. He remains the only three-time heavyweight lineal champion from his titles in 1964, 1974, and 1978. He retired from his boxing career only 3 years later, in 1981 and was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1984.
Since his diagnosis, Ali used his fame and his voice to spread awareness about the disease and assisting those who suffer from it. Ali, and his family have been pivotal in raising money for research as well as setting up an organization called the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center which cares for people ailing with the disease.
Parkinson’s, like other neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis, is linked to excessive and repeated head trauma, an area that Ali knew well over his decades in the boxing ring. However, in his case his doctors believed it was caused by genetics or a combination of both. In 1980, prior to Ali’s retirement, his doctors reported finding a small hole in his brain’s outer layer after he had reported feeling tingling sensations in his hands and had noticed slurring in his speech. These are early indicators of Parkinson’s, indications of a progressively degenerative disorder that affects the nervous system.
Slowly the disease begins to affect all movements: walking, talking and eventually much more unconscious movements such as blinking and swallowing. Muscles stiffen and tremors progress to an extent that the person can no longer care for him or herself and will ultimately become confined to a bed or wheelchair.
Between 50 to 80 percent of Parkinson’s patients develop dementia, leading to memory loss, problems sleeping, confusion and psychosis.
There is no known cure for Parkinson’s, however there are treatments available to target the progressive symptoms and are primarily focused on increasing quality of life. Treatments typically include pharmaceuticals but can also include brain implants to control movement. Both can be harsh.
Alternately, there is growing evidence to suggest that treatments including cannabidiol (CBD) can significantly reduce the intensity of the symptoms and increase quality of life without the severity of traditional methods. This is extraordinary news for many patients, especially for those debating more invasive procedures.
Two of the main characteristics that make CBD treatment so positive are its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant qualities. It is able to limit inflammation within the body by interacting with the endocannabinoid system and thus the immune system. Full clinical trials are needed, but the initial research is very promising.
Cannabidiol has already been shown to specifically target some of Parkinson’s main symptoms. For example, CBD has sedative affects to deal with sleep problems; antipsychotic to deal with dementia or other psychosis symptoms; as well as anti-anxiety and antidepressant qualities.
Some Parkinson’s’ patients begin to experience REM sleep behavior disorder; muscle movement and active behavior while dreaming (typically wild and loud external expressions of nightmares). Treatment with CBD has shown to eliminate these behaviors; allowing its recipients to a better nights rest.
Also, Parkinson’s disease begins to chemically change the brain and potentially alter the parts controlling mood, emotion and memory. This leads to greater levels of depression among its sufferers.
Up to 60 percent of Parkinson’s patients may suffer from mild to moderate cases of depression, and as mentioned before 50 to 80 percent develop dementia. In one small study of six patients suffering from psychosis, CBD was administered and after only a month their psychotic systems significantly decreased with no adverse affects. Paired with CBD’s already anti-depressive qualities, a CBD treatment can prove immensely beneficial.
Finally, one of the most exciting developments in CBD research is that there is a growing body of evidence through small non-human trials that shows CBD in conjunction with THC may even slow the progress of the disease. As there have been no developments of this nature to date, the future is looking very bright for both the treatment of Parkinson’s symptoms with CBD and potentially the treatment of the disease itself. Thanks in part to the Muhammed Ali’s passionate advocacy for Parkinson’s disease; it is now getting the attention it needs from medical researchers around the globe dedicated to finding relief and a cure.