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How do CBD and marijuana affect OCD?

Disclaimer: This post is an examination of research on marijuana and CBD usage among people with OCD and other mental health conditions. NOCD does not endorse any study or its results, or recommend the use of marijuana, CBD, or any psychoactive drug.

In 2015, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that 22.2 million people had used marijuana in the past month—7% of the population. This made it the most commonly used drug in the United States, and usage was trending upward. As states continue to battle over medical and recreational legalization, marijuana is becoming an increasingly typical part of life in the United States. So far, recreational use has been legalized in ten states and in Washington D.C. Medical use, restricted to those with certain conditions, is now partially or completely legal in 36 states.

These statistics vary drastically around the world, for many reasons. But in the US, at least, widespread and growing use points to a reality in which cannabis products ought to be part of any discussion about mental health. It also points to a need for these discussions to be based in evidence, not alarmism or anecdote.

The short-term effects of cannabis can interact with mental health conditions in complex ways—exacerbating anxiety or encouraging mania, for example. And the long-term effects of these substances are the subject of never-ending, often aggressive debate. A few years ago, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened an expert committee to take a thorough look at huge amounts of research. Their fascinating 2017 report draws over 100 conclusions, among them:

  • “There is substantial evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and the development of schizophrenia or other psychoses”
  • “There is moderate evidence of a statistical association between cannabis use and… a small increased risk for the development of depressive disorders; increased incidence of suicidal ideation, attempts, completion; increased incidence of social anxiety disorder”
  • “There is limited evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective for… improving symptoms of Tourette syndrome; improving anxiety symptoms in individuals with social anxiety disorder; improving symptoms of PTSD”

Another substance to worry about?

The term cannabinoids encompasses marijuana and other substances that work on the same receptors in our brain. In the past few years, a different kind of cannabis product has grown explosively in popularity. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is the second most abundant chemical compound in marijuana. But when extracted from hemp—a cousin of the marijuana plant—CBD is isolated from THC, the compound in marijuana that causes a high and other psychoactive effects. However, many CBD products actually do contain some proportion of THC.

Subject to claims of effectiveness for all kinds of conditions, CBD is being marketed far more quickly than it can be researched. Due to its trendiness and a shaky but largely unenforced legal status, US sales grew from $108.1 million in 2014 to an estimated $813.2 million in 2019. By 2022 CBD sales are projected to approach $2 billion. Walgreens sells CBD products in nine states, CVS in eight. A staggering 14% of American adults say they use CBD, primarily for pain, anxiety, and insomnia.

People say all kinds of things about marijuana and CBD. They range from potentially true to probably nonsensical, and the longtime illegality of cannabinoid products has only made it harder to get any research done. Everyone is confused—especially those with mental health conditions, who might have the same desire to try these substances but a reduced ability to tolerate their effects.

On the other hand, countless people with or without psychiatric disorders say that marijuana and/or CBD help them feel better. Much research, though in its early form, supports the effectiveness of both medical marijuana and CBD for specific conditions. But, as stated in the National Academies report, there’s only limited evidence for a small number of conditions.

Very little or no research has been conducted on most mental health conditions in relation to the effects of cannabis products. Confusion is the status quo with both substances, although the fact that CBD typically has milder effects and isn’t exactly illegal in most places has allowed manufacturers to shape public opinion significantly.

People with mental health conditions, prone to distress, are often in search of relief. Whether illegally or legally, in moderation or excess, they’re more likely to use substances than the general population. Studies have found that 27-39% of people with obsessive-compulsive disorder met lifetime criteria for substance use disorder (involving any substance), and general usage rates are certainly higher. So, how do the most prevalent illicit drug and its nonintoxicating counterpart affect people with OCD?

Cannabis products and OCD

Although 2-3% of the population has OCD, it doesn’t get enough attention from researchers around the world. This is reflected in the fact that no new medication for OCD has been developed since 1997. Research gravitates toward conditions that are more prominent in our media, already receive better funding, and are at least a bit better understood—think depression and PTSD. There is always remarkable research emerging on OCD, but typically not on the same scale.

Unfortunately, this lack of research carries over to substance use as it relates to OCD. As Dr. Jamie Feusner, MD, Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA and NOCD Chief Medical Officer, put it: “There is very little known about marijuana or CBD use in people with OCD, and no clinical studies of these substances in people with OCD have been published.”

A 2017 study at Washington State University showed that OCD are “was positively associated with cannabis misuse, but not frequency of cannabis use or quantity.” But, as with other studies along the same lines, the researchers didn’t look at the effects of marijuana on their subjects.

Meanwhile, a 2017 clinical trial at the New York State Psychiatric Institute called “Effects of Marijuana on Symptoms of OCD,” has yet to post results. If results do emerge, they’ll come from only 14 participants—a great start, but hardly conclusive. That marijuana remains illegal and stigmatized in so many places limits sample sizes and therefore study progress, and researchers must do what they can with a limited patient population.

Researchers have conducted a few animal studies with cannabinoids, yielding mixed results. Two studies, from 2010 and 2013, linked CBD with a reduction in compulsive-like marble-burying behavior among mice. However, as Dr. Feusner notes, the observed mouse behaviors like marble-burying or pathological grooming aren’t necessarily complete models for OCD in humans.

A 2016 study sheds additional light on the possible neurobiology of these effects. When CB1 receptors—which are blocked indirectly by CBD—were deleted in specific neurons, mice were not able to shift from “goal-directed” to “habitual” behavior (possibly an analogue to compulsions in humans). Those researchers concluded that mice were switching between goal-directed and habitual behaviors based on activity in their CB1 receptors.

