Can Cannabis Treat OCD?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) impacts millions of people in the United States. The mental health disorder occurs when people find themselves in an endless cycle of obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions.

Cannabis may emerge as a treatment to help break that cycle. A new study from the University of Washington, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, found that those who smoked weed saw a reduction in the symptoms common for those who suffer from OCD.

“Inhaled cannabis appears to have short-term beneficial effects on symptoms of OCD,” the researchers wrote. However, researchers noted that they need to also study long-term use as it might lead to a buildup of tolerance to the beneficial effects of cannabis.

Other studies have found similar results when it comes to marijuana and anxiety. And the public certainly made its opinion known by increasing the use of cannabis to deal with anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Details of the study

To understand the impact of cannabis, researchers worked with 87 medical marijuana patients who self-identified as having OCD. The study involved a whopping 1,810 cannabis sessions over 31 months. 

Researchers reported the following results.

  • Patients reported a 60 percent reduction in compulsions.
  • They claimed a 49 percent reduction in intrusions (unwanted thoughts).
  • They also saw a 52 percent reduction in anxiety from the time before and after smoking cannabis.

They also found that higher concentrations of cannabis led to a larger reduction. The number of cannabis use sessions across time also led to a smaller reduction in intrusions – in other words, as the study went on, cannabis became a little less effective.

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While not a great deal of research has been done in this area, some earlier studies support the findings from the University of Washington researchers.

For example, researchers from Columbia University published a review of Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research studies that focused on studies that show the endocannabinoid system plays a role in regulating anxiety, fear, and repetitive behavior. They also noted that OCD patients have reported that cannabis helps with their OCD.

“Taken together, these findings suggest that the endocannabinoid system could be a potential target for novel medications for OCD,” the researchers wrote. They added, “Although preliminary, the available clinical data indicates that cannabinoids influence OCD-relevant processes, impacting anxiety symptoms, enhancing fear extinction, and reducing certain repetitive behaviors.”

A study recently published in Frontiers in Psychology also found evidence that the cannabinoid system is involved in the pathophysiology of OCD. They also noted that cannabis provides so many benefits that it’s hard to know if it directly impacts OCD or other factors contributing to the issue.

They wrote, “It also cannot be ruled out that treatment with medicinal cannabis only indirectly influenced OCD symptoms by reducing stress or improving other symptoms such as anxiety, depression, or sleeping problems.”

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