In what has been described as a rigorous trial, Australian researchers have shown medicinal cannabis to be a potential treatment for managing Tourette syndrome.
Tourette syndrome is a condition characterized by sudden involuntary twitches, movements or vocalisations. It often begins in childhood and affects around one percent of the population. It has no cure, but can be managed with medication, relaxation techniques and psychotherapy.
Among the medicines that may be used are neuroleptics, which are accompanied by their own set of problems – and hence a need for alternatives.
Cannabis’s medicinal value is mainly attributed to two compounds – THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), responsible for the intoxicating effect, and CBD (cannabidiol), a non-intoxicating compound. The double-blind Australian study used a combination of the two given to participants, and a placebo, administered over two six-week blocks.
Led by neuropsychiatrist Dr Philip Mosley, the research involving 22 adult patients with severe Tourette symptoms found significant correlation between levels of cannabinoids in the bloodstream and the response – a notable reduction in both motor and vocal tics within a mere six weeks of treatment.
Regarding the mechanism creating the tic-dampening effect, Dr. Mosley explains:
“Cannabis interacts with specific receptors on nerve cells in the brain that are part of the body’s own ‘endocannabinoid’ system. Stimulation of these receptors effectively tightens a leaky filter, stopping the involuntary movements and vocalisations from getting out.”
Additionally, Dr. Mosley and his team determined other symptoms associated with Tourette syndrome were reduced – particularly symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety. However, the conclusion of the study also notes:
“In severe Tourette syndrome, treatment with THC and CBD reduced tics and may reduce impairment due to tics, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder; although in some participants this was associated with slowed mentation, memory lapses, and poor concentration.”
Published in the New England Journal of Medicine: Evidence, the study was co-funded by the University of Sydney’s Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics and the Wesley Research Institute.