Clearly, research efforts have not been extensive enough to determine whether marijuana and CBD might be helpful or harmful for people with OCD. There’s still a lot of energy around this topic, though, and a few researchers plan to conduct larger-scale surveys of people with OCD—perhaps in preparation for research studies. (For more on these, stay tuned to the NOCD blog.)

For the time being, it’s advisable to stay away from psychoactive substances, particularly if one has a mental health condition. The reality is that we still know very little about what happens to the human brain on marijuana and CBD. And with psychiatric conditions already complicating things, there’s good reason to wait for further research to emerge.

If you’re age 18 or older and have been diagnosed with OCD, you can help make this research happen. Take this brief survey from McMaster University.

Disclaimer: This post is an examination of research on marijuana and CBD usage among people with OCD and other mental health conditions. NOCD does not endorse any study or its results, or recommend the use of marijuana, CBD, or any psychoactive drug.

Both CBD and marijuana are widely used by people with OCD. But so far the research hasn't been very clear about their effects. Read our blog to know whether it helps or not.

Does CBD Really Help With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Medical research shows that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) can play a role in modulating anxiety, fear, and repetitive behaviors.

O bsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD is a mental disorder that causes a person to feel the need to perform certain routines repeatedly (referred to as “compulsions”), or has certain thoughts repeatedly (obsession). Anxiety or unwanted thoughts result in repetitive behavior that is beyond their control for more than a short period of time. Repetitive hand washing, locking, and unlocking doors several times, and hoarding are all signs of OCD. There is no choice with these actions, the brain tells the person that these actions are necessary, they are compulsory.

Sometimes the feeling is that failure to conduct these repetitive actions will result in death. Estimations suggest that OCD affects 1.2% of the UK population. Although there are certain age hot spots it is widespread across all genders and ethnic types.

Sometimes, since the symptoms are easily hidden it is difficult to realize that somebody is suffering from this disorder.

How OCD Is Treated

Traditionally there have been two main types of treatment for this condition:

Cognitive brain therapy is a popular treatment for several types of depression, and mental health and social disorders. The treatment at its basic level takes the form of a series of meetings to attempt to rationalize what the trigger or thought mechanisms are that starts the compulsory response. If something is hot, we immediately we pull our hand back. This action is automatic, there is no thought about what the consequences would be if we do not act. It is necessary to find the trigger for a compulsory response, and then attempt to desensitize the brain to the trigger. A cure for fear of flying is to introduce flying to a subject in a controlled way thus showing the fears are unfounded.

Medication such as Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SRI) are commonly used to treat this condition and indeed other forms of depression. However, it is not entirely clear how this form of medication works apart from the fact that it acts to help to correct any imbalance in Serotonin levels. How Serotonin functions is also not completely understood, as it is a part of an exceedingly complex structure. As a part of the neural network, it is a messenger system that allows areas of the brain to communicate. Recalling the act of touching something hot the brain sends a message that forces the rapid movement of the hand to take it out of danger. When the brain fails to communicate correctly the messages can become scrambled or interpreted incorrectly.

Can CBD work for treating OCD?

If serotonin levels are one of the main contributors to inducing OCD than other chemicals that influence the levels could have a positive effect. There is a growing belief that CBD has a positive effect on anxiety and help to raise mood levels.

Is it possible the CBD, which is a natural plant-based product influences serotonin? CBD can attach itself to one of the 114 Serotonin receptors and by doing so helps with its regulation. Anandamide is a hormone that also influences anxiety and mood levels. CBD is also able to enhance the production of this hormone whilst also effecting the enzyme that triggers the breakdown of this hormone.

The Benefits Of Using CBD To Treat OCD

Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, the traditional medication for OCD has numerous side effects that are less than desirable.

  • Insomnia
  • Skin rashes
  • Headaches
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Stomach upset
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Reduced blood clotting
  • Diminished sexual interest/desire/performance

Whilst using the medication to decrease anxiety it is potentially creating side effects that would increase anxiety. There is also an increased risk level with older people using this class of medication since it can affect the heart rhythms and interfere with other medications.

CBD works by mimicking the body’s natural processes and is a natural plant-based product. Since this natural product works with the brains neural systems, naturally there is far less chance for side effects to develop.

Ways You Can Use CBD To Treat OCD

Using CBD is now often recommended for various conditions and is available in various formats making application simple.

  • CBD Oil drops dispensed directly on to the tongue is a comfortable and effective method.
  • Capsules like medication or vitamin capsule for stress-free ingestion.
  • Vape cartridges available with different tastes to aid consumption.
  • Concentrated CBD crystals is a pure extraction of CBD in a crystalline powder that enables a variety of ways to take it including sprinkled on and mixed in food and drinks.

Dosage is particularly important, although there are recommendations, they are yet to be quantified scientifically. A lot of people think more CBD is better, but actually CBD is the opposite. Whatever your body does not need, it flushes out.⁠

When it comes to CBD, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to dosing. It often takes a little while to find your sweet spot, and even then, you may want to periodically adjust your dose to reflect your changing schedule, mood, and environment.

The Bottom Line

CBD has suddenly become popular and there are countless claims about its suitability for treating various conditions. The scientific community is now in the process of a large-scale evaluation of the compound through clinical studies and surveys. There are, however, several case reports from the medical journals showing when they have tried CBD in specific cases, improvement in the patients were observed within two weeks. In some cases, there have been reports of improvement for people who have been resistant to other recognized drug therapy. There have been various trials animals such as monkeys, rats, and dogs that have all displayed positive results. However, trials with other products have shown that a positive animal trial results are not always will it correlate to a similar result with humans.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD is a mental disorder that causes a person to feel the need to perform certain routines repeatedly (referred to as “compulsions”), or has certain thoughts…