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Inhaled Cannabis Reduced OCD Symptoms In Recent Study

Study finds cannabis use is associated with immediate reductions in OCD symptoms

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is a challenging condition to live with. The chronic psychiatric disorder is characterized by persistent intrusive thoughts (often about things that might go wrong) along with urges and compulsions, such as the compulsion to repeatedly check locks or wash hands. And to add to these challenges, those with OCD tend to experience heightened levels of anxiety. While there are a variety of treatment options for OCD, including therapeutic and pharmaceutical options, many patients with the condition report that these treatments are unable to fully manage the condition.

Now, a new study published this month in the Journal of Affective Disorders is pointing towards cannabis as a potential treatment for OCD. The researchers from Washington State University found that acute cannabis use, and especially cannabis with higher levels of CBD, was able to quickly and temporarily reduce symptoms of OCD such as anxiety, compulsions, and intrusive thoughts. Still the symptom reductions for intrusive thoughts lessened over time, making it less clear whether cannabis could be a long term treatment for that particular symptom.

Previous research has already found that those with OCD have a higher likelihood to use cannabis, and researchers have hypothesized that this use is a coping mechanism to tell with the symptoms of OCD. But few studies have investigated whether cannabis is actually effective at reducing OCD symptoms. Those that have investigated the cannabis OCD connection have brought back mixed results.

Commercial cannabis growing in a greenhouse.

A recently published placebo-controlled study found that cannabis did offer symptom relief but not relief that was significantly larger than that found for the placebo group. Still, the potency of the cannabis used in this study was much lower than what is available in the legal cannabis market, and the sample size was small. So it may have been underpowered to find results.

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Case studies on cannabis, as well as synthetic forms of THC (one of the active chemicals in cannabis) have also found some evidence for symptom reduction. And several animal studies have found that CBD is able to reduce compulsive behaviors in rodents.

The researchers on this study sought to investigate this connection further in human subjects, so they utilized an app called Strainprint, which allows cannabis users in Canada to report their starting symptoms, the specific cannabis products and dose used, and the resulting impact those products had on their symptoms. The researchers tracked the responses of 87 individuals who self-identified as having OCD for over two years – looking specifically at inhaled cannabis use like vaping and smoking. Patients evaluated their starting symptoms prior to cannabis use, and the symptoms after cannabis use by responding to questions like “How intrusive are your thoughts?” or “How bad is your compulsive behaviour” on a 0-10 scale.

This study looked at patients who used vaporized or smoked cannabis only. Photographer: Cayce . [+] Clifford/Bloomberg

© 2018 Bloomberg Finance LP

Researchers then analyzed the data to see whether cannabis seemed to help or hurt when it came to managing OCD symptoms. The analysis revealed that cannabis use was tied to a reduction in OCD symptoms. In fact, most cannabis sessions recorded resulted in a reduction of symptoms. 95.4% of all sessions resulted in reduction of compulsions, 89.6% resulted in reduction of intrusive thoughts, and 93.8% of sessions resulted in reduction of anxiety.

On the other hand, only 1.9-3% of sessions resulted in a worsening of these symptoms (depending on the symptom).

Ultimately, these patients reported an average 60% reduction in compulsions, 49% reduction in intrusive thoughts and 52% reduction in anxiety.

Interestingly, researchers also had access to the CBD and THC levels in the products used. Calculating this into their analysis, they found that those who used high CBD products reported larger reductions in compulsion symptoms than those using higher THC options. This is consistent with previous animal studies suggesting CBD can aid in reducing compulsive behaviour. Those who used higher doses of cannabis also had larger reductions in compulsion symptoms.

Researchers also noted that cannabis seemed to help more with intrusive thoughts early on in cannabis use. But over time, the impact cannabis use had on intrusive thoughts lessened, suggesting that a tolerance to this benefit may develop over time. Still, cannabis remained effective for symptoms like anxiety and compulsive behavior.

While this study suggests that cannabis could be helpful for treating the symptoms of OCD, it does have some limitations. For one thing the sample was self-identified as having OCD, so it’s possible that some in the study may not actually have a diagnosis of OCD. There was also no placebo control group, so we can’t compare to see whether these impacts are attributable to a placebo effect, like they have been in smaller, earlier studies on lower potency cannabis. These limitations suggest that future rigorous clinical research needs to be conducted to truly answer these questions.

