To mark Tourette’s Awareness Month medical cannabis patient and Project Twenty21 participant, Jim Finch, and his prescribing consultant, Dr Tahzid Ahsan, share their journey with the ‘life-changing’ treatment.
In 2018, Jim Finch was involved in a serious car accident which left him severely injured and battling a number of complex neurological conditions.
Overnight he went from being a young, fit and healthy dad to suffering constant motor and vocal tics and coprolalia, as a result of his Tourette’s syndrome.
Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological condition affecting over 300,000 adults and children in the UK.
The condition causes patients to suffer involuntary and uncontrollable sounds and movements, known as tics. In many cases, these are not harmful to the person’s overall health, but severe Tourette’s can still have a huge impact on their quality of life.
Common treatment options include behavioural therapies such as Habit Reversal Therapy (HRT) and Comprehensive Behavioural Intervention Therapy (CBIT), as well as a range of psychiatric drugs.
Although none of these have been developed specifically for Tourette’s and the focus is on reducing or controlling the tics through behavioural, rather than medicinal, intervention.
Jim was prescribed dozens of pharmaceuticals to manage his symptoms, none of which were able to control his tics and instead plagued him with more side effects. His hair fell out, he developed stomach issues and asthma and was too drowsy to play with his son.
Then someone sent him a YouTube video of a Tourette’s patient whose tics were controlled by consuming cannabis and he began his own research.
“I typed in Tourette’s and cannabis on YouTube and I saw somebody who had constant tics and fits like me, who used cannabis and it stopped them,” says Jim.
“At that point I started looking into the research that has been done in Germany and Canada.”
A number of papers have been published with encouraging results around the treatment of Tourette’s with medical cannabis.
One study from 2017 reported that 18 out of the 19 participants were “much improved”, and their tics scores decreased by 60 percent, while a six-week randomised control trial from 2003 concluded that THC is “effective and safe” in the treatment of tics.
Jim, now 32, joined Drug Science’s Project Twenty21 in January, after a period of self-medicating and finding that cannabis was helpful for his symptoms.
“I’ve gone to three different doctors now who have all managed to prescribe me,” he says.
“Since I’ve had a prescription for cannabis it’s changed my life, it doesn’t stop my tics completely but they are not all-consuming anymore.
“I’ve gone from strength to strength not having to worry about breaking the law to medicate. It’s a bizarre situation that patients have found themselves in, when there’s probably no doctor in the country that would see the effects of me taking cannabis and think I shouldn’t have access to it.”
Tourette’s is one of the seven conditions covered by Project Twenty21, which range from pain and MS to anxiety, PTSD and epilepsy, although the project hopes to expand to include more conditions in the future.
There are currently only a small number of patients with the condition enrolled in the study – out of almost 1,000 patients, the vast majority of which are diagnosed with chronic pain or anxiety-related conditions – but Drug Science is keen to encourage other Tourette’s patients to come forward and see if medical cannabis could work for them.
Jim is currently on a combination of four different products, after several months of working closely with his doctors to find the right dosage and strains.
He was the first patient with Tourette’s that his current consultant Dr Tahzid Ahsan had treated since he joined Project Twenty21 in November last year.
“I didn’t know a lot about the condition, but Mr Finch had done a lot of research and I was very much led by him,” says Dr Ahsan, a consultant psychiatrist in the NHS, who has now prescribed cannabis medicines privately to hundreds of patients with mental health conditions, ranging from anxiety, depression and insomnia to complex PTSD.
“I started with the same as I would prescribe to patients with anxiety or depression and went from there.
“Mr Finch was the one who worked out what he needed and we gradually tailored it to his needs.
Dr Ahsan has now worked with a number of other patients with a diagnosis of Tourette’s after seeing how cannabis medicines were transformative for Jim.
“I was a little bit reluctant to prescribe indica throughout the day, but seeing the difference it makes to Mr Finch has given me the confidence to do that with other patients,” he adds.
Jim finds that heavy indica strains are more effective at managing his symptoms.
He experiences some mild side-effects, such as drowsiness and having to take a short nap in the afternoon and finds he gets hungry more often, but says: “It’s nothing in comparison to having tics all day or the side-effects I experienced from pharmaceuticals.”
