Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy Can Cannabis Help Alleviate OCD Symptoms?

Can Cannabis Help Alleviate OCD Symptoms?

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Millions of Americans suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a disorder characterized by illogical thoughts and anxieties that trigger compulsive behaviours. Traditionally, medications such as benzodiazepines or antidepressants are used along with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). 

Although many people benefit from these treatments, some find that CBT isn’t working as well as they would like it to or that their OCD medications frequently have unpleasant side effects. Some OCD sufferers turn to cannabis for relief. If you wish to use marijuana to treat your OCD, you will need a medical marijuana card that will allow you easy access to cannabis legally in your state.

Fortunately, new research indicates that the chemical compounds in medical marijuana can receptively target areas of the brain associated with OCD, suggesting that medical marijuana could be a viable adjunctive treatment for OCD.

Understanding obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

The American Psychiatric Association states that OCD is characterised by a pattern of unwanted, recurring thoughts and feelings (referred to as obsessions) that cause sufferers to engage in compulsive, repetitive actions or rituals. These compulsions and obsessions take over, interfering with day-to-day activities and producing a great deal of stress and anxiety.

OCD obsessions frequently feature themes like these:

  • Fear of dirt or contamination
  • Uncertainties all the time and trouble accepting uncertainty
  • Requiring symmetry and order in things
  • Terrible ideas about going crazy and hurting yourself or other people
  • Undesirable ideas regarding aggression, sex, or religion

OCD compulsions are compulsive acts or repetitive behaviors that OCD sufferers feel compelled to carry out in order to reduce anxiety or stop a perceived threat from happening. Compulsions, like obsessions, typically fit into one of the following categories:

  • Washing and cleaning
  • Constantly checking and counting
  • Orderliness
  • Following a strict routine
  • Demanding reassurance

Physicians are still unable to identify OCD’s etiology. Theories include infections that change the brain and trauma, both emotional and physical. Typically, symptoms start slowly in adolescence or early adulthood and change in intensity over the course of a lifetime. Stressful situations have the potential to start or worsen OCD episodes.

Extensive cognitive therapy is typically combined with pharmaceutical drugs, such as antidepressants, anxiety medications, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), in the traditional treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

It is always advisable to speak with an MMJ doctor before beginning to use marijuana as a treatment for OCD. The physician will advise you on how to use marijuana most effectively and determine whether it would be appropriate for you. 

Can OCD qualify for medical marijuana treatment?

Since OCD frequently results in illogical thoughts, fears, or worries, it is typically classified as an anxiety disorder. Many states have included anxiety disorders among the common mental health conditions that qualify for medical marijuana.

Some states, like Ohio and Minnesota, have updated their medical cannabis programs to specifically include obsessive-compulsive disorder as a qualifying condition. 

How does marijuana aid in managing OCD symptoms?

Studies show that cannabis use is more common among OCD sufferers as a coping strategy for their symptoms. And this link between marijuana and OCD may be explained by the way that the compounds in cannabis interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

THC and CBD are examples of cannabinoids that bind to receptors in the ECS, a nerve-signaling network that keeps the body, mind, and emotions stable. Based on research showing that ECS irregularities are a factor in the pathophysiology of OCD, marijuana’s mechanisms of action may help patients feel more balanced.

Indeed, THC and exposure therapy work synergistically to treat obsession and compulsion in OCD patients, according to a preliminary clinical trial.

The pros and cons of using cannabis for OCD

Like any other substance, there are advantages and disadvantages to using it. Thankfully, the potential advantages of using marijuana to help manage OCD symptoms appear to outweigh the risks.

Pros

A recent study from Washington State University, which was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, found that smoking cannabis, particularly strains with higher concentrations of CBD, temporarily and quickly reduced OCD symptoms, including intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and repetitive behaviors. Over the course of 31 months, 87 people logged over 1,800 cannabis sessions into the Strainprint app, which is how the WSU study collected data.

Within four hours of smoking, the case study found that using cannabis decreased the severity of symptoms by approximately half.

  • Compulsions had a 60% reduction.
  • Unwanted thoughts had a 49% reduction.
  • Anxiety had a 52% reduction.

Another study involving a smaller placebo control group and cannabis and OCD patients demonstrated consistent and significant improvement, with compulsions and obsessions decreasing by 80% to 90% and lasting for 12 to 15 hours.

The well-established ability of THC and CBD to elevate mood and reduce anxiety may be the cause of these effects. For example:

  • According to scientific research, THC and anandamide, an endocannabinoid (a type of cannabinoid your body naturally produces), have comparable chemical structures. Anandamide, which functions similarly to serotonin in promoting happiness and lowering anxiety, is referred to as the “bliss molecule.”
  • Based on case studies, CBD has calming and anti-anxiety properties that can help with sleep and relaxation by slowing down racing thoughts and anxious ideas. Numerous studies conducted on animals revealed that CBD decreased rodents’ obsessive behaviors.

Additionally, medical marijuana may lessen the unpleasant side effects of some OCD medications, such as:

  • Nausea
  • Headache pain
  • Restlessness
  • Weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures

Cons

Early in the usage process, OCD and cannabis use help patients overcome intrusive thoughts. However, over time, the effect decreases, according to Carrie Cuttler, an assistant professor of psychology at WSU and the corresponding author of the study. These results imply that cannabis may not have long-term benefits for OCD.

The calming effects of THC are not felt by everyone. Studies indicate that, while higher doses of THC may have the opposite effect, lower doses are more likely to reduce anxiety. Consequently, the secret for people who need THC to control their anxiety is to start out slowly and gradually—possibly even microdosing—in order to identify their optimal therapeutic range. Usually, a 2-2.5 mg initial dose of THC is used, and it is increased by 2-2.5 mg increments until the intended effect is obtained without becoming excessively intoxicated.

Additionally, some cannabis users may experience undesirable side effects that exacerbate anxiety in OCD patients, such as:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Blurred vision

The bottom line

Cannabis, according to OCD sufferers, can help with obsessive behaviors and racing thoughts, which can cause anxiety and depression. Cannabis can also benefit OCD sufferers by lessening the negative effects of conventional OCD medications, like headaches, nausea, insomnia, and restlessness. Studies support these claims, but they also note that the benefits of weed for OCD might not last long.




Ellen Diamond, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.

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