Symptoms of Tourette syndrome usually occur for the first time between the ages of 2 and 12. Approximately three times as many boys as girls develop the disorder. Doctors don’t know exactly what causes this disorder, and there is currently no known way to prevent it from developing. Some scientists theorize that it may be a genetic disorder, though the specific genes involved have not yet been identified. Others believe that it may occur because of disrupted transmitters in the brain, including the chemicals dopamine and serotonin. Tourette syndrome is more common among people who have another behavioral or emotional disorder, such as depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, learning disabilities, or sleep disorders.
Tourette syndrome is diagnosed when both motor and verbal tics occur several times a day for over a year without interruption, when these tics manifest before the age of 18, and when they aren’t caused by another disorder or prescription medication. Because Tourette syndrome is chronic, there is no cure for the disease. Treatment instead focuses on management of symptoms; in addition, symptoms often become less pronounced beyond adolescence.
While no medication completely manages Tourette syndrome, some drugs that have been found to be helpful in reducing tics include dopamine blockers, such as fluphenazine, haloperidol (Haldol) or pimozide (Orap); Botox injections; stimulants such as Ritalin or Adderall; central adrenergic inhibitors, such as clonidine (Catapres) or guanfacine (Tenex); and antidepressants, particularly Prozac.
Research has been positive about the impact of medical marijuana on Tourette syndrome symptoms. As early as 1999, a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry reported that regular ingestion of cannabis eliminated a significant reduction of tics related to Tourette syndrome. Studies in 2003 and 2013 corroborated these findings. While more research is needed to learn more about this treatment, scientists theorize that because stress and anxiety exacerbates symptoms, the calming effects of marijuana may be responsible for the positive impact on the disease. Use of medical marijuana for Tourette syndrome treatment is currently legal in the state of Illinois.
If your child is exhibiting signs of Tourette syndrome, talk with your doctor. He or she can help diagnose the disease and recommend the course of treatment that works best.