To help raise awareness of medical cannabis, Jim has been sharing his journey on YouTube and social media, where his videos – which show the instantaneous effects of cannabis on his tics – have been known to go viral.
“I was suffering before Project Twenty21,” he says.
“It’s uncomfortable watching the earlier videos of me, because that’s my life if I don’t medicate.
“My son has witnessed me have so many fits and seizures and he’s only three, he shouldn’t have seen that.”
Jim is using his platform to educate people and help other patients access medical cannabis.
“I know the power cannabis medicines can have and I feel compelled to make sure others are aware that it is an option,” he says.
“We’re in an age now where information can be shared, and the truth needs to be out there.
“The more people’s lives it changes, the better the evidence will be and the more stigma will get broken down, the better the conversation and the further the industry grows.”
Since joining Project Twenty21 Dr Ahsan has also experienced a shift in perspective, and says seeing the transformation in patients like Jim has been an “eye-opener”.
“I went into this very naive,” he admits.
“For the last 20 years I’ve been taught that THC is bad, there has been a stigma attached to cannabis, but working with patients like Mr Finch I’m moving in the other direction.”
Dr Ahsan continues: “In traditional Western medicine everyone with a mental illness has a label, and as doctors, we prescribe pills which may or may not make them better.
“Medical cannabis doesn’t assume there is anything wrong with you, it doesn’t try to correct anything, it actually enhances you and helps you to cope with everyday life.”
He adds: “The feedback I’m getting from patients is incredible, people say it has transformed their lives.
“That mentality has been a breath of fresh air, it’s actually helped me to grow as a doctor.”
Find out more about Project Twenty21
Emigration: “I tried cannabis again and I noticed that I was in less pain when I took it.”
In a new series, we speak to Irish cannabis patients about their decision to emigrate in search of easier, safer cannabis access.
In a new series, Cannabis Health News talks to people who have experienced emigration in search of safe, legal cannabis access.
Our previous stories have focused on the difficulty of packing your entire life into boxes and emigrating with your family to a new country for access. However, there is another side to emigration: the potential for return.
What happens once you are a medical cannabis patient in another country and need to travel home?
The returning Irish from emigration in the past few years has hit record numbers. As people settle into life away from home, it gets harder to return. Travel options have never been easier with several flights to and from Ireland daily from all over the country, ferry options and failing that, zoom calls are a vast improvement on Skype.
COVID lockdowns meant that it’s been a difficult year for travel. Families who have experienced emigration may not have seen in their families since the beginning of the crisis. Now thanks to vaccines, travel is starting to become a possibility again.
This leaves medical cannabis patients in a confusing situation. What do you do if you have a prescription in one country yet need to go to another?
This is the situation *Joe is in. This is not his real name but he has asked to remain anonymous due to the persisting negative attitudes towards cannabis which he is prescribed for debilitating arthritis.
“I have since the age of 14 suffered from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis. I also suffer from sciatica. I played rugby six days a week for my school, worked on the family farm and lived a full and normal life. My body then changed and while initially my shoulders were affected but then my knees. It felt like someone was trying to tear my arms from their sockets and that I had broken glass in my knees. That was 36 years ago.”
Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in a person’s joints. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the two most common forms of the condition. It can start when a person is between 40 and 50 years old although it also affects children and teenagers.
In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system targets affected joints causing pain and swelling. The outer covering of the joint is the first place to be affected before it spreads across the joint leading to further swelling and a change in shape. This may cause the bone and cartilage to break down. People with rheumatoid arthritis may also develop problems with other tissues and organs.
The Irish Children’s Arthritis Network (iCAN) estimates there are over one thousand children and teenagers currently diagnosed with juvenile arthritis.
Emigration in Ireland soared in the 1980s as a result of a harsh recession and lack of jobs. It is estimated that during the ten years of the 1980s, 206,000 more people left Ireland. Like a lot of Irish teenagers unable to find work and looking to leave home, Joe decided to leave Ireland for the UK. While working on a building site, he encountered other workers using cannabis.
