Parkinson’s Disease


Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that primarily affects dopamine-producing neurons in a specific area of the brain. This condition is characterized by symptoms such as tremors, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination. 

As the disease progresses, it can also lead to cognitive and behavioral changes, sleep problems, depression, and other emotional changes. Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, affecting approximately 1% of the population over the age of 60. 

Despite extensive research, the exact cause of Parkinson’s disease remains unknown, and while there is currently no cure, there are treatment options available to manage its symptoms. 

This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of Parkinson’s disease, its impact on individuals and society, treatment options including the potential use of medical marijuana, and resources available for individuals with Parkinson’s disease in New York.

Table of Contents

Introduction to Parkinson’s Disease

Definition and Overview of Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic, progressive neurodegenerative disorder that primarily affects the motor system. It is characterized by the death of dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra, a part of the brain that controls movement. The loss of these neurons leads to the hallmark symptoms of Parkinson’s, including tremors, rigidity, bradykinesia (slowness of movement), and postural instability. The disease is named after Dr. James Parkinson, who first described the condition in 1817.

Prevalence and Impact of Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s disease. It is estimated that approximately 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease. In the United States alone, around one million people are affected, with about 60,000 new cases diagnosed each year. The prevalence of Parkinson’s disease increases with age, but approximately 4% of people with PD are diagnosed before the age of 50.

The impact of Parkinson’s disease is profound. It affects every aspect of daily life and can lead to significant disability. The disease not only causes motor symptoms but also a range of non-motor symptoms, including cognitive impairment, mood disorders, sleep disturbances, and autonomic dysfunction. 

These symptoms can severely impact the quality of life of individuals with Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers. The economic burden of Parkinson’s disease is also substantial, with significant costs associated with medical care, medication, and lost productivity.

Understanding Parkinson’s Disease

The Biology of Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease primarily affects the neurons in an area of the brain called the substantia nigra. Some of these dying neurons produce dopamine, a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. 

As Parkinson’s disease progresses, the amount of dopamine produced in the brain decreases, leaving a person unable to control movement normally.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of Parkinson’s disease is unknown, but several factors appear to play a role. These include:

  1. Genetics: Specific gene mutations have been identified that can cause Parkinson’s disease, but these are uncommon except in rare cases with many family members affected by Parkinson’s disease. However, certain gene variations appear to increase the risk of Parkinson’s disease but with a relatively small risk of Parkinson’s disease for each of these genetic markers.

  2. Environmental triggers: Exposure to certain toxins or environmental factors may increase the risk of later Parkinson’s disease, but the risk is relatively small.

  3. Age: Parkinson’s disease typically develops in middle or later life, and the risk increases with age. People usually develop the disease around age 60 or older.

  4. Sex: Men are more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than women.

Symptoms and Progression

Parkinson’s disease symptoms and their severity can vary widely among individuals. Early signs may be subtle and go unnoticed, often beginning on one side of the body and usually remaining worse on that side. 

Symptoms often begin with a tremor in one hand. Other symptoms are slow movement (bradykinesia), rigid muscles, impaired posture and balance, loss of automatic movements, speech changes, and writing changes.

As the disease progresses, these symptoms become more pronounced and additional symptoms may appear. The speed at which the disease progresses also varies widely among individuals.

Diagnosis and Testing

There is no specific test for Parkinson’s disease, so the diagnosis is based on medical history, a review of signs and symptoms, and a neurological and physical examination. A neurologist may order additional tests (such as MRI or PET scans) to rule out other conditions that may be causing symptoms. In some cases, a trial of Parkinson’s disease medication may be used to further confirm the diagnosis: if a patient responds significantly to medication, it is a strong indicator that they have Parkinson’s disease.

The Impact of Parkinson’s Disease

Physical Health Consequences

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder, meaning its symptoms continue to worsen over time. The physical health consequences can be severe and include difficulty with balance, leading to falls and injuries; difficulty swallowing, leading to malnutrition or aspiration (food or liquid entering the lungs); and difficulty speaking. As the disease progresses, individuals may become unable to perform daily activities and may require assistance with personal care.

Mental and Emotional Impact

Parkinson’s disease can have a significant mental and emotional impact. Many individuals with Parkinson’s disease experience depression and anxiety. Cognitive changes, such as difficulties with memory and slow thinking, can occur, and in the later stages of the disease, some individuals may develop dementia. The emotional impact of living with a chronic, progressive disease can also lead to feelings of fear, anger, and frustration.

