Can Cannabis Help with Tourette Syndrome?

Stephen Andrews
26 Jul 2023

A recent clinical trial raises hopes that medicinal cannabis can work as a treatment option for Tourette Syndrome. Tourette is a neurological disorder which presents with symptoms that include vocal and physical tics, such as involuntary sounds and sudden twitches and movements of the body.

Tourette Syndrome is a condition that affects the nervous system. While it usually doesn’t affect the overall health of the person, it can impact their quality of life. Tourette presents with tics where you are unable to control the body from doing certain movements. For example, that could be uncontrolled blinking, constant eye rolling, grimacing, jerking of the heads and limbs and so forth. 

Some of the traditional treatment options include behavioral therapies such as Habit Reversal Therapy (HRT) where patients learn to voluntarily move in a way that’s incompatible with the tics. Psychotherapy is also used to help with accompanying problems, such as obsessive-compulsive behavior, ADHD, anxiety and depression. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, patients are also prescribed various psychiatric drugs.

In the last couple of years, medical research is also exploring whether cannabis can be used as a treatment option for Tourette syndrome. Some of the findings are encouraging. 

What Does Results from Recent Clinical Study Say? 

There is a growing body of evidence that supports the use of medicinal cannabis for Tourette syndrome. The most recent study was done by Australian researchers and it involved 22 participants with severe Tourette Syndrome. Published last month, the results showed a considerable statistical and clinical reduction in both motor and vocal tics in just six weeks of cannabis treatment

The study was co-funded by the University of Sydney’s Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics. The university also assisted the study design and execution, as well as analyzing blood levels of cannabinoids among participants. 

The Tourette patients who were recruited for the research effort were randomly assigned into two groups receiving medicinal cannabis and placebo over the period of 12 weeks. One of the groups was given a daily dose of balanced oil formulation with CBD and THC over the course of six weeks, followed by another six weeks with placebo, and vice versa. 

During the clinical trial, researchers observed the effects of the treatment on tic severity and impairment, as well as secondary symptoms like anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive behavior. The results also showed a significant link between the levels of cannabinoids in the bloodstream and the response to active treatment. 

The research concluded that oral 1:1 THC:CBD oil solution works effectively to address tics and psychiatric symptoms associated with severe Tourette syndrome. The participants treated with the oil formulation experienced reduction in tics, obsessive-compulsive symptoms and anxiety, without any substantial adverse side effects. 

“A strength of the study is that tic reduction was observed in both interviewer-led and video-based assessments of tic severity conducted by separate raters blinded not only to treatment allocation but also to other outcome ratings,” the researchers write in the study discussion.

“Although the adverse-effect profile was mild in this relatively short study, further work is necessary to identify the longer-term effects of cannabis use in Tourette syndrome, such as the possible development of tolerance to the anti-tic effect,” they add. 

The researchers used two different scales to evaluate the results and assess the scale of tic harshness, frequency and interference. Following the 12 weeks of treatment, the results revealed an average drop of 38% in YGTSS-Total scores (the Yale Global Tic Severity Scale), as well as 20% reduction in PUTS scores (Premonitory Urge for Tic Scale.

“This is the first rigorous and methodical trial of medicinal cannabis to be undertaken in a sufficiently large group of people to make definitive conclusions about its effectiveness,” said neuropsychiatrist Dr. Philip Mosley, a research fellow at the Wesley Research Institute and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, who helmed the trial. 

“It shows that medicinal cannabis can reduce tics by a level that makes a life-changing difference for people with Tourette syndrome and their families,” Mosley said. 

“In addition, we found that other symptoms associated with Tourette syndrome in our participants also reduced, particularly symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder  and anxiety,” he added. 

Explaining how medicinal cannabis works for Tourette, Mosley highlights the interaction of cannabinoids with the body’s endocannabinoid system. With Tourette, cannabis targets distinct receptors on nerve cells in the brain that in turn inhibit or reduce involuntary movements and vocalizations from being expressed by patients. 

More news in Soft Secrets about the latest medicinal cannabis research:

- Can Cannabis Help with Alzheimer's Disease?

- Can Cannabis Help for MS and ALS? 

- Can CBD Help Reduce Nicotine Cravings? 

Stephen Andrews