Still, this study points the way, with some evidence that cannabis, and perhaps especially high CBD cannabis, could be a beneficial treatment for those suffering from OCD.

A new study published this month is pointing towards cannabis as a potential treatment for OCD. The researchers from Washington State University found that cannabis use was able to quickly and temporarily reduce symptoms of OCD such as anxiety, compulsions, and intrusive thoughts.

Can You Use CBD for OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is the fourth most common mental health condition affecting people in the United States. It most commonly affects women. Although the exact causes of OCD have not been identified, symptoms of fear, worry, and anxiety underpin this condition.

Addressing this condition is not always easy, as it often requires both therapy and prescription medication. More and more, however, people are looking to natural approaches to help alleviate their symptoms—and many of them are asking if they can use CBD for OCD.

Can You Use CBD for OCD? Just the Facts

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, more commonly known as OCD, involves intrusive obsessive thoughts followed by compulsive behaviors. Unfortunately, there have not been many studies on using CBD for OCD, or many mental health and mood disorders at all. But there is some promising research that shows CBD oil may help some people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive compulsive disorder is a mental condition in which a person experiences obsessive thoughts which cause anxiety, as well as compulsions to perform a certain behavior.

Here is an example: After a person leaves the house, they begin having a persistent, intrusive thought that the door is not locked, even knowing they double- or triple-checked it. This is the obsessive thought. Next, that person returns home to check that the door is locked. This is the compulsion. In some cases, this cycle of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors repeats several times.

OCD used to be classified as an anxiety disorder, but the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), which is the main reference for all mental health disorders, no longer views it in the anxiety category. However, one of the main components of OCD is anxiety, so most people still see OCD as an anxiety-related disorder.

Common Obsessive Thoughts

Each person has different types of obsessive thoughts. However, most of the time, they fall into one of several categories. Examples include:

  • Fear of germs, viruses, or contamination
  • Harmful thoughts toward yourself
  • Harmful thoughts toward others or animals
  • Having things organized in a particular order
  • Fear of harming someone because of something you did or did not do (i.e. worrying the shoes you left out could cause a person to trip and fall)
  • Unwanted thoughts that are sexual in nature
  • Fear of forgetting about an important date
  • Obsession with certain colors or numbers being good or bad
  • Inability to make decisions

Compulsive Behaviors

A person uses compulsive behaviors in an attempt to reduce the anxiety they feel from their obsessive thoughts. Often, a person will repeat these behaviors over and over—which may reduce their anxiety level, but only temporarily. Common compulsive behaviors include:

  • Excessive hand washing or bathing
  • Excessive cleaning
  • Continually checking that things are done (i.e. the door is locked)
  • Compulsive counting
  • Repeating certain words or phrases
  • Repeating actives (i,e. going up and down stairs or turning light switches on and off)

The Impact of Having OCD

As previously mentioned, obsessive thoughts cause great anxiety to people affected by OCD. The severity of OCD ranges from mild to severe. However, in all cases, OCD causes distress to a person, affects their quality of life, and can even overtake their life.

In some instances, people don’t realize that what they’re doing is out of the ordinary—but friends, family, or teachers (in the case of children) notice. In other cases, a person knows that their thoughts or behaviors are not rational, but they cannot control them.

Risk Factors of OCD

We do not yet completely understand what causes OCD or all of its risk factors. We do know that there may be a genetic link, as OCD is more common in people who have a first-degree relative with the disorder.

Also, a history of sexual trauma or abuse in childhood increases the likelihood of developing OCD.

Conventional Treatment of OCD

Before looking at whether CBD for OCD is effective, let’s look at some of the conventional treatments available to those with OCD. People with OCD may try to avoid situations where they know their thoughts or actions may be be triggered. In addition, unfortunately, some may turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-treat.

The most common treatment for OCD is cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps people uncover their underlying thoughts and fears as well as address them.

Anti-depressant medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are also prescribed for OCD. However, about 50% of people do not response to SSRIs. The next line of medications (for those who do not respond to SSRIs) is anti-psychotics. Research shows mixed results for both SSRIs and anti-psychotic medications in OCD treatment. In addition, both have numerous adverse side effects.

Can You Use Medical Cannabis and CBD Oil for OCD?

