Parkinson's goes to pot

By Abby Gillies

Cannabis could be one of the triggers of Parkinson's disease, but the illegal drug may also be a huge help for those who suffer from the affliction that is best known for striking Hollywood actor Michael J. Fox.

An Auckland-based study is to investigate the drug as a possible cause and treatment for Parkinson's.

The findings could offer new hope to Fox and others worldwide who suffer from what is known as the saddest of diseases.

The internationally-acclaimed actor was diagnosed with Parkinson's when he was 30 after noticing that his little finger was shaking. In the 18 years since, he has spoken about the challenge of living with the condition.

Peter Freestone, of Auckland University, has been awarded almost $172,000 to carry out the two-year project.

The study would "provide much-needed information for evaluating the therapeutic potential of these substances for Parkinson's disease", said Freestone in his funding application.

It is one of 10 projects awarded grants from the Auckland Medical Research Foundation totalling more than $1.8 million.

Parkinson's is a progressive brain disorder affecting 10,000 New Zealanders that is characterised by tremors, stiffness, rigidity and slowness of movement.

Auckland's Roger Skene, 65, who was diagnosed four years ago, supported using cannabis as a medication. "I'm generally not in favour of cannabis but, from a treatment point of view, if it helps, I'm all for it," he said.

The retired accountant had been finding simple tasks such as doing up buttons more difficult than usual when he decided to contact his doctor.

A specialist diagnosed him with Parkinson's.

"It was a shock, even though we knew there was something wrong."

As his condition has progressed, Skene has lost his sense of smell, developed tremors and struggles to deal with unexpected situations.

He manages the condition with medication four times a day but it has been hard to get used to a life "where you have to manually programme what you're going to do before you do it.

"I'm hopeful some day there will be something I can take that will cure me."

- Herald on Sunday

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