tourettes-syndrome
Sez it all, dunnit? Photo: Bernard Goldbach

Sez it all, dunnit? Photo: Bernard Goldbach

The NHS will tell you that Tourette’s syndrome is a brain condition characterised by involuntary noises and movements on the part of the sufferer. It generally begins between the ages of five and 10 and often runs in families. It’s named after French doctor Georges Gilles de la Tourette, who first described it in the 19th century.

The noises include coughing, grunting or shouting words that can be socially unacceptable, and movements include jerking of the head and jumping up and down. The resultant embarrassment can lead to social isolation and/or low self-esteem. Less than one percent of people are affected. With age, the condition can disappear or worsen. Studies conducted within the last 15 years suggest that it can be relieved by cannabis.

When people first realised

The story began in 1988 with a letter by neurologist Reuven Sandyk, MD, and pain management specialist Gavin Awerbuch, MD, to the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology that spoke of three Tourette’s sufferers who drew no benefit from the customary drugs, which can have serious side effects, but ?a significant amelioration of symptoms? after smoking cannabis.

Two proper studies

In a 2003 article entitled Cannabinoids Reduce Symptoms of Tourette?s Syndrome , Dr Kristen R Muller-Vahl, a researcher for the Department of Neurology at the Medical School of Hanover, reported the relief provided by marijuana, based on two clinical studies she ran the previous year.

One study saw 12 Tourette’s syndrome sufferers given a dose of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the ingredient of cannabis that makes you stoned) and then, two weeks later, a placebo. 75 percent of participants reported positive effects from THC. The second study was of 24 sufferers, who again experienced betterment after taking THC. There were no major side effects in either study.

How it happens

It is believed that cannabis works in this instance by affecting the dense clusters of cannabinoid receptors in the basal ganglia and hippocampus, parts of the brain intimately involved in behaviour and movement which are abnormal in the case of Tourette’s sufferers.

A common feature of Tourette’s syndrome is aggression, affecting as many as 25 percent of children and presenting the risk of harm to the sufferer or those around them. There is considerable anecdotal evidence that cannabis is useful here. Imagine the headlines: Cannabis reduces aggression shock horror!

The medical establishment agrees

The American Medical Association confesses to cannabis’ positivity in a report by the name of Medical Marijuana (A-01) that is available online. It mentioned four case histories of people afflicted by Tourette’s syndrome whose condition was improved by the consumption of marijuana. The National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of the United States National Library of Medicine, specifies that longer trials with more participants are called for but still explicitly recommends THC for sufferers.

Dr Bonni Goldstein, medical director of the Canna-Centers group of medical practices in California, has a number of patients with Tourette’s syndrome who employ cannabis to alleviate their state. The wife of one forty-something man reported that her fella was ?a completely different person on cannabis – happy, more active, more social.?

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