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Medical Marijuana and Tourette's Syndrome

What Is Tourette's Syndrome?

Medical marijuana has potential to be a treatment for a slew of neurological disorders. Tourette's syndrome happens to be a neurological disorder, one that adversely affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the United States alone. Mild Tourette's syndrome affects many more than that. Estimates put the rate of mild to barely noticeable Tourette's at roughly one in every hundred people. The neurological symptoms of this condition vary greatly. However, they are all involuntary movements and sounds that may be calmed by medical marijuana.

The symptoms of Tourette's typically appear between the ages of three and nine and are at least three times more common in males. All of the symptoms are known as tics or vocalizations, though they differ even among the individual types. Tics can range from simple involuntary blinking or shrugging to twisting. In complex tics, several movements can occur at the same time. For example, an individual with Tourette's syndrome might blink while jumping. Vocalizations range from grunting to swearing. These symptoms can interfere with a person's life. Tics can even cause self-harm.

The mechanisms for treatment of Tourette's with medical marijuana are not as well understood as that for other conditions. That is likely because there is very little research in this area and Tourette's syndrome is a complex neurological disorder that has some psychiatric components, such as obsessions and compulsions. Nonetheless, the research that does exist shows some improvement of tics in users of medical marijuana. Furthermore, the testimonies of individuals with Tourette's syndrome who use medical marijuana are generally positive.

Medical Marijuana and Tourette's Syndrome

Treatment of Tourette's Syndrome with Medical Marijuana versus Suppression 

There is some stigma surrounding the tics involved with Tourette's syndrome. There is also stigma surrounding marijuana use, even for medical purposes. Some Tourette's sufferers have noticeable, though not substantial, success suppressing their tics. This can lead to extreme discomfort and eventual forceful return of the tic. While it might look like Tourette's sufferers are performing these acts on purpose, that is not the case. 

Medical marijuana is not counterproductive in the way that attempting suppression is. It may not eliminate the tics and only mildly relieve them, but there is no evidence to suggest that marijuana can exacerbate them. A study done at the Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Trust concluded that there were only small improvements in tics with use of medical marijuana. Nonetheless, their findings did not include any adverse effects as it pertained to the tics and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. 

Medical Marijuana and Tourette's Syndrome Research 

Even the earliest research involving Tourette's syndrome and medical marijuana suggest that the cannabis component that is helping the tics is THC. The first observed treatment of Tourette's syndrome with medical marijuana was conducted on a 25-year-old man with severe Tourette's. He had been displaying symptoms from an early age and was initially diagnosed with ADHD. He was later diagnosed with Tourette's. He found independently that smoking marijuana was helping his condition. Doctors gave him a 10-milligram dose of THC three days after having him stop smoking and observed the results. Within 30 minutes, his symptoms began decreasing. There was roughly 70% fewer symptoms and the medication lasted roughly 7 hours.

A later randomized, double blind, controlled study showed that there was a notable difference between the patients who were given placebo and those who were given THC. The study began with 24 individuals and eventually dropped down to 17. However, that was not due to side effects in six of the dropouts. This is a significant increase in test subjects over the first study conducted on the one young man. The similar results even in a double blind, controlled study is strong evidence that THC can have a positive effect on Tourette's syndrome tics. Further research along this vein could lend some insight into the syndrome itself. 

It is essential that more research be conducted into the mechanisms of treatment of Tourette's syndrome with medical marijuana so that more specific medication and doses can be catered to the condition. The current medications are proving insufficient. Medical marijuana could become the treatment of choice, especially if one of the non-psychoactive components of the drug is found to help as well, as that would allow for a look at treatment of children with no cognitive side effects.

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