Involuntary vocal or motor tics sometimes accompanied by obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety and mood disorders—these are the symptoms of Tourette Syndrome. Unfortunately, there’s no cure for this disorder, which can put patients under an enormous amount of stress. Treatment options include behavioral therapies, de-stressing techniques and certain dietary changes. But almost all of the time these treatments are complemented by pharmaceuticals that carry debilitating side effects such as severe depression, weight gain and the possibility that tics may get worse. But new research has found that cannabis improved Tourette Syndrome symptoms without many of the negative secondary effects of other medications.
What is Tourette Syndrome?
Tourette Syndrome is a relatively common Tic Disorder. The Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada says that one out of every 100 Canadians have Tourette Syndrome. They also report that sometimes a person diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome can have a vocal and motor tic, but not necessarily both, and that symptoms can disappear for long stretches of time. Most people are diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome at 18 years of age or younger.
The cause for all Tic Disorders is still unknown and there’s no known cure for Tourette Syndrome in particular. But, a significant amount of research has been conducted on possible treatment options. Unfortunately, many of these include pharmaceuticals that are ineffective for treatment-resistant cases and can cause a laundry list of adverse side effects. This has led researchers to explore alternative treatment options including marijuana and marijuana-derived medications.
Tourette Syndrome Tics Decrease With Cannabis Use, Study Finds
The first of two recent studies researching cannabis as a treatment for Tourette Syndrome was a single-subject clinical trial performed in 2016. The goal of this study was to evaluate whether cannabis could be an effective therapy for those with treatment-resistant cases.
The subject of the study was treated with 10.8 mg of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and 10 mg of cannabidiol (CBD) twice daily via an oral cannabis spray called Sativex. The individual was assessed prior to treatment and then again at one, two and four weeks. During each assessment, the subject completed the Yale Global Tic Severity Scale, the most widely used scale to quantify the severity of tics.
Researchers also recorded each session on video. Assessors who were blind to the stage of treatment evaluated the videos according to the Original Rush Videotape Rating scale, an objective rating system used for tic assessment.
In both measures, the frequency and severity of the subject’s tics showed a marked improvement without any serious adverse effects or impairment on neuropsychological performance. Researchers concluded, “Cannabis can be an effective treatment for Tourette Syndrome and should be considered for those with treatment-resistant cases.”
2017 Study Says Inhaled Cannabis Is Possible Tourette Syndrome Treatment
Meanwhile, a 2017 study conducted by the University of Toronto and published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences concluded with similar results.
In this study, 19 adults with Tourette Syndrome were treated using inhaled cannabis. All participants experienced “clinically significant” symptom relief from obsessive-compulsive behavior, anxiety, irritability, impulsivity and rage. Nearly every participant (18 of 19) was at least “much improved” and showed up to a 60% decrease in tic severity.
Most subjects experienced some mild side effects, which can be expected, but all patients were able to tolerate those side effects well.
Overall, researchers concluded, “Cannabis seems to be a promising treatment option for tics and associated symptoms.” In addition, the University of Toronto researchers referenced the 2016 Sativex study, saying that Tourette Syndrome patients who use inhaled cannabis often see better results and greater overall improvement.
Why Is Marijuana an Effective Treatment for Tourette Syndrome?
Since the cause of Tourette Syndrome is still unknown, it’s difficult for researchers to figure out exactly why cannabis is so effective at treating the disorder. Some researchers suggest that THC’s ability to activate the CB1 receptors in the endocannabinoid system, which play a vital role in regulating the central nervous system, could have something to do with its success in treating spasms.
If you or someone you know is interested in treating Tourette Syndrome with cannabis, a good first step may be to talk to your doctor about Sativex. If that’s not possible and you want to try a more natural cannabis treatment, look to the scientific studies above. They suggest the best ingestion method is inhaled marijuana, so that means selecting a vape pen or another smoking option. Strain preference comes down to personal choice, but researchers used THC and CBD in ratios close to 1:1. That’s a good starting place and can be adjusted from there.
Photo credit: Kyle Broad