New Study Finds Cannabis Reduces OCD Symptoms by Half

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While cannabis won’t cure OCD, a first-of-its-kind study finds that it can provide considerable relief, even if it’s only temporary.

 

If you keep your ear to the ground for CBD research, you’ll know that multiple studies have already found that CBD can help with anxiety, and there’s also evidence that the cannabinoid may be able to help with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) as well. 

Building on that research, researchers from Washington State University recently published a study that weighs in on the benefits of cannabinoids for OCD, and they’ve found that inhaled cannabis may also help reduce symptoms – at least temporarily.

This is a big deal, because, for people living with OCD, finding relief from symptoms can be elusive. And it shouldn’t be surprising that the persistent intrusive thoughts, compulsions, and obsessions related to the disorder can have serious ramifications for a person’s work and social life.

OCD is one of those disorders that most people have at least a vague understanding of – and that’s probably because it’s not an uncommon illness. According to the International OCD Foundation, an estimated 1 in 100 adults (or between 2- 3 million adults) in the US currently suffer from some form of OCD.

Most people diagnosed with OCD will undergo some form of exposure and response prevention therapy (in which people’s irrational thoughts around their behaviors are directly challenged) combined with prescribed antidepressants. These treatments have positive results for some, but by no means all, OCD patients.

So finding new potential therapeutics that could help control the symptoms of the illness is a top priority for mental health researchers. But incredibly, until a couple of weeks ago, no research has examined the acute effects of cannabis on symptoms of OCD in humans. (And by “acute” we mean that the study was not looking for a cure for the illness, but rather temporary symptomatic relief.)

Study participants reported that the severity of their symptoms was reduced by about half within four hours of smoking cannabis.

The study, which was just published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, looked at data from 1,800 cannabis sessions that 87 individuals logged into the Strainprint app over 31 months. (Strainprint is a medical marijuana data company.)  

According to the study, patients (who self-identified as having OCD) reported a 60% reduction in compulsions, a 49% reduction in intrusions, and a 52% reduction in anxiety from before to after inhaling cannabis. Interestingly, the research highlights that higher concentrations of CBD and higher doses predicted larger reductions in compulsions.

“The results overall indicate that cannabis may have some beneficial short-term but not really long-term effects on obsessive-compulsive disorder,” said Carrie Cuttler, the study’s corresponding author and WSU assistant professor of psychology. 

Because the study took place over an extended amount of time (31 months) researchers were able to assess whether users developed tolerance to cannabis. The findings on this are mixed. 

It seems that, as people continued to use cannabis, the associated reductions in intrusions became slightly smaller, suggesting that they were building tolerance. But nonetheless, the relationship between cannabis and reductions in compulsions and anxiety remained fairly constant.

It’s important to note the limitations of the study – namely, that no placebo or control group was integrated into the research. Also, Cuttler noted that there may have been an “expectancy effect,” meaning that when people expect something to help, it generally does. 

Nevertheless, the researchers are adamant that the study establishes the need for further research on cannabis and OCD:

“We’re trying to build knowledge about the relationship of cannabis use and OCD because it’s an area that is really understudied,” said Dakota Mauzay, a doctoral student in Cuttler’s lab and first author on the paper.

For Cuttler, the apparent efficacy of high-CBD strains is one thing that really stood out in the data, and she is especially interested in pursuing this route of study even further:

“To me, the CBD findings are really promising because it is not intoxicating. This is an area of research that would really benefit from clinical trials looking at changes in compulsions, intrusions, and anxiety with pure CBD.”

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