“Although I had my condition to contend with it, my symptoms were at their worst in autumn and winter and I went to the UK in the summer to work on building sites (I had no idea my short visit would last 33 years and counting.”
“I was brought up in Ireland with typical conservative social values. Many fellow workers on site were smoking cannabis but I had no interest and indeed felt it was both inherently morally wrong as well as being illegal.”
“For months my fellow workers would say to try some. I relented when we were out together one night as I had a few drinks so my guard was down. I smoked some cannabis. I was violently ill. I did not know that smoking cannabis with drink would have such an immediate and obvious effect.”
Emigration, cannabis and pain
Joe began to feel more pain as winter began and his joints reacted to the cold. Despite his illness the first time, he tried cannabis again and noticed an effect on his pain levels. His quality of life began to improve and he started to make positive changes.
“I tried cannabis again a few weeks later and by this time the winter was in full flow and my bones were aching. I noticed that I was in less pain when I took it. I prayed for guidance on the issue and felt it was not a sin for me to use cannabis because it was helping to alleviate my symptoms.”
“I then started to use cannabis more frequently. When I reached 19, I no longer needed to take my prescription and I was able to cancel an appointment for injections. As my condition had relented I was able to reengage with my passion for sport and would swim a mile per day, cycle to and from work and work as a scaffolder during the day.”
“I studied A levels at night school. I returned to studies as I felt if my condition worsened I would not be able to engage in physical labour and I also had a calling to be a lawyer. Anyone who has handled scaffolding tube on a cold winters day will also understand why I felt a move indoors could be a welcome change.”
Joe did well enough in his A levels to gain a place to study law at university. He qualified as a solicitor and worked at one of the top regional practices in the country. He had the honour of meeting Irish President Mary McAleese on one of her trips to Manchester. He credits being able to live such a full life to the benefits of cannabis.
Breaking the law
However, he was starting to worry about what could happen if his use was to become public knowledge. Especially as someone working in law.
“Cannabis had managed my condition so effectively that I was able to play football for the corporate team and had no outwards signs which could not be dismissed as being down to simple stiffness. I was concerned however that should my use of cannabis become public knowledge my career would be brought to an abrupt end.
“I was leading a double life – cannabis at the time was dismissed as having no medical use and I was afraid no-one would believe me if I said I was taking it for my arthritis.”
Joe stopped using cannabis for three years as he became fed up with breaking the law. He had also noticed attempts to change the law in regards to medical cannabis and wanted to see if he could access it legally. But his symptoms flared up as a result of him stopping his treatment.
“During my cannabis break however my arthritis flared up with a vengeance. Although now prescribed methotrexate, sulfasalazine and naproxen. During my near 30 year use of cannabis prior to this point, I needed no other drugs. Significant bone erosion occurred in this 3 year period.”
“My hands and feet were badly affected and I was unable to form a fist with either hand for about 2 years. I had to stop playing classic guitar. In addition to studying law, I also studied music and played guitar in ensembles and gave performances with others in my spare time so losing the ability to play was quite hard to take”
Joe was delighted when his prescription for cannabis was approved. After taking it for about a year, he found his condition far more under control and began to come off some of the drugs he had been prescribed. He was also able to play the guitar again.
One of the biggest things, he notes, is the feeling of being able to access his medication responsibly and not break the law.
“Cannabis, for me, does have limitations. Once I take it, I won’t drive for the rest of the day. It can give me mood swings although nothing too extreme. I can be grumpier in the mornings. I am mindful that all drugs have their side effect. I am losing my hair due to methotrexate which gives me a number of bladder issues as well as nausea.”
Emigration and settling
Although Joe is happily settled in the UK with no plans to move home, he still has family in Ireland who he would like to visit. This presents him with an issue, how to pack his prescription?
Going without cannabis while abroad can result in a lot of pain as Joe discovered when he stopped taking it. However, bringing it with him can result in having to again break the law. The other alternative is accessing the black market which is not safe for patients.
“My elderly parents live in Ireland and I would love to visit them. Ireland’s policy on drugs is different to that of the UK. There is nothing unusual about this as individuals states have their own laws. The UN passed the psychoactive Substances Convention in 1971. The Convention enables international travellers to bring their medication with them to other jurisdictions, even though they have different drug policies. Ireland is a signatory to this convention. The Irish State also supplies details of who to write to seek prior approval for the carriage of controlled drugs.”
