Tourette syndrome (TS) is characterized by tics, which commonly appear as unusual repetitive movements of the body or involuntary sounds. There’s no cure for the nervous system disorder, so treatment efforts typically focus on managing the tics to reduce the risk of injury and minimize the adverse effects on the quality of a person’s school, work, and social life. Studies suggest that cannabinoids, such as the non-psychoactive compound cannabidiol (CBD), may be beneficial for safely reducing the frequency and severity of tics.
Researchers know that cannabinoid receptors are located in the basal ganglia and hippocampus, areas of the brain that are responsible for regulating movement and behavior. Cannabinoid receptors are integral components to the endocannabinoid system, a signaling network that keeps a wide array of processes and functions in balance. Cannabinoids like CBD join and interact with these cannabinoid receptors to stimulate chemical responses. The presence of receptors in the basal ganglia and hippocampus suggest that cannabinoids may help play a major role in reducing motor and vocal tics.
The research investigating the effects of cannabinoids and Tourette syndrome so far provide further evidence of their potential efficacy. Here’s a look at what studies have found:
In one 1998 study, 82 percent of patients with TS experienced a reduction or complete remission of motor and vocal tics with the use of cannabinoid products.
A study from 2002 found that cannabinoids caused “a significant improvement of tics and obsessive-compulsive behavior” in 12 adult TS patients.
In 2005, researchers found that 6 weeks of cannabinoid treatments effectively reduced tics in TS patients, while causing no serious adverse effects of neuropsychological performance impairments.
In 2017, investigators found cannabinoids decreased tics by 60 percent in 19 adults with TS. Eighteen of 19 said they were at least “much improved.” We detailed the findings of this study on ECHO here.
A 2003 clinical trial that investigated the effects of cannabinoids on 24 patients with TS observed a significant improvement in tic severity.
In 2017, a case study investigating two patients with TS found that cannabinoid treatments “provided significant symptom improvement of vocal blocking tics.”
While findings and anecdotal evidence have been promising, two separate research reviews that examined all the available research on cannabinoids for Tourette syndrome each concluded that, while acknowledgeding some findings were encouraging, there wasn’t enough evidence to make definitive conclusions about whether cannabinoids are effective.
CBD is one of over 100 cannabinoids found in cannabis plants like hemp. It’s important to note that nearly all of the studies that have examined cannabinoids and Tourette syndrome, including the ones listed above, have focused on the effects of the psychoactive cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Both CBD and THC influence the cannabinoid receptors of the endocannabinoid system. Unlike THC however, CBD is non-psychoactive, and many people with Tourette syndrome, particularly parents of children with the disorder, hope that CBD can an option for those looking to avoid the effects of THC.
In our examination of all the available research, we did come across one 2017 study that investigated the effects of a cannabinoid-based medicine containing nearly half THC and half CBD. A single 22-year-old male with severe Tourette syndrome was given daily THC/CBD treatments for two weeks, which “resulted in major improvements of both tics and premonitory urges, but also global impairment and health-related quality of life… without causing relevant adverse effects.”
Clearly, more research on CBD for Tourette syndrome is needed. The presence of cannabinoid receptors in the brain and the promising results from cannabinoid studies suggest that CBD may havethe potential of being beneficial for treating symptoms of the disorder.
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