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Cannabis Oil Provides ‘Moderate’ Treatment For Tourette’s, Trial Finds

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Jun 14, 2023   
a hand holds a dropper filled with oil.

Image credit: iStock

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Cannabis oil is just as effect at reducing the number of tics a person with Tourette’s syndrome experiences as many existing treatments, according to a new study.

The findings come from a trial carried out by the University of Sydney’s Lambert Initiative. The researchers gave 22 participants with Tourette’s either a 1:1 CBD:THC oil or a placebo (hemp seed oil). After six weeks of daily dosing, those given the genuine cannabis oil saw a bigger drop in their tic rates than those in the placebo group.

This drop in tics was ultimately considered “moderate” by the researchers and comparable to the effect achieved by existing treatments such as antipsychotic agents.

Keeping the tics at bay

People with Tourette’s syndrome tend to be prescribed behavioral therapy or drugs like dopamine antagonists. However, around half of patients say these interventions aren’t enough to adequately control their tics.

To test if cannabinoids could help fill this medication gap and treat Tourette’s, the researchers at the Lambert Initiative recruited 22 participants with the disorder and gave half increasing doses of an oil containing 5 milligrams per milliliter (mg/ml) of THC and 5 mg/ml of CBD. Participants were asked to increase their dose by 1 ml every week to reach a maximum daily dose of 4 ml.

The other participants were given a placebo oil, and most were able to figure out as much, according to the paper published in NEJM Evidence.

The different groups then swapped oils and repeated their dosing schedules. Three of the participants withdrew from the experiment, leaving 19 in the final study group. Three other participants were unable to reach the maximum 4 ml dose because of adverse side effects, such as drowsiness and cognitive slowing.

Despite these issues, the researchers were confident in their findings. Their results showed that, after six weeks, those given the cannabis oil had a tic reduction of 8.9 (± 7.6) – as measured using the Yale Global Tic Severity Scale – while those given the placebo had a tic reduction of 2.5 (± 8.5).

Participants who received the placebo oil in the second period also displayed a trend toward lower tic scores than participants who received placebo first period, suggesting a possible carryover effect from active treatment. Many participants concurrently reported a reduction in obsessive-compulsive symptoms and anxiety.

One participant, Chris Wright, a 35-year-old who has lived with tics since childhood, said the treatment has been lifechanging.

“The oil has reduced my tics by about 50 percent and I have been able to read a book for the first time in 10 years,” he said in a statement given to the University of Sydney.

“Some days I get home from work and realise I haven’t focused on my Tourette syndrome the entire day. It’s changed my life.”

The researchers behind the study were pleased with the results, too.

“This is such a difficult syndrome to treat,” Iain McGregor, a professor of psychopharmacology and academic director of the Lambert Initiative, said in a statement.

“It severely impacts the quality of life of 1 in 100 young Australians. It is gratifying to know that our result provides [sic] strong evidence of an alternative treatment method for these patients in need.”

To bolster this evidence base, McGregor and his colleagues have called for larger and longer trials to further test the adverse effects associated with cannabinoids.


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