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Using Medical Cannabis to Treat Tourette’s Syndrome

Little is understood about the causes and treatment of Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurodevelopmental condition causing involuntary verbal or physical tics. Luckily, some early research indicates Tourette’s could be treated with some form of medical cannabis.

Though it is only one among a group of tic disorders, Tourette’s Syndrome (TS) is by far the best known neurodevelopmental condition. People with Tourette’s generally begin exhibiting motor and/or vocal tics between the ages of five to seven, and while most children grow out of the disorder in adolescence, some continue to show symptoms throughout their lives. Approximately one percent of children in the US are affected by Tourette’s, and while treatment for the disorder is available, current therapies are limited by significant side effects.

Researchers have been exploring the apparently positive effect of cannabis on TS since the 1980s. Today, medical marijuana’s rapid ascent into the political and legal mainstream has breathed new life into this investigation, giving many sufferers hope that some form of the drug might be used to alleviate symptoms without the harsh side effects associated with traditional treatments.

How Cannabis Interacts With Tourette’s

The symptoms of Tourette’s can include “simple” tics, such as grunting or blinking, or more complex ones, like jumping, twirling, repeating back other people’s speech, or repetitively saying a certain phrase. The tic most popularly associated with Tourette’s is coprolalia, a vocal tic that includes a crude or inappropriate phrase, though this only occurs among 10-15 percent of those with the conditions who exhibit complex vocal tics.

Because little is known about the cause of Tourette’s, treatment for the condition is varied, and each form of treatment comes with its own problematic side effects. Dopamine blockers and inhibitors are among the most popular form of treatment, but they are known to cause weight gain and repetitive movements in some sufferers. Botox can be injected into affected muscles in order to stop motor tics, though this can cause stiffness and is a fairly invasive approach for a chronic condition. Medications like Ritalin are sometimes prescribed to treat the ADD that is associated with Tourette’s, but this can have the very unfortunate effect of exacerbating tics.

Many medical professionals believe that Tourette’s is associated with a dysfunction in the brain’s endocannabinoid system, making medical cannabis among the most direct ways of approaching the problem that the condition presents. This hypothesis is strengthened by clinical evidence suggesting that marijuana-based treatments decrease Tourette’s symptoms without negatively impacting patient’s cognition.

Could Cannabis Help Tourette’s Patients?

Various studies testing the effectiveness of several cannabis derivatives have found evidence that the drug helps to relieve tics, premonitory urges, and comorbidities experienced by those with Tourette’s. One retrospective evaluation discovered that cannabis had decreased tics among adult Tourette’s patients by 60%, while another observed a significant treatment effect of THC, the primary psychoactive component of marijuana, on both tics and OCD symptoms for TS patients.

In spite of this promising research, however, much remains to be learned about the relationship between cannabinoids and tic disorders like Tourette’s. The studies cited above both were reviewing prior research, and new research must be conducted in order to definitively conclude anything about marijuana’s efficacy.

What’s more, little is known about precisely which cannabinoid is responsible for the observed benefits of medical marijuana for TS sufferers. Some believe that both THC and the non-psychoactive cannabinoid CBD are partially responsible for lessening the occurrence and duration of tics experienced by patients, while others believe that CBD alone could be used to treat the condition. This would allow patients to treat their tic disorder with CBD oil or pills without having to experience the “high” produced by ingesting standard marijuana.

Little is known about the relationship between Tourette’s and marijuana, but anecdotal evidence and some scientific research both suggest that the drug could improve the experiences of patients by reducing the frequency of tics and alleviating comorbid conditions like ADD. If you suffer from Tourette’s or care for a child with Tourette’s, consider reaching out to Lakewood Medical Clinic for a medical consultation. We can help you decide whether medical marijuana should be a path to treatment you should pursue and determine the best potential course of treatment.