maybe by using these drugs that boost levels of endocannabinoids, you will reduce the amount of dopamine drugs people have to be taking, or extend the usefulness of dopamine drugs, with less side effects," said Malenka during an interview. He was senior author of the Nature study.
If the combination proves to have a more potent effect than standard therapy in patients, "it might allow people to move better, walk better, play tennis better," Malenka added.
That would take clinical studies to prove, with the possibility of years of preclinical research to even reach the human testing stage. Independent experts said it was an intriguing new lead for a condition that afflicts 1.5 million people in the United States.
"This is an extremely intriguing finding," said Joan Samuelson, president of the Parkinson's Action Network, a patient advocacy group. "Science has been frustratingly slow in cracking the mystery of the peculiar pathology of Parkinson's."
One thing the findings in Nature don't suggest is that smoking marijuana might help alleviate Parkinson's.
Any useful therapy would have to avoid overwhelming the delicate balance of the brain's movement-control apparatus, Malenka said, boosting neurotransmitters only where they are needed.
Smoking marijuana, by contrast, floods cannabinoid receptors scattered throughout the brain with THC, the active ingredient in the plant that mimics the brain's own signaling compound. That has potent effects but there's no evidence it can help problems in the dopamine-endocannabinoid system affected by Parkinson's disease.
"When you smoke a joint, or have THC on the brain, you're activating these receptors indiscriminately, all over the place," Malenka said. "What you want is a more sophisticated and subtle perturbation of this endocannabinoid signaling system than you can get by smoking a joint."
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