Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder that affects 2-3 million adults in the United States alone. According to the International OCD Foundation, while OCD can pop up anytime between preschool and adulthood, it’s most common between the ages of 10-12 as well as late teen years to early adulthood. Treatment for OCD ranges from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to medication. However, research is now showing that marijuana can actually be helpful in the treatment of OCD. Before we get into that, let’s outline some things about OCD especially since it’s a commonly misunderstood condition.
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Overview of OCD
You may have heard people say things like “I’m so OCD”. This is incorrect because OCD cannot be used as an adjective, it’s a serious mental health issue. Being tidy, double-checking whether or not you plugged out the iron, and washing your hands a couple of times a day doesn’t mean you have OCD. According to Help Guide, when you have OCD, your obsessive thoughts and behaviors interfere with your day to day life.
The article defined OCD in the following way, “OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and ritualized, repetitive behaviors you feel compelled to perform”. People suffering from OCD cannot simply dismiss these obsessions. Help Guide defines obsessions as “involuntary thoughts, images, or impulses that occur over and over again in your mind.” In order to temporarily stop these obsessions, sufferers of OCD would perform a compulsion. Compulsions are simply rituals or behaviors that someone feels the need to do over and over again.
Unfortunately, OCD creates a vicious cycle. First, you get an obsessive thought, then anxiety forms. In order to squash this anxiety, you perform a compulsive behavior which then leads to temporary relief. However, the obsessive thought comes back and the cycle starts over.
Symptoms of OCD
There are several symptoms of OCD as outlined by Help Guide. Help Guide divided the symptoms into obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
- Fear of being contaminated or contaminating others by germs or dirt
- Hyperfocus on religion and morals
- Obsession with order and symmetry
- Fear of losing control and harming yourself or others
- Intrusive sexually explicit or violent thoughts and images
- Fear of losing something that you may need one day
- Excessively double checking things
- Praying excessively
- Always checking in on loved ones to see if they’re safe
- Piling up useless things
How weed can help manage OCD
Research conducted found that people with OCD use cannabis perhaps to manage their symptoms. The study states, “Obsessive-compulsive symptoms were significantly correlated with risky cannabis use but not cannabis use problems or the average quantity of cannabis used per occasion.”
So does weed use for OCD work?
According to a Washington State study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, weed looks promising in the treatment of OCD. Researchers employed the use of Strainprint® to explore the effects of weed on OCD. Stainprint is an app that allows medical cannabis users to document any changes in symptoms as they used different doses and strains of cannabis. The Strainprint app, according to Science Daily, is intended to help users identify which strains of weed works for them. The researchers were able to access anonymous data for this research.
It was a very small study of 87 self-identifying sufferers of OCD. According to the study, the subjects tracked “ the severity of their intrusions, compulsions, and/or anxiety immediately before and after 1,810 cannabis use sessions spanning a period of 31 months.”
Results of the study
The following are the results of the study:
- Patients reported a 60% reduction in compulsions.
- The subjects had a 49% reduction in intrusions.
- Patients reported a 52% reduction in anxiety from before to after inhaling cannabis.
- Cannabidiol (CBD) in higher doses and concentrations was reported to cause a larger reduction in compulsions.
- Baseline symptom severity and dose remained fairly constant over time.
- Later cannabis use sessions were associated with smaller reductions in intrusions.
The study also concluded that “tolerance to the effects on intrusions may develop over time.” Science Daily reported that as the participants continued to use cannabis, “the associated reductions in intrusions became slightly smaller.” This suggests the building up of tolerance among participants. However, the relationship between weed and the reductions in compulsions as well as anxiety, seemed to remain fairly constant.
Limitations of the study
There were also a couple of limitations that are worth noting. The first one is that the patients were not formally diagnosed with OCD, they self-reported. In addition to that, the symptoms were also self-reported. There was also no control group used in this study.
According to Science Daily, “The WSU researchers noted that one of the limitations of their study was the inability to use a placebo control and an “expectancy effect” may play a role in the results, meaning when people expect to feel better from something they generally do”. In addition to that, the Science Daily article highlights that not everyone had the same reduction in symptoms and so the results varied.
What does this mean?
Basically, the study shows that weed can help to alleviate OCD symptoms for the short term for some users. Science Daily mentioned a similar study done. In that particular study, there were 12 participants, and a reduction in OCD symptoms was observed. However, the reductions were not significantly larger than those in the controlled group. There is clearly a lack of studies done in this area. The relationship between OCD and weed deserves more research and hopefully, it will come over time.
There should also be special attention placed on the role of CBD in the treatment of OCD. There has been an animal study that implies that CBD has an effect on compulsive behavior because it has anti-compulsive effects. That study coupled with this shows that the relationship between marijuana and OCD seems positive.
OCD is a mental disorder that affects so many people in the United States. This disease can truly reduce the quality of life of those who suffer from it. Even though there are other treatment options, it’s great that scientists are still looking into additional ways to treat this problem. Weed appears to reduce the symptoms of OCD, at least for the short term, and therefore deserves to be researched further.