OCD and Weed: Can Cannabis Treat Symptoms of OCD?
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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) — a condition marked by irrational thoughts and fears that lead to obsessive behaviors — affects millions of people in the United States. It is traditionally treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and pharmaceuticals such as antidepressants or, occasionally, benzodiazepines. While these treatments help many, some people find their OCD medications often yield unwanted side effects or that CBT isn’t as effective as they’d like it to be.
Fortunately, medical marijuana may be a suitable alternative OCD treatment, with recent research showing that areas in the brain linked to OCD are receptive to marijuana’s chemical compounds.
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What Is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, OCD manifests as a pattern of repeated, unwanted thoughts and fears (called obsessions) that drive people to perform repetitive behaviors or rituals (called compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions become consuming, interrupting daily life and causing significant stress and anxiety.
OCD obsessions often have themes, such as:
- Fear of contamination or dirt
- Constant doubts, with difficulty tolerating uncertainty
- Needing things orderly and symmetrical
- Horrific thoughts about losing control and harming yourself or others
- Unwanted thoughts about aggression or sexual or religious subjects
OCD compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that OCD patients feel driven to perform to ease anxiety or prevent a perceived threat from occurring. Like obsessions, compulsions tend to fall into common categories:
- Washing and cleaning
- Constantly checking and counting
- Following a strict routine
- Demanding reassurance
Medical professionals have yet to determine the cause of OCD. Theories include physical and emotional trauma and infections that alter the brain. Symptoms usually arise gradually in teen or young-adult years and vary in severity throughout life. Stressful events may trigger OCD episodes or make them worse.
Traditional treatment for someone suffering from OCD usually combines extensive cognitive therapy with various pharmaceutical drugs, such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications.
Is OCD a Qualifying Condition for Medical Marijuana?
OCD usually qualifies as an anxiety disorder because it causes irrational thoughts, fears, or worries. Anxiety disorders are common mental health conditions that many states include in their lists of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.
Some states, such as Minnesota and Ohio, plan to or have recently passed updates that list obsessive-compulsive disorder specifically as a qualifying condition in their medical cannabis programs.
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How Does Marijuana Help Manage OCD Symptoms?
Research indicates that OCD patients are more likely to use cannabis as a coping mechanism to manage their symptoms. And how cannabis’s compounds interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) may explain this OCD-marijuana connection.
Cannabinoids, like THC and CBD, bind with receptors in the ECS, a nerve-signaling network that maintains cognitive, physiological, and emotional stability. Marijuana’s mechanisms of action could help patients feel more balanced based on research indicating that ECS irregularities are a factor in OCD’s pathophysiology.
In fact, one pilot clinical trial found that the use of THC combined with exposure therapy has a synergistic effect on the treatment of obsession and compulsion in individuals diagnosed with OCD.
Potential Benefits and Risks of Using Cannabis If You Have OCD
As is the case with any substance, there are benefits and risks associated with its use. Fortunately, in the case of using marijuana to help with managing symptoms of OCD, the potential benefits seem to outweigh the risks.
A new study by Washington State University published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that smoking cannabis, especially strains with higher CBD concentrations, quickly and temporarily reduced OCD symptoms, such as anxiety, repetitive behaviors, and intrusive thoughts. The WSU study collected data from over 1,800 cannabis sessions logged by 87 individuals into the Strainprint app over 31 months.
The case study reported cannabis use reduced the severity of symptoms by about half within four hours of smoking:
- Compulsions had a 60% reduction.
- Unwanted thoughts had a 49% reduction.
- Anxiety had a 52% reduction.
Another study on OCD and weed with a smaller placebo control group showed constant and marked improvement, reducing obsessions and compulsions by 80% to 90% and lasting 12 to 15 hours.
These results may be due to THC and CBD’s well-researched ability to improve mood and quell anxiety. For example:
- Scientific evidence indicates that THC has a similar chemical structure to the endocannabinoid (a cannabinoid your body naturally produces) called anandamide. Anandamide is known as the “bliss molecule” because it makes people happy and reduces anxiety, similar to serotonin.
- Case studies indicate CBD exhibits anti-anxiety and calming effects that can help with relaxation and sleep by soothing racing thoughts and nervous ideas. Several animal studies found that CBD reduced compulsive behaviors in rodents.
Medical marijuana may also help curb the unwanted side effects of certain OCD medications, including:
- Headache pain
- Weight loss
OCD and weed use helps patients quell intrusive thoughts early on in usage. Still, the impact lessens over time, according to Carrie Cuttler, the WSU study’s corresponding author and WSU assistant professor of psychology. These findings suggest cannabis might not have long-term OCD benefits.
Also, THC’s relaxing effects are not universal. Research shows that a low dose of THC is more likely to decrease anxiety, while higher doses can have the opposite effect. Therefore, for those who require THC to manage their anxiety, the key is to go slow and low, potentially even microdosing, to find their ideal therapeutic zone. A usual starting dose of THC is 2-2.5 mg, increasing by 2-2.5 mg increments until the desired effect is achieved without over-intoxication.
Cannabis can also cause unwanted side effects in some users that might contribute to anxiety in OCD patients, such as:
- Blurred vision
Best Strains for OCD
Cannabis comes in assorted strains with varying cannabinoid, terpene, and flavonoid levels. CBD-dominant strains (cultivars) show the most potential to assist OCD patients looking for alternative treatments. However, everyone reacts differently to marijuana, and scientists don’t have a consensus on which strains work best for OCD.
With that said, the strains below may be great starting options as OCD patients begin their alternative wellness journeys.
Charlotte’s web is a non-psychoactive CBD oil, making it ideal for patients concerned about marijuana’s intoxicating effects. Patients report feeling happy and relaxed and regaining focus, which wards off depression, anxiety, and intrusive thoughts.
This 50-50 sativa-indica hybrid strain has almost equal amounts of THC (15%) and CBD (12%), which can balance some of THC’s psychoactive effects with CBD’s anti-anxiety properties. OCD patients may feel more confident, motivated, light-hearted, composed, and relaxed.
With a CBD content of about 11%, this strain is prevalent among patients with mental health disorders due to its negligible psychedelic effects. Harlequin reportedly helps relieve anxiety, depression, fear, and apprehension while offering non-sedative feelings of relaxation.
Cherry Kola is one of the few strains with a high THC content (up to 22%) that OCD patients, especially those dealing with insomnia, say they find helpful for relaxation and sleep. It provides a euphoric high and intense sedation for the best of both worlds.
ACDC is reportedly a great pain reliever strain with a high CBD content (about 18%). It’s popular among OCD patients for alleviating obsessions, panic, fear, mental exhaustion, depression, and tension without an intoxicating high.
The Bottom Line
OCD patients report that cannabis can combat racing thoughts and compulsive behaviors that lead to anxiety and depression. Additionally, cannabis can help OCD patients by reducing the side effects of traditional OCD meds, such as nausea, headaches, insomnia, and restlessness. Research mimics these claims with the caveat that weed’s OCD benefits may be short-lived.
If you live in a state with access to medical cannabis and are looking for a natural way to treat your OCD symptoms, make an appointment with Leafwell today to register for a medical marijuana card.
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