Many people do not find relief from their OCD symptoms with the current medication treatments that are available. Because of this, OCD patients are experimenting with alternative approaches, including using medical cannabis and CBD for their OCD symptoms.

People report using medical cannabis as well as CBD products to help with anxiety and depression. Many report that these products have helped with their depression, anxiety, and stress-related symptoms.

Medical Marijuana vs CBD Products

People report using both medical marijuana and CBD to manage their anxiety. There are, however, significant differences to consider. CBD products are derived from the hemp plant and contain cannabinoids such as cannabidiol. Medical marijuana also contains cannabinoids, but it also contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which has psychoactive properties. In addition, research shows that THC may worsen anxiety.

What the Research Says

Unfortunately, there have not been any human studies to determine whether CBD oil can help with obsessive compulsive disorder directly. However, there has been research conducted on CBD for other anxiety-related mental health issues such as generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A large component of OCD is constant anxiety. Therefore, if CBD is effective in managing anxiety symptoms, it could be useful as an adjunct treatment for those suffering with OCD.

The Endocannabinoid System and Anxiety

CB1 Receptors

CB1 receptors are found throughout the brain in the areas involved in emotional and behavioral reactions, learning, memory, and decision making.

CB2 Receptors

CB2 receptors are heavily involved with pain and inflammation of the body. However, research is beginning to discover their role in emotions and mood regulation as well. In addition, inflammation itself is a factor in mood disorders such as depression.

CBD and the Endocannabinoid System

CBD contains cannabinoids—anandamide, in particular—which stimulate CB1 and CB2 receptors within the endocannabinoid system.

Studies have found a relationship between lower levels of anandamide in people with PTSD. PTSD, is another mental health condition that’s characterized by panic attacks and, much like OCD, high anxiety levels. This means it is possible that there is less stimulation of their endocannabinoid systems, which could be contributing to their high anxiety levels.

Studies have also found that activation of CB1 receptors has resulted in lower levels of fear, anxiety, and compulsion.

5-HT Receptors and Anxiety

Another component involved in anxiety is 5-HT receptors. These are affected by the drug Buspirone, which is one of the most common anxiety medications. Cannabinoids are also shown to stimulate these receptors. Therefore, CBD products may help to alleviate anxiety symptoms through this mechanism. And, as such, CBD oil may be able to help people with obsessive compulsive disorder.

CBD and the Brain

Very preliminary evidence has found that CBD oil affects certain structures of the brain that are involved in mood and emotions, such as the amygdala. This study found that CBD works to reduce amygdala activation—which, in turn, lowers the fear, compulsion, and anxiety response.

Animal Studies

A recent animal study assessing the use of CBD oil for OCD in mice found that was effective at reducing obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Although this is a step in the right direction, it’s important to keep in mind that animal studies do not necessarily represent the effect that a substance will have in humans.

A Summary of What the Research Says

Currently, there are no human studies regarding the use of CBD oil for OCD directly. However, there are positive human studies on CBD products and anxiety, which is a large aspect of OCD.

Reasearch shows that CBD affects several mechanisms of the brain involved in anxiety, including the endocannabinoid system, 5-HT receptors, and brain structures.

In general, research studies have found that at low doses, CBD is an anxiolytic, and at high doses, it does not improve anxiety or can worsen it.

Animal studies have found that CBD improves OCD symptoms in mice.

Final Thoughts

OCD is a distressing mental health condition that can be difficult to successfully treat. Cognitive behavioral therapy is generally useful for this condition, but 50% of people do not respond to the standard current medications. Overall, preliminary research strongly supports the use of CBD oil as a treatment for anxiety disorders.

CBD has shown to influence several aspects of OCD, including anxiety, fear, panic, and compulsion. Given that anxiety is one of the central symptoms in OCD, anxiety-reducing therapies are of great use for symptoms of this condition. Therefore, it is likely that using CBD for OCD may be able to help.

If you suffer from OCD and are interested in using CBD products to help with your obsessive compulsive disorder, speak with your doctor first. Keep in mind that CBD products are not regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Therefore, make sure any CBD products you purchase are from a reputable source who uses third-party testing. This helps to ensure both the quality and safety of the products.

Can you use CBD for OCD? We take a look at whether or not CBD may be helpful for people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.