Joe has started an email and letter campaign of writing for help. He is not the only Irish person in the UK who has experienced emigration and wants to travel home. He encourages others to get involved.
“I have on many occasions asked both the relevant Secretary for Health and the Minister for Health for permission to travel to Ireland with my cannabis prescription and for clarification of Ireland’s drug policy for tourists and have pointed out the large numbers of people who could be affected. It’s not just persons prescribed cannabis if Customs is going to seize all controlled drugs.”
“Although nearly 6 months have passed, I am yet to receive either a formal approval or rejection of my request to travel home. In the meantime, my parents are of course getting older as indeed am I.”
There are also other concerns about using cannabis medicine while in another country besides emigrating.
Joe cautions: “To anyone who is thinking of just leaving their cannabis medication at home in the UK and then driving in Ireland, please bear in mind that in addition to dealing with withdrawal symptoms you may also fail a roadside drugs test.”
“It’s not at all clear that you will have a medical defence to a drug driving charge in Ireland. Thus if you want to travel lawfully with a car, consider not taking your cannabis prescription for sufficient time to pass a drug driving test, but obviously, this is impractical for sick people who are only granted a prescription for cannabis where other medicines haven’t worked.”
Joe advises that those thinking of travelling to Ireland with their prescriptions for CBMP should seek approval for their medication. This can be done by writing to the Controlled Drugs Unit in Dublin.
CBD and gaming: Could CBD help you level up?
When it comes to gaming, could CBD give you a competitive edge? Always Pure Organics’ Sally Dempster explores the benefits.
Always Pure Organics’ Sally Dempster explores the CBD trend within gaming.
The gaming community is growing exponentially, from people playing casually with friends to professional esports competitors, all of whom are contributing to the phenomenal 1.8 billion (US) dollar industry. Especially with the lockdown conditions of Covid-19, the gaming industry has seen a huge surge in revenue and time spent video gaming- increasing by double digits in all regions. The increased amount of time spent gaming can sometimes lead to health problems; frequent players often report physical aches and pains, altered sleep cycles, stress and anxiety. Many of these health problems can be caused by the prolonged periods of time spent at a console or in front of a screen.
Physical aches and pains from gaming can manifest themselves in a variety of forms including carpal tunnel syndrome, gamer’s thumb, and tennis elbow. Avid gamers can sometimes fall prone to these problems which cause inflamed muscles, nerves, or tendons due to overuse.
Whilst cannabidiol (CBD) cannot cure the underlying damage caused by carpal tunnel syndrome, gamer’s thumb or tennis elbow, it may help to reduce overall swelling and it has been shown in studies to relieve inflammation. Research on CBD has also shown that the Cannabis sativa extract may, in some cases, be beneficial as a method of pain relief. Using CBD as a form of pain management could help to relieve pain from gaming conditions, enabling players to be more stress-free and relaxed throughout the natural healing process. It is important to note that using CBD as a method of pain management for acute pain will not result in instant healing; users should be aware that any decrease in pain does not equate to a fully healed injury.
Gaming and scientific debates
There are ongoing scientific debates as to whether video games induce stress or whether they help to manage and reduce it. The answer to this debate perhaps depends on the level of investment that the player has in the game. Players who spend less time gaming or who only play for recreational and social purposes, for example, are less likely to get stressed during play compared to high stakes players or career gamers.
Evidence points towards CBD having a calming effect on the central nervous system. Taking CBD before gaming may help pre-emptively mitigate stressful feelings, this is due to the fact that CBD is a neurotransmitter that will bind to receptors in the brain. These bindings displace any anxiety-inducing neurotransmitters and stop them from binding to the receptor, which helps to restore equilibrium in the brain.
A recent study determined that video games do affect the stress system, in addition to the cognitive system of humans depending on the game style. Fear inciting games, which feature genres such as, survival, action, and psychological horror is more prone to elicit feelings of stress and tension. The research also demonstrated that the type and level of stress triggered in the players depend on the game style (Aliyari et al., 2021).
