CBD trial — your questions answered

We answer your questions about the latest Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech project, a pioneering clinical trial which will investigate the use of cannabidiol (CBD) — a compound found in the cannabis plant — to treat Parkinson’s psychosis.

Dr Beckie Port
Oct 13, 2019 · 7 min read

There are currently 145,000 people living with Parkinson’s in the UK and between 50 and 60 per cent of them will be affected by psychosis at some point in their life, a condition for which there are no licenced medications in the UK.

So Parkinson’s UK is partnering with scientists at King’s College London and investing £1.2 million in a phase II clinical trial to find out whether CBD, one of the active ingredients found in the cannabis plant, is safe for people with Parkinson’s-related psychosis and whether it may improve psychotic symptoms.

Here we answer your questions about the study:

What is Parkinson’s-related psychosis?

Psychosis is a mental health problem that causes people to perceive or interpret things differently from those around them. This might involve hallucinations or delusions.

You can read more about Parkinson’s-related psychosis in our interview with the researchers at King’s College London:

What is CBD?

CBD is only one of 120 compounds called “cannabinoids” found in cannabis. It has mainly non-psychoactive properties and does not make people high.

Why is the announcement of this trial significant?

This is the first large scale randomised and controlled trial which will compare CBD to placebo treatment.

It will investigate the safety and potential benefits of the benefits of this treatment. Many of the claims made about CBD have not been backed up by placebo-controlled clinical trials and there are still unanswered questions about the safety of CBD supplements.

What is the Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech?

The Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech takes an innovative approach to accelerating drug development in the hope of finding new treatments for people with Parkinson’s. Just like a traditional biotech company, it takes the most promising scientific discoveries and develops them to create and test new treatments.

Unlike a traditional biotech, however, the investment is not tied up in bricks or people: there’s no large teams of scientists or expensive labs to run. Instead, the approach is to partner with institutions and pharmaceutical companies worldwide that already have the expertise, tools and infrastructure.

The approach is agile, and fast tracks the projects with the greatest potential to transform the lives of people with Parkinson’s. Right now, there are projects at the discovery, preclinical and early clinical development stages, all of which are chosen based on the needs of people living with the condition.

Why is there a need to work like this to create drugs for Parkinson’s?

The Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech was set up to plug the gap in the drug development pipeline. Whilst there’s no shortage of exciting research discoveries happening, and there are pharmaceutical companies ready to fund the large-scale trials needed to get new drugs to market, investment in early-stage drug development has been lacking.

At Parkinson’s UK, we recognised this funding shortage and set about finding an innovative solution.

What are the benefits of working this way?

The key benefit of the Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech is that there are no fixed assets and overheads that require investment or upkeep. Instead, we partner with institutions and pharmaceutical companies worldwide that have the expertise, tools and infrastructure already in place. This means that every penny of our annual £4m investment into the programme is spent on delivering results.

Using the biotech and pharmaceutical backgrounds of our in house experts, we’re able to carefully manage each and every project that we have running. If one stalls, we redirect the funding into one that’s more promising. With none of the usual limitations, we can fund multiple biotech projects at once. Right now, we have projects at the discovery, preclinical and early clinical development stages.

Is this trial a world first?

It’s the first large-scale clinical trial which aims to demonstrate the benefits, safety and efficacy of CBD to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s-related psychosis, characterised by hallucinations and delusions. This has not been done before in so many people.

Is the trial set up for recruiting people now?

No, the trial is not open for recruitment yet. It is scheduled to begin early 2020. We plan to recruit in the areas of London, Luton and Exeter.

How can people find out more about participating in the trial?

When recruitment starts we will share full information on the Take Part Hub on the Parkinson’s UK website parkinsons.org.uk/takepartinresearch

We recommend anyone interested in participating in the trial (or Parkinson's research more generally) joins the Research Support Network to stay up to date with all the latest news and opportunities.

How long will it take to develop this treatment?

This clinical trial will last three-and-a-half years after which final results will determine whether this progresses to large scale clinical trials.

We are a decade away from having these treatments developed, depending on whether the scientific results provide evidence of the benefits of using CBD.

Is Parkinson’s UK considering any other Virtual Biotech projects?

We now have 4 active projects in the Parkinson’s Virtual Biotech including CBD, with several other potential projects under consideration. Two are investigating potential treatments that may slow the progression of the condition by targeting the energy-producing mitochondria while a third project aims to develop new molecules that can both improve symptoms and slow progression.

You can read more about these projects on our website:

Are people with Parkinson’s using cannabis-derived products?

Between January and March 2019, we asked people with Parkinson’s and health professionals to tell us about their experiences with and opinions on using cannabis-based products.

We discovered that 26% had used cannabis-derived products (16% are currently using them for their Parkinson’s and 10% have used them in the past). And 59% of people who hadn’t used cannabis-derived products before would consider using them to control their symptoms.

The most common cannabis-derived product people with Parkinson’s used was Cannabidiol (CBD oil). People interested in using a cannabis-derived product in the future said this is what they’d consider using.

You can read more about the survey results here:

Where I can get CBD from?

Unlike cannabis, which is a class-B controlled drug and illegal to process, produce and supply in the UK, CBD is legally available. However, there isn’t enough evidence to show that any cannabis-derived treatments are beneficial and safe for people with Parkinson’s for psychosis or other symptoms, which is why large scale clinical trials are needed.

For now, we would encourage anyone with Parkinson’s who is considering using cannabis-derived products for their Parkinson’s symptoms to discuss all the implications with their GP or specialist before making a decision.

What’s the difference between CBD available on the high street and what they are using in this trial?

CBD products that are available for purchase are considered supplements and are not regulated in the same way as prescription medications, meaning their composition cannot be guaranteed. The capsules being used in this clinical trial are more concentrated and pharmaceutical grade.

Does this mean you’re approving or advocating medicinal cannabis use for people with Parkinson’s?

No. Although there have been some promising effects shown in lab studies, there isn’t enough evidence to show that cannabis-derived treatments are beneficial for people with Parkinson’s, and there are very real risks.

What we do have a green light for is more controlled, clinical and wide-reaching research to take place into its use, effects and long-term impact. This is what we are looking into.

We know that some members of the community have used cannabis-derived products or would be interested in the future.

For now, we would encourage anyone with Parkinson’s who is considering using cannabis for their Parkinson’s symptoms to discuss all the implications with their GP or specialist before making a decision, and also to consider the legal implications: cannabis is a class-B controlled drug in the UK, meaning possessing, producing and supplying it are all against the law.

Can cannabis be used to manage symptoms other than Parkinson’s-related psychosis?

Although there have been some promising effects shown in lab studies, there isn’t enough evidence to show that cannabis-derived treatments are beneficial and safe for people with Parkinson’s for other symptoms.

Will you be calling on the government to legalise cannabis-derived products?

Our policy panel will discuss the findings of the survey when they meet in November and discuss next steps.

This blog is not meant as health advice. You should always consult a qualified health professional or specialist before making any changes to treatment or lifestyle.

Parkinson’s UK

Get the latest research news, discover more about Parkinson’s and read about how others are getting involved. For information and support, visit www.parkinsons.org.uk

Dr Beckie Port

Written by

Research Communications Manager at @ParkinsonsUK. Ex-researcher in oncology and virology.

Parkinson’s UK

Get the latest research news, discover more about Parkinson’s and read about how others are getting involved. For information and support, visit www.parkinsons.org.uk

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