Dr. Susan Fox is embarking on a groundbreaking study that looks at how cannabis oil could benefit Parkinson's patients. (Photo: Derek Shapton)

Dr. Susan Fox, Director of the Division of Neurology at UHN and the Krembil Family Chair in Neurology, is fascinated with how cannabis might benefit people with Parkinson's disease.

"The areas of the brain that are involved in Parkinson's disease have a high number of receptors for cannabis," she explains.

That's partly why she's leading a new study at UHN's Krembil Brain Institute to examine the impact cannabis oil has on the pain experienced by people with Parkinson's. Typically, the pain they live with doesn't subside with traditional pain medications.

"It's sort of an unmet need in the field," explains Dr. Fox, who is also part of the Edmond J. Safra Program in Parkinson's Disease and the Morton and Gloria Shulman Movement Disorders Clinic at UHN.

Dr. Fox is testing three different cannabinoid oils from the same manufacturer, all with different ratios of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), to see which combinations are most effective in treating Parkinson's pain.

Now that cannabis is legal, many patients have taken to treating their pain on their own, despite not knowing what doses are best or if they're even effective.

"We really don't have any good evidence to say that this works and that it's safe for people with Parkinson's," she says.

This trial will also let Dr. Fox and her team measure any side effects patients may experience. For instance, Parkinson's patients are at risk of hallucinations, so she doesn't want THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, to exacerbate that issue.

She hopes to publish the results by the end of the year.

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