Cannabis is becoming a revolutionary treatment option for all kinds of disorders, and neurological disorders are reaping the rewards as well. People who have Tourette Syndrome have been finding relief through using medical cannabis because of its ability to regulate our endocannabinoid system. Researchers, doctors, and patients have become extremely interested in medical marijuana because of its ability to help mediate brain activity.
What Is Tourette Syndrome
Tourette Syndrome is a neurological disorder where the person afflicted has involuntary muscle movements or vocalizations we know as “tics.” Many people with Tourette’s can control their tics in some fashion, delaying or reducing the severity of their outburst. These tics are more like compulsions that build up enough tension to where the person needs to satisfy the urge to relax. It can be very stressful, but most people with this disorder live very fulfilling lives.
Every brain in the world is unique so everyone with Tourette’s experiences it in a different way. One person may have an eye twitch while another person may mumble words under their breath. Though not everyone is completely debilitated by their disorder, it can still be incredibly frustrating.
Simple tics are less severe and don’t last as long as complex tics.
- Facial twitches like with the eyes or nose
- Changing facial expressions
- Shoulder shrugging
- Clearing the throat
Complex tics tend to last longer and are much more noticeable and without management can become debilitating.
- Touching people or things
- Hitting oneself
- Tugging at clothes
- Coprolalia, involuntary use of obscene or inappropriate words
- Echaolia- Repeating a sound or word just heard
- Palilalia- Repeating your own words
- Mumbling or saying words or phrases
Tourette’s and The Brain
Understanding how Tourette’s affects the brain is a window into discovering how cannabis can be used to help treat it. It also explains why other neurological disorders seem to be so common alongside Tourette Syndrome.
The basal ganglia is a part of the motor system and helps the brain decide what movement is best for what situation. The reason you use your feet for running and your fingers for typing is because the basal ganglia is telling your brain to do so. When looking into the brain of someone with Tourette’s, they found there were structural and functionality abnormalities. This part of the brain is thought to control the tics.
The hippocampus is a part of the limbic system which is in charge of feeling and reacting as well as short and long-term memory. Children who develop Tourette Syndrome have a larger hippocampus but as they age this part of their brain gets smaller. This creates a better environment in the brain while growing up making children with Tourette’s better at retaining information, however, this skill declines over time as the hippocampus shrinks.
The amygdala is also a part of the limbic system and is located at the end of the hippocampus. This is where your fight or flight response comes from. People with Tourette’s have shown to have more active amygdalae than their healthier counterparts. This overactivation of the amygdala is thought to contribute to tics.
This part of the brain regulates sleep and wakefulness as well as relaying motor functions to the cerebral cortex. Patients with Tourette Syndrome had more gray matter in this area of the brain and less white matter. Less white matter means that the transmissions of sensations is less efficient, and more grey matter could mean that there are extra sensory signals being sent out. The thalamus is thought to be the reason a person with Tourette’s feels a sensation and their tic is the only way to satiate it.
Black substance, or substantia nigra, is a part of the basal ganglia and is where the neurotransmitter dopamine mainly originates. When studying the midbrain of patients with Tourette's, they found that during tics this area of the brain was more active. This suggests that the dopamine response is the relief that the person with Tourette's is trying to achieve when having a tic.
Mental Disorder Comorbid With Tourette’s
Because Tourette’s is a neurological disorder, it can be accompanied by other issues. The most common disorders that are found in patients with Tourette’s are:
- Rage Attacks
- Sleep Issues
- Learning Disabilities
- Rare Neurological Complications such as
- Cervical Myelopathy
- Cervical Disk Herniation
- Compressive Neuropathy
- Arterial Dissection
Cannabis For Tourette Syndrome
In order to understand how cannabis can help with Tourette’s, it’s good to know how exactly it interacts with the brain. It’s important to note that this isn’t a cure for this disorder. As of now, we don’t have one. But using medical marijuana could benefit the person afflicted by reducing their symptoms, or in some cases, making them disappear altogether while medicated.
The Endocannabinoid System
The reason cannabis has such a wide range of capabilities is because of its interaction with the endocannabinoid system. This system is in charge of regulating your body through proper stimulation and functioning in the brain. When you have a fever, that is the endocannabinoid system activating your immune system to kill off any pathogens trying to harm you. When you get a small cut, the endocannabinoid system is what helps stop the bleeding and begin repair of the skin tissue.
The endocannabinoid system has three major parts that all need to work together and function correctly in order for you to have a healthy mind and body. This system consists of endocannabinoids, metabolic enzymes, and cannabinoid receptors.
Our brains make their own version of cannabinoids found in cannabis that are called endocannabinoids. The two that we know of or the most about are called anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). These endocannabinoids travel backward through the synapse through a process called retrograde signaling. This gives these chemicals the ability to send a message from the receiving cell to the sending cell opposed to the other way around like most neurotransmitters.
Endocannabinoids have to come from somewhere. Metabolic enzymes are where the chemicals are synthesized, and also are how they don’t clutter your brain. If your brain were pushing these chemicals out without a cleanup crew, your brain would get filled with endocannabinoids making it difficult for any information to be transferred. Metabolic enzymes degrade these chemicals when they are no longer in use.
In order for endocannabinoids to relay a message, they need somewhere to bind. They bind to cannabinoid receptors which become stimulated and help you obtain functionality in your body and mind. The two cannabinoid receptors we know of and study today are CB1 and CB2. The CB1 receptors are more densely located in the brain binding with the endocannabinoid anandamide and run the neurological functions. The CB2 receptors are more thoroughly spread out binding with the 2-AG endocannabinoid and run the immune functions.
How Cannabis Effects The Endocannabinoid System
Cannabis can help regulate your endocannabinoid system which in turn can reduce the symptoms of Tourette’s Syndrome. Not just with the tics, but with the other mental health issues that come along with the disorder as well. There have been many accounts where people feel like they are a completely new person after trying cannabis, though researchers are still figuring out how exactly cannabis has this effect.
One reason researchers believe that cannabis is so effective is that they have found that the basal ganglia and the hippocampus have high densities of cannabinoid receptors. Through a study where they interviewed patients treating their symptoms with cannabis, 82% of the patients reported fewer tics or complete remission.
There have also been studies where the patients have taken THC and CBD and then were monitored for tics and behavioral changes. They found that this combination has been beneficial in reducing the symptoms. However, not everyone can access THC or want their children to take it which is why many people are using CBD or full spectrum hemp oil to treat their symptoms instead.
Cannabis And Comorbid Disorders
Like mentioned before, medical cannabis can help with more than just the tics associated with Tourette Syndrome. Because hemp oil works as a regulator, it can aid with the anxiety, anger, and depression that often comes along for the ride.
Anger and Anxiety
With an overactive amygdala, people with Tourette's are more prone to anger and anxiety disorders. This includes disorders like OCD and ADHD. An overactive amygdala fills the brain with more hormones than necessary and using hemp oil can help reduce the activation that is caused. CBD oil elevates the level of anandamide which is the endocannabinoid that binds to the CB1 receptor. This stimulation helps reduce the transmission of information between neurons helping to calm the mind down.
Depression can come from an over-anxious brain producing inflammatory cytokines. Hemp oil has shown its ability to boost a person’s mood as well as reduce any inflammation that may be causing damage to the brain.
Though there is much to be determined to figure out how exactly cannabis works to help with Tourette Syndrome, anecdotal evidence suggests that cannabis could be an extremely valid treatment for this neurological disorder. If you have used medical cannabis for your Tourette’s, we would love to hear about it! Leave your story in the comment section below!