Studies Show Cannabis May Help with Tourette Syndrome

Tourette Syndrome is a disorder with no known cause and, unfortunately, no cure. Doctors often prescribe pharmaceuticals with debilitating side effects to treat it, but new research has found that cannabis improved symptoms without many of the negative secondary effects of other medications.


Tourette Syndrome is a relatively common Tic Disorder. According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately one in 360 children between the ages of six and 17 are diagnosed with the disorder. The Tourette Association of America reports that those diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome have had “at least two motor tics and at least one vocal or phonic tic in some combination over the course of more than a year.”

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 like weight gain and social withdrawal. This has led researchers to explore alternative treatment options.


Tourette Syndrome Tics Decrease with Cannabis Use

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 THC and 10 mg of 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.”

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) were 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 and other symptoms.

What States Cover Tourette Syndrome?

Currently, only a few medical marijuana states specifically list Tourette Syndrome as a qualifying condition. These states are: Arkansas, Illinois, Minnesota and Ohio. Quite a few more allow medical marijuana for the broad condition of “spasms” that typically contain those associated with Tourette Syndrome. These states include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington.

If you live in one of these states and have access to medical cannabis, it may be time to explore it as a potential option to help alleviate the symptoms of Tourette Syndrome and other Tic Disorders.

Photo credit: @kylebroad

If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 post. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it’s easy, private and 100% online.


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