How A Bicycle And Medical Cannabis Transformed Life With Parkinson’s

Cycling with Parkinson’s Disease? Here’s why one man set out to bike across South Dakota with the help of medical cannabis and a supportive community.

May 29, 2017

It isn’t often that you witness an event that changes the course of your life forever. As luck would have it, Andrew Rubin, a documentary filmmaker, has witnessed two. The first was watching his father become vibrant once again after facing terrible side effects of Parkinson’s medications. The second was after meeting Larry Smith, star of the hit documentary Ride With Larry. Here’s how a bicycle and medical cannabis transformed one man’s life with Parkinson’s Disease.

Ride with Lary: Cycling for Parkinson’s Disease

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After a 20-year Parkinson’s diagnosis, no one expected Larry Smith to cycle 300 miles across South Dakota. Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a degenerative disorder that attacks motor neurons in the brain. If one thing is challenging with Parkinson’s, it’s getting muscle groups to fire and move at the same time, when you want them to move.

Riding a bike? For many with PD, it seems like an insurmountable challenge. The condition is famous for causing shaking hands and limbs, and coordinating muscle movements for basic activities like walking up a flight of stairs or reaching for a cup can seem impossible, especially for those with late stages of the condition.

Yet, Larry knew that movement was crucial. So crucial that he set out to show the world what his body and mind could accomplish. He agreed to play the starring role in an eye-opening film that shows the hope, challenges, and most of all, capability in a life with Parkinson’s.

So, Larry met with Andrew Rubin and Ricardo Villarreal, two documentarians hoping to capture Larry’s message on film. Ride with Larry was born.

Finding an alternative for Parkinson’s Disease

Cycling may be a central part of Larry’s recovery, but so was medical cannabis. After the first clips from Ride With Larry were released online, they went viral, receiving a few million views worldwide. In one video, Larry walks into the home of another medical cannabis patient with obvious difficulty controlling his arm movements.

Five minutes after just a single drop of medical cannabis oil, Larry’s movements calm down and he is once again able to walk and communicate with relative ease. Filmmaker Andrew’s father had a similar experience with the herb, which is one reason the Ride With Larry team decided to share the cannabis footage. Andrew says,

If you sat down with my dad, the first thing he’ll be telling you about is medical marijuana and what it did for his Parkinson’s.

Andrew connected with Larry while his own father struggled with Parkinson’s Disease. Andrew’s father faced a battle with Parkinson’s for over a decade and was one of the influences that helped Larry find medical cannabis. Earlier in his career, Andrew created the award-winning film Over The River and Through The Woods, which commemorated his Grandmother’s life with Alzheimer’s.

When his father was struck by a different kind of neurological disease, Andrew and family found themselves on yet another journey down the road of pharmaceutical cocktails and ineffective treatments. “His Parkinson’s was manageable,” Andrew begins.

There were moments where it sort of plateaus and then it kind of suddenly can tank and you’re suddenly in another stage [of the disease]. He was on his back in absolute pain and it was just the combination of medications that they had for him.

After reaching a low point, the Rubin family knew they had to try something different.

We didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t go to work, he’s an attorney. It’s just debilitating, and it throws your whole future into question.

An after trying cannabis? Andrew says,

My dad used it and it was night and day. He literally started crying after he tried it for the first time. It brought his life back.

Cannabis for Parkinson’s recovery

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Eventually, Andrew’s father was able to reduce the dosages of his regular medications and manage his symptoms with cannabis. Unfortunately, the herb is no miracle cure and every patient will have a different medical response to the plant.

However, it’s not uncommon for medical cannabis patients to report preferring the herb over prescription medications for Parkinson’s recovery.

Thus far, firm scientific information on cannabis and Parkinson’s is lacking. But, early animal research suggests that compounds in the cannabis plant may be neuroprotective in PD, which may be one reason so many patients find it to be a successful treatment.

Anecdotal evidence, such as the video of Larry, also provides strong indications that the herb can relieve symptoms in at least some Parkinson’s patients.

Like many other patients, Andrew’s father went through several medications before trying medical cannabis. Once he did, the herb quickly became a major part of his treatment.

Yet, the Rubin family was primarily left to discover cannabis on their own. While there is more information about medical cannabis than ever before, most patients only find the right treatment through a tiring process of trial and error.

One of the frustrating things about it is that no one tells you about it. No one talks about it. The medical community here, with my father’s doctor, it was really like a no-go subject. He had no idea about it at all, that it even was an option for him.

Now, more patients than ever have access to medical cannabis. Though, many still overlook the herb as a safe and effective treatment. After a stable cannabis routine, Andrew’s father began walking again and continued to walk up to a mile each day, a feat which would have otherwise been impossible.

Were the risk and experimentation worth it? Andrew certainly thinks so. After all, when you’ve tried everything, “what else is there to lose?”

Play it forward

When the opportunity arose to paint a new portrait of Parkinson’s Disease, Andrew took the bait. After all, Larry was a man with a mission and enough audacity to share his message with the world. As Andrew explains,

[Larry] had this idea, sort of a vision, that he wanted to spread that he found biking to be therapeutic. He had lost all of his mobility, and suddenly someone introduced him to a recumbent bike and it gave him his life back.

Between regular exercise and cannabis treatment, Larry has found a way to manage his Parkinson’s disease and continue to live a happy, capable life.

Ultimately, Ride With Larry is a film meant to inspire and encourage patients all over the world to lean into life. Andrew says,

I think reaching out and finding other connections with people is so important, rather than retracting and submitting. A lot of things have changed since my dad was diagnosed and when Larry was diagnosed, where you were handed a pamphlet and you were told ‘Okay, you’re going to be in a wheelchair in five to 10 years, and there’s no cure, no new medicines, and there you go’.

Only recently, and that’s what we’ve tried to explore in this documentary, [it has come out] that that’s not true. In embracing life and staying active, you actually do yourself good medically as much as you do emotionally and spiritually.

Andrew and the Ride With Larry team encourage everyone to play it forward. To get the full Ride With Larry documentary or to send it to someone you know, visit

May 29, 2017