Guide to Treating Tourettes Syndrome and Cannabis
Tourette syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, stereotyped, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics. As a result of the current treatment for TS being unsatisfactory to a number of people, many are choosing to treat Tourette syndrome with cannabis as an alternative. Not only are they seeing that cannabis can calm their tics but it also has an impact on other symptoms as well as comorbid conditions.
Stereotypes, particularly from the media, often lead people to believe that Tourette’s is characterized by vocalizing profanities. While this is a part of the experience of tics for some individuals with TS, not everyone experiences these types of tics and there is more to Tourette’s than this.
Tourette syndrome is typically diagnosed in children around the age of six years old and affects approximately 0.6% of children. Though tics tend to decrease in adolescents in approximately 46% of children (source) and may completely disappear for some.
What is Tourette Syndrome (TS)?
Tourette syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, stereotyped, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics. Tics are not generally easily controlled. They often look like repeated eye blinking, shoulder shrugging, or blurting out offensive words or unusual sounds.
Tics are categorized in a number of ways; as simple or complex and as motor (movement) or vocal (sound). And they can range from mild to severe; where severe tics can interrupt one’s ability to communicate, their daily functioning, as well as their overall quality of life.
Simple tics are sudden, brief and repetitive tics involve a limited number of muscle groups. For motor tics, these typically include eye blinking, head jerking, shoulder shrugging, eyes darting, nosing twitching, and mouth movements. For vocal tics, these typically include; grunting, coughing, throat clearing, and barking.
Complex tics are distinct, coordinated patterns of movements involve several muscle groups. For motor tics, these typically include; touching or smelling objects, stepping in certain patterns, bending or twisting, and hopping. For vocal tics, these typically include; repeating one’s own words or phrases, repeating others’ words or phrases, and using vulgar, obscene or swear words.
Tourette Syndrome is often associated with other mental, behavioural or developmental disorders such as; ADHD, OCD, Autism, Anxiety Disorders and Depression. The CDC estimates that approximately 86% of children diagnosed with Tourettes also have one of these other disorders and more than one-third of children with TS are diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Traditional Treatment for Tourette Syndrome
There is no cure for Tourette Syndrome, so treatment typically focuses on controlling tics that interfere with daily functioning. Treatment is a combination of medications and therapy. Typically behavioural therapy focuses on identifying the urge to engage in movement or vocalizations related to tics and channelling those urges into other behaviours.
Tourette Syndrome and the Endocannabinoid System
The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is the system that helps to maintain homeostasis in the body through regulating important functions like, mood, sleep, appetite and other critical functions. It’s comprised of three parts; endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes
Cannabinoid receptors (CB1) are expressed with high density in the basal ganglia indicating the important role of the endocannabinoid system in the control of movements.
Treating Tourette Syndrome with Cannabis
Anecdotal evidence from individuals with TS provides support for treating Tourette Syndrome with cannabis both to manage tics and other symptoms. Scientific evidence is beginning to catch up.
A 1998 study, observed that 17 out of 64 TS patients reported use of cannabis and that 14 of those experienced partial or total relief of tics following its use. And a 2013 study supports these results, that preliminary evidence suggests the effective use of cannabis for reducing the impacts of tics related to TS.
Researchers are still unsure of the mechanisms involved in treating TS with cannabis but many believe it is similar to that of dystonia-inducing conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease.
We discuss Parkinson’s Disease and cannabis in-depth here.
Other evidence suggests that cannabis may enhance the effectiveness of medications currently used in the treatment of TS. The most common and most reportedly effective medication are dopamine receptor antagonists. Animal studies suggest that cannabinoid receptor agonists might enhance the effect of dopamine receptor antagonists (neuroleptics, NL) in hyperkinetic movement disorders such as TS.
OCD and Tourette Syndrome
Tourette Syndrome is commonly diagnosed alongside obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Not only can cannabis calm tics associated with TS but has been observed as a potential treatment for OCD. Treating all the symptoms a person experiences leads to greater overall improvement and a better quality of life.
We discuss Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and cannabis in-depth here.
Tourette Syndrome Anxiety and ADHD
Anxiety is often associated with Tourette Syndrome. Individuals who experience tics may have a diagnosable anxiety disorder while others may experience anxiety surrounding others perception of their tics. Many people support the use of cannabis, particularly CBD, for treating symptoms of anxiety. Cannabis has also shown promise in its effectiveness in reducing anxiety in social situations which could improve the overall quality of life for adults with TS and social anxiety.
We discuss Anxiety and cannabis in-depth here.
Tourette syndrome is also often associated with ADHD, particularly in children. It may seem counterintuitive to think that cannabis could help with attention given its reputation, but many individuals with ADHD prefer the use of cannabis over traditional treatment. Although there are not yet and randomized clinical trials on the effects of cannabis and CBD preliminary evidence suggests that cannabis impacts the symptoms of ADHD through the manipulation of dopamine pathways.
We discuss ADHD and cannabis in-depth here.
Cannabis for Children Under 19
Tourette Syndrome impacts children under the age of nineteen years old and some parents report not getting the medical support they had hoped for from their doctors. Therefore some parents are turning to CBD as a treatment for their children.
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario advises doctors to “not prescribe marijuana to patients under the age of 25 unless all other conventional therapeutic options have been attempted and have failed to alleviate the patient’s symptoms.” Despite this, many doctors continue to prescribe anyway and see positive results.
Dr. Michael Verbora, medical director at Canabo Medical Clinic in Surrey, BC, says he has seen “tremendous” success with cannabis therapy. He currently has 10 pediatric patients with Autism who are using this treatment with his youngest being seven years old.
As the research catches up with the results we will see more and more doctors supporting the use of CBD for children in controlled situations.
Some people worry about the side effects and possible longer-term effects of this treatment. This is a real concern considering the lack of clinical trials. Though, Dr. Verbora says, “the worst side effects I’m seeing are a little bit of sedation, but it’s typically nowhere near the traditional pharmaceuticals these same patients would use for their behaviours anyway.” Generally, CBD is not used as the first treatment method but if the child is resistant to other treatments doctors, like Dr. Verbora, use CBD (source).
CBD Consumption for Children
Of course, when talking about treating children with CBD we are not talking about children smoking cannabis. But there are many different ways of consuming CBD other than smoking. These include; tinctures dropped underneath the tongue, and other products added to your favourite drinks or favourite meal.
Check out some of these links to see these types of products and learn more about the different ways to add CBD into your treatment plan:
You can also make your own edibles at home with CBD Coconut Oil. Works great at a substitute for butter in baking or add it to many of your favourite meals. Making edibles at home not only allows you to easily measure your dose but also allows you to control how much sugar you’re consuming.
Check out our cannabis recipes section on our website for amazing recipe ideas that are easy to make.
Final Thoughts on Treating Tourette Syndrome with Cannabis
Preliminary evidence suggests that treating Tourette Syndrome with cannabis is effective in combination or as an alternative to traditional treatment methods. If you have experience treating Tourette Syndrome with cannabis, including CBD, we want to hear from you! Leave a comment about your experience or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.