Tourette syndrome – also known as Gilles de la Tourette’s syndrome – falls into the category of tic syndromes, and is a neurological disorder that impacts approximately 138,000 children nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Simple motor tics. Involuntary movements associated with Tourette’s include eye blinking, head bobbing and jerking, facial grimacing, uncontrollable jaw movements, shoulder shrugging, neck stretching and arm jerking.
- Complex motor ticks. While simple motor tics generally impact a single area of the body, complex motor tics include hopping, skipping, pulling at one’s clothing, touching objects, twirling, imitating another person’s movements and jumping.
- Phonic vocal tics. Sniffing, throat clearing, grunting, hooting and shouting are all associated with phonic tics.
- Complex vocal tics. The uttering of recognizable words and phrases – including inappropriate phrases such as ethnic slurs or profanities, called coprolalia – occurs in only 10 to 15 percent of all cases, but is the most widely recognized symptoms of the disorder, likely due to media exposure.
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Those with this disorder generally have trouble concentrating and focusing.
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder. Also known as OCD, this disorder causes extreme focus on a certain thing such as hand washing, counting and other compulsions that become uncontrolled.
Tourette syndrome generally manifests in childhood, and while there is no known cure, the syndrome has genetic roots suggesting that it is most often an inherited disorder.
Traditionally, therapy and education are used to help those with Tourette manage the tics, although the prescription medication risperidone – often prescribed for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – is also occasionally used.
Unfortunately, risperidone comes with side effects, sometimes serious ones, including difficulty seeing, motor skill problems, drowsiness, constipation, high blood glucose, weight increase and an elevated risk of suicide.
Because of the risk factors associated with not only risperidone, but also with Adderall, Ritalin and antidepressants, which are also sometimes used to treat Tourette, medical marijuana is gaining traction as a safer, better tolerated option.
Based on research, 82 percent of those with Tourette who used marijuana had either a reduction or a complete remission of their symptoms, including motor and vocal tics and actions associated with OCD.
A 2016 study from the Department of Psychiatry at Tauranga Hospital in New Zealand – one of only a handful of clinical trials addressing the benefits of medical marijuana when used to treat Tourette – found that Sativex, an oral spray made from the whole cannabis plant, helped improve symptoms when used twice a day for four weeks.
Researchers found that patients had a “marked improvement in the frequency and severity of motor and vocal tics post-treatment.”
Medical marijuana may not only ease stress that can trigger Tourette tics, it can also help regulate the neurons associated with those tics.
In 2005, researchers found that the THC in marijuana helped treat both.
“No serious adverse effects occurred and no impairment on neuropsychological performance was observed,” wrote Dr. Kirsten R. Müller-Vahl, director of the Tourette Syndrome Clinic at the Medical School of Hannover, who has studied medical marijuana’s impact on Tourette for almost two decades. “There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that the consumption of marijuana clearly and continuously benefits Tourette patients. There is also a strong suggestion that the plant cannabis is more effective than synthetic THC, and that patients taking the mixture experience fewer unpleasant side effects.”
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