Social and Economic Impact

The social impact of Parkinson’s disease can be profound. As the disease progresses, individuals may withdraw from social activities and experience isolation due to physical limitations and communication difficulties. The economic impact can also be significant. 

The cost of medications, healthcare services, and potentially long-term care can be substantial. Additionally, individuals with Parkinson’s disease may have to retire early or may be unable to work, leading to financial strain. The disease can also place a significant burden on caregivers, both emotionally and financially.

Treatment and Management of Parkinson’s Disease

Current Therapies and Medications

The primary treatment for Parkinson’s disease involves medications that increase the level of dopamine in the brain, such as Levodopa, or mimic the effects of dopamine, such as dopamine agonists. Other medications may be used to manage specific symptoms, such as anticholinergics for tremors or medications for mood disorders.

Physical and Occupational Therapy

Physical therapy can help manage the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, such as balance problems and rigidity. Occupational therapy can help individuals adapt to their home and work environments and develop strategies to manage daily activities, such as dressing, eating, and writing.

Surgical Options

For some individuals with Parkinson’s disease, surgical options may be considered, particularly if medication is not adequately controlling symptoms. Deep brain stimulation, which involves implanting a device to stimulate specific areas of the brain, is the most common surgical treatment.

Lifestyle Modifications and Self-Care

Lifestyle modifications can play a crucial role in managing Parkinson’s disease. Regular exercise can improve mobility and balance, while a healthy diet can help manage constipation, a common symptom of Parkinson’s disease. Adequate sleep and stress management techniques, such as meditation or relaxation exercises, can also be beneficial.

Support for Individuals with Parkinson’s Disease

Support for individuals with Parkinson’s disease can come from various sources, including healthcare professionals, social workers, support groups, and organizations dedicated to Parkinson’s disease. These resources can provide valuable information, practical assistance, and emotional support for individuals living with Parkinson’s disease and their caregivers.

Parkinson’s Disease and Medical Marijuana

Role of Medical Marijuana in Managing Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms

Medical marijuana, also known as cannabis, has been suggested as a potential therapeutic option for managing symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease. The cannabinoids present in marijuana have been proposed to help manage neurological conditions. However, it’s important to note that while there is interest in the therapeutic properties of medical marijuana, there isn’t conclusive scientific evidence that it is beneficial for Parkinson’s disease.

Research and Evidence on Medical Marijuana for Parkinson’s Disease

The literature on medical marijuana is incredibly varied. Some studies have shown positive results, but these studies are generally small and may be predisposed to biases. Most of these studies have not followed the clinical trial gold standard of a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial design. 

Therefore, while some results have been positive, the effects of medical marijuana are probably not completely understood, and more studies, especially those with more subjects, are needed.

Risks and Considerations

There are risks and benefits associated with the use of cannabis for people with Parkinson’s disease. Benefits may include possible improvement in anxiety, pain, sleep dysfunction, weight loss, and nausea. Potential adverse effects include impaired cognition (specifically in executive function, or planning and judgment), dizziness, blurred vision, mood, and behavioral changes, loss of balance, and hallucinations. 

Chronic use of marijuana can increase the risk of mood disorders, particularly among young users, and lung cancer. Therefore, it’s crucial for individuals considering medical marijuana for Parkinson’s disease to consult with their healthcare provider to understand the potential risks and benefits.


Parkinson’s disease is a complex and multifaceted condition that significantly impacts the lives of those diagnosed and their loved ones. While there is currently no cure, various treatment options, including medications, therapies, and lifestyle modifications, can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. The potential of medical marijuana as an adjunctive treatment is promising, with research indicating its efficacy in managing certain symptoms. 

However, it’s crucial to consider the potential risks and consult with healthcare professionals before starting any new treatment regimen. In New York, a robust support system and legal framework are in place to assist individuals with Parkinson’s disease, including access to medical marijuana. As we continue to deepen our understanding of this disease, the hope for more effective treatments and ultimately a cure remains alive.

Note: This article’s content is provided for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to serve as a substitute for professional legal or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or queries regarding laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult a lawyer, physician, or other licensed practitioner.