Cannabis & OCD

What is OCD?

OCD is a mental health disorder characterised by compulsions and obsessive thoughts that affect a person’s life in a negative way. Obsessions are defined as worries, doubts and unpleasant thoughts that frequently manifest in your mind. These obsessions may often make the affected person feel frightened, disgusted or tense. By contrast, compulsions or compulsive behaviours are the repetitive actions you take to manage or reduce the stress caused by the obsessions. These compulsions could be either mental or physical actions.

While many people experience minor obsessions and compulsions (e.g. repeatedly checking the door is locked), OCD makes a major impact on the sufferer’s everyday life in a variety of ways, for instance: taking up time, impacting relationships and creating feelings of shame and anxiety.

This disorder can affect anyone, although the condition often develops around puberty and early adulthood.

It is common for anxiety to concurrently coexist with other mental health issues like depression and anxiety due to the debilitating effects of the condition, which oftentimes makes the condition hard to distinguish from other mental health conditions.

How is OCD treated?

To receive medical treatment for OCD the affected person must visit their GP for an assessment and to discuss the different treatment options available. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), the most effective form of treatment for OCD involves a combination of both medication and talking treatments, with the type of treatments offered being dependent upon the severity of the symptoms being experienced.

Talking therapies offered may include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), exposure and response prevention (ERP) and cognitive therapy.

CBT involves the affected person dealing with their fears and obsessions without trying to ease their anxiety using compulsive behaviour as they typically would.

ERP is a therapy created specifically for the treatment of OCD that encourages the sufferer to put themselves in a situation that would typically make them anxious. They are then encouraged to try to deal with the anxiety the situation causes without resorting to using their compulsions. This therapy therefore highlights to the sufferer that the feelings will eventually subside even without the performance of a compulsion.

Cognitive therapy revolves around recognising and addressing negative feelings you have about yourself.

Medications offered will likely include Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or Clomipramine if SSRIs are deemed ineffective. SSRIs are deemed to help with OCD as they change the balance of chemicals in the brain, although the NHS note that it could take several months before SSRIs garner noticeable effects.

If the use of these treatments does not result in noticeable improvements, a different SSRI might be prescribed, or the patient may be advised to try combining SSRIs and CBT or talking therapies.

Can cannabis help?

There have been multiple case studies investigating cannabis and cannabinoids for the treatment of OCD using both synthetic cannabinoids and phytocannabinoids.

As OCD is often a disorder with comorbid mental health symptoms (anxiety, depression etc..), there’s a possibility that various active cannabis-related compounds could have therapeutic potential when considered alongside patients’ individual histories and previous experiences with cannabis and other substances like antipsychotics, Benzodiazepines and other substances.

A patient case study of Cooper et. al. (2016) where the patient had a thalamic infarct that resulted in treatment resistant OCD found that dronabinol (a THC constituted cannabis-based medicine) significantly helped with reducing OCD symptoms.

Another case study by Schindler et. al. (2008) found a similarly significant reduction in OCD symptoms.

However, other kinds of studies still need to be carried out for distinct and irrefutable evidence to be obtained. With time it is hoped that a variety of more detailed studies will be carried out so greater insight into the disorder and its machinations will be gained, leading to better, more effective forms of treatment for patients.

What do you think about the use of cannabis based products for the treatment of OCD? Let us know in our comments below this post. We’d love to hear from you.

For more information on these studies and the treatment of OCD using medical cannabis, take a look at our evidence base, a ground-breaking systematic review of the history of research in this area and a global first-of-its-kind searchable database for clinical referencing.

Follow this link for more information on our online course on Anxiety and Depression.

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