Esport competitions have closely monitored regulations regarding doping. Competitions adhere to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list of prohibited substances; players found breaking these regulations could find themselves (and their teammates) banned from competing. Cannabidiol is the only cannabinoid compound found in cannabis permitted in esport competitions.
Although WADA has removed CBD from its list of prohibited substances it is still advised that competitors using the extract choose CBD products carefully as some broad-spectrum products contain low levels of THC which is still a banned substance in esports competitions.
As the number of gamers increases and the industry grows, player gaming injuries will become more prevalent; extracts such as CBD may prove useful in mitigating these issues. Cannabidiol could, in some cases, also aid with the reduction of stress created when playing video games. Especially at high levels of competitive esports, there is an intense amount of pressure on the players to perform; now that WADA has approved CBD for use in competitions it may be able to minimise players’ feelings of stress and anxiety while gaming.
CBD may reduce side effects associated with anti-seizure medications.
Could CBD help with the side effects of anti-seizure medications for people with epilepsy?
A study published in the journal, Epilepsy and Behaviour examined CBD’s potential impact on anti-seizure medications for people with epilepsy.
There are 600,0000 people living with Epilepsy in the UK. It’s one of the most common nervous system disorders affecting people of all ages. It’s a neurological condition that can result in seizures. Treatment for epilepsy can include anti-seizure medication, diet therapy such as the ketogenic diet and surgery.
The side effects of medication can include dizziness, nausea, headaches, fatigue, vertigo and blurred vision.
There are medications such as Epidolex prescribed for rare seizure disorders such as Dravet syndrome or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. However, it is not approved for other forms of epilepsy. There are around 60 different types of seizures and it is possible to have more than one type. Seizures can vary depending on where in the brain they are happening.
They analysed data collected between April 2016 and July 2020 from 418 patients. The participants included 71 adults with epilepsy who used artisanal CBD products for medicinal purposes and 209 who were caregivers of children or adults who also used artisanal CBD. The control group of 29 adults with epilepsy who were considering CBD and 109 caregivers who were interested in it for dependent children or adults.
Participants were asked to fill in a survey and answer questions about their quality of life, anxiety, depression and sleep. They were also given follow up surveys every three months for over a year.
In comparison with the control group, artisanal CBD users reported 13 percent lower epilepsy medication-related adverse effects. They also had 21 percent greater psychological health satisfaction at the beginning of the study.
Their anxiety was recorded as being 19 percent lower and depression was 17 percent. Both the adult and youth groups reported better quality sleep than the control group.
The caregivers of patients currently using CBD reported 13 percent less stress and burden in comparison with the control group. Patients in the control group who started using artisanal CBD reported improvements in their physical and psychological health. They also self-recorded reductions in anxiety and depression.
Participants were asked to record possible adverse effects related to their CBD use. Among all of the participants, 79 percent did not report any effects.
Of the remaining participants, 11 percent reported potential drowsiness, 4 percent said their symptoms may have gotten worse, 3 percent had concerns about the legality and 4 percent worried about the cost of the profits.
The researchers reported that further research is needed to understand how the findings could be applied to patients. They also stated that patients should consult with their doctor before trying CBD products.
Introducing our new B2B title
- Cannabis is medicine – just ask people with epilepsy
- Skin conditions and cannabis – survey finds support for use in acne, psoriasis and rosacea
- New studies examine effects of THC and CBD on stroke
- Could hemp seed oil be the next big thing in male skincare?
- New study shows CBD may prevent Covid-19 infection
- How CBD helps me combat arthritis pain
News1 year ago
Community extends support to cannabis icon Rick Simpson
News1 year ago
Cancer survivor claims cannabis oil helped her beat brain tumour
Case Studies2 years ago
CBD oil and fibromyalgia – a case study
News2 years ago
NHS lines up cannabis medicine manufacturing
News1 year ago
UK grants second licence to grow high-THC medical cannabis
News1 year ago
Living with chronic fatigue – my CBD story
Insight1 year ago
I’ve gone from a wheelchair to walking thanks to cannabis
Feature2 years ago
Medical cannabis could help long-term effects of COVID-19, says David Nutt