In the first of our two-part series of interviews with people with Parkinson’s, Ben Stecher shares his experience with using cannabis and Parkinson’s.
Ben Stecher was diagnosed with Parkinson’s three years ago at the age of 29. Having grown up in Canada, he was, until recently, working in China for a big education company. He is currently travelling the world on a mission to visit as many people, organisations and institutions related to Parkinson’s research as he can. Take a look at Ben's blog here.
What forms of cannabis have you tried?
I’ve tried CBD (Cannabidiol) oil, THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) extract oil, sativa, indica. You name it, I have tried it!
Do you have a preferred form of cannabis?
Yes, the edible form but only because it seems cleaner and less harmful. You’re not sucking in toxins or pollutants that might be in it. I use the oil a lot, as a THC extract. I put the THC oil into what I am cooking and it infuses the cake, brownie or cookie or whatever is being cooked with it.
Do you still feel the ‘high’ associated to smoking/consuming other forms of cannabis, when you use the CBD or THC oil form?
Yes, definitely, but there is a slight difference: when I eat it or consume it orally, it gives more of a ‘body high’. I feel a little more viscerally in my limbs and joints. I get an increased feeling of fluidity to my movement, but otherwise it’s the same.
How often do you use cannabis?
It depends, but I would generally say once every one or two weeks. However, if I have decisions to make I will use it – not to necessarily help me make the decision but to give me a different perspective on the decision that I am facing.
When I get stoned or high I often have all sorts of ideas that come to mind, and I try to write down as many as I can. I look back on them afterwards and I see most of the ideas are pretty ridiculous. However, there are usually one or two that do stick. Actually, the idea of going on this world tour originally came to me when I was high!
What Parkinson’s’ symptoms does cannabis help alleviate for you?
I wouldn’t say I experience vast symptomatic benefit from using cannabis; in fact, at the start of taking it, it feels like it has the opposite effect. I go through a kind of peak and valleys series. When I initially start taking it, my tremors tend to get a little bit worse – actually all my symptoms in general feel a little bit worse! Then they start to level off and, maybe an hour or two later, I do feel some benefit with tremor and rigidity.
The key point to all of this though is the reason why I say I use it for therapeutic use: it is not necessarily for symptomatic benefit or because it helps the underlying pathology of my Parkinson’s in any way. Instead, it helps me deal with the psychology of disease more than anything else. It puts me in an altered state of consciousness and helps give me a new perspective on life, disease and everything else that goes along with it. That new perspective – and the new ways of thinking about things – helps me cope with what’s happening to my body.
So after the initial hour or two of your symptoms worsening, how long do the positive effects last for?
For me it lasts quite a while and obviously it depends on how much I take. Usually I have an initial period of 30 to 90 minutes where I am zoned out and not at all attuned with the world.
I then go into a secondary phase where I still feel a little self-reflective and not entirely ‘there’. This period can last anything between two to three hours, but sometimes up to four to five hours. This is the time when I see the positive effect taking cannabis has on my body. In this phase I feel I want to get moving and do something. I am more motivated to do exercise or run or take a kick boxing class. I also find I have an increased appetite and want to go eat a whole bunch of food.
Every now and then this second phase makes me sleepy and all I want to do is take a nap. I think this very much depends on my state of mind, for example, if I am tired or if it is late when I am taking the cannabis.
How do you gauge how much cannabis you are taking?
When I consume it orally as oil, I try to stay between 50 and 100 milligrams. When I smoke cannabis, it will be five or so inhalations. It doesn’t take a lot for the effect to kick in.
I have noticed that the increased feeling of motivation and the need to move is heightened when I take cannabis orally. However, I have also found that I can reach a point where, even if I take more cannabis, it won’t get me more stoned or give me greater symptomatic relief.
Do you experience any negative effects from taking cannabis?
I am less sociable and less willing to talk to people when I am high. If I smoke cannabis it can irritate my lungs. I also find I have a lack of focus and concentration, especially when I am high. I need to sleep after I have been high – to be able to go back to feeling ‘completely normal’. If I don’t sleep, the lack of focus and concentration continues, until I have slept.
How do you get it? Is it easy to obtain?
It is definitely easier to get hold of in Canada. Technically it is just for medical purposes, although there are now dispensaries similar to liquor (alcohol) stores that have opened up all over Canada, especially Toronto (where I am from). You can walk into these dispensary stores, fill out a waiver form and get whatever you want.
These dispensary stores has removed the ‘sketchy dealer’ out of the equation.
There is still a lot of uncertainty around these stores – it is very much a grey area – but they are not getting shut down at the moment.
So you generally use cannabis from Canada, where you know it’s safer, cleaner and there is a legal way of getting hold of it?
Yes, but I obviously only use it while I am in Canada. I would never take it across boarders or travel with it!
Although cannabis is legal in Canada (for medicinal purposes and under certain conditions), does it worry you that is an illegal substance in many other countries?
Yes, it is very stupid to lock people up for it. That is a crime against humanity, I think. It is just another medicinal plant that we have access to and should have access to. It benefits some people, and it doesn’t help others. But everyone should be able to experiment with it to see if it helps them.
Would you like to see the law be changed for medicinal use of cannabis in other countries?
Yes! It goes well beyond just cannabis and includes psilocybin mushrooms too. There are more dangerous things that I think should be used in consultation with a doctor, such as LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide), DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) and other psychoactive drugs as well.
There is one doctor that I follow closely because he works with psychoactive drugs. He is a really well known UK neurologist called Professor Andrew Lees. He’s the most cited Parkinson’s researcher and the author of the book – ‘Mentored by a Madman’.
Have you heard of any long-term dangers of using cannabis for Parkinson’s? If so, how do you feel about them?
I have heard some things, but nothing from any credible source. So I tend to ignore them, just because they don’t seem to have much scientific basis to them. I talk to people and look at all the anecdotal evidence that is out there. I don’t see any harm that it does.
There is an argument that cannabis does (on some levels) stimulate dopamine production, and that this might put dopamine cells into overdrive, which might kill them. But that doesn’t seem very conclusive to me.
All drugs have side effects and ramifications to using them. So it is important to be mindful of the fact that everything you put in your body will have some sort of effect. But the question is whether it helps you out in your life or not.
What are your experiences of cannabis and Parkinson’s? Have you found it of benefit to you? Email [email protected] and tell us your stories.
Take a look at these articles, research papers and guidelines about cannabis and Parkinson’s :
Parkinson's Europe is sharing these article links for information purposes only; it does not represent an endorsement by Parkinson's Europe of any particular treatments or products.