In any of the states that have legalized cannabis for medical use, I would qualify as a patient. My Tourette Syndrome fits the definition of a “movement disorder” that the states with medical marijuana policies recognize.
Tourette Syndrome is a rare genetic neurological condition characterized by motor tics and vocal tics.
It affects about one of every 1,000 people. Although many people associate Tourette Syndrome with uncontrollable cursing, coprolalia affects only a small portion of the Tourette population. Many Tourettics walk through life with barely noticeable symptoms, such as blinking their eyes and clearing their throats. Others tic so violently they pull muscles. A person with Tourette can experience thousands of symptoms because the condition affects the body’s central nervous system. Many people with Tourette suffer from sleep disorders.
My Tourette-related sleep disorders include trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. They have disrupted my life since high school. Forty years ago, I discovered that smoking cannabis an hour or two before bedtime helped me fall asleep. Before my 1994 diagnosis, I didn’t realize I was medicating myself. After my diagnosis, my research into Tourette taught me I was “self-medicating” Many people with Tourette self-medicate because the drugs prescribed to treat their condition prove ineffective or cause side effects more disabling than the condition itself.
In 2001, I found a study online in which smoking marijuana reduced the subject’s Tourette-related tics by 80 percent. The psychiatrists and neurologists who treat Tourette Syndrome regard eighty percent reduction as a desirable standard, using the remaining twenty percent to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment. Cannabis met the standard established for prescription drugs, but caused fewer side effects.
The study led me to evaluate the way cannabis affected my own symptoms. A dose one-quarter the size used in the study reduced the severity of my tics by fifty percent. Muscular tension that revealed itself through tightly crossed arms and legs surrendered to a more relaxed posture. My mind, which can race like a supercharged engine, slowed to cruising speed. The larger the amount I consumed, the fewer and milder my symptoms became.
A tincture offered in cannabis dispensaries also can reduce Tourette symptoms up to 80 percent, the established standard. It doesn’t create euphoria, but slowing or stopping a body in continual motion creates other positive feelings, such as relief.
As a writer, musician and performer, I don’t want to take medications that will slow my thought processes or stop my creativity. After my diagnosis, at age 48, I tried several prescription drugs used to treat Tourette Syndrome. The first, clonidine, turned my mind and body sluggish. When my blood pressure dropped to dangerous levels, my doctor agreed that I should stop taking it. Several other prescription drugs produced equally negative side effects, diminishing the mental sharpness my writing demanded and the physical stamina my workouts required.
The effects of the medications I tried after my diagnosis made me question whether I wanted to be treated at all. I had lived with Tourette Syndrome nearly 42 years before a physician diagnosed it.
By the time of the diagnosis, the symptoms had become a part of my life. Some of them enabled me
to work more quickly or multi-task more effectively than most people who don’t have Tourette. I didn’t want to eliminate the positive symptoms. I wanted to manage them.
In the first part of the day, my intense focus on writing and exercise restrains my body’s urge to tic. I don’t need medication. The chemical imbalance that causes Tourette can make my mind work at something resembling warp speed and enable me to do exercises that most men in their sixties would consider too strenuous.
If legal, medical cannabis would allow me to treat myself, as needed, over the day. During my morning and afternoon writing and workouts, I wouldn’t need it. My symptoms don’t begin to show in a significant way until mid or late afternoon, when I’ve finished my day’s work. Once my body feels tired, my head, shoulders and legs start to tic. At times the intense body tics have resulted in pulled muscles. When I tried the tincture I mentioned earlier, my legs either stopped shaking or moved slowly enough that I could stop them without difficulty.
In my experience, cannabis has either helped me more than prescription drugs or has enhanced their effectiveness. I’m hoping additional studies will underscore what I already know: that cannabis offers an effective treatment for Tourette Syndrome. The neuroleptic drugs prescribed cause side effects more disabling than the condition itself. A growing body of medical evidence suggests that cannabis can treat a number of other conditions as well as or better than many prescription drugs.
In the face of the existing evidence, defining a cannabis-using patient as a criminal constitutes a greater crime than using cannabis itself.