Cannabis may have some beneficial effects on symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder

An analysis of a large dataset of medical cannabis users has indicates that many people with obsessive-compulsive disorder report that their symptoms are reduced after smoking the substance.

The preliminary study, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, found that cannabis use was associated with reductions in compulsions, unwanted thoughts and anxiety, highlighting the need for additional clinical trials.

“While many studies have examined the acute effects of cannabis on other mental health conditions — such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and psychosis — there has been almost no research on acute effects of cannabis on symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (or OCD) in humans,” explained study author Carrie Cuttler, an assistant professor at Washington State University.

“We have previously found that acute cannabis use is associated with reductions in anxiety as well as intrusive thoughts characteristic of PTSD. Further, previous research using a rodent model of compulsive behavior indicates that CBD — which is the second most common constituent in the cannabis plant — reduces compulsive behavior. Therefore, we suspected that cannabis may have acute effects on OCD symptoms in humans.”

For their study, the researchers analyzed data collected by Strainprint Technologies, a medical journaling app in which patients report changes in symptom severity in response to consuming different strains and doses of cannabis. Cuttler and her colleagues were particularly interested in 1,810 cannabis sessions that 87 individuals self-identifying as having OCD had logged into the Strainprint app.

After cannabis consumption, users with OCD reported it reduced the severity of their compulsions by 60%, intrusions by 49%, and anxiety by 52% on average. Only a small number of sessions were associated with a worsening of these symptoms.

“We also found that higher concentrations of CBD were associated with larger reductions in compulsions specifically, which is consistent with previous research in rodents. Also, higher doses of cannabis were associated with larger reductions in compulsions,” Cuttler told PsyPost.

“Finally, we found that as people continued to use cannabis over time the cannabis-related reductions in intrusions became somewhat smaller, suggesting people may start to develop tolerance to the acute effects of cannabis on intrusions. In contrast, it appeared that the cannabis-related reductions in compulsions and anxiety remained pretty constant over time.”

But the researchers noted that their dataset likely did not include many people who found cannabis to be ineffective. The study is also limited by its lack of a placebo control group.

“It is important to note that we relied on a self-selected sample of cannabis users who use cannabis to manage their symptoms of OCD and there was significant variability in the results, suggesting the not everyone will find cannabis equally beneficial in reducing OCD symptoms,” Cuttler explained.

“Further, the sample self-reported having OCD and we couldn’t verify their diagnoses. Moreover, we were not able to obtain a placebo control group so some of the reductions in symptoms may be a function of expectancy effects, that is it is likely that people’s expectations of the effects of cannabis on these symptoms may be driving at least some of their perceived symptom change.”

“Indeed, shortly before our paper was published a rather small clinical trial was published that revealed that the reductions in OCD symptoms were no larger after cannabis use than placebo use,” Cuttler added. “We really need larger sized clinical trials that examine these effects in a longitudinal manner, but the restrictions that the schedule I classification of cannabis imposes on researchers makes this difficult.”

Strainprint’s app is intended to help users determine which types of cannabis work the best for them, but the company provided the researchers access to users’ anonymized data for their study.

“This research was only possible because of the generous support of Strainprint, who provided us with the anonymous data from their medical cannabis app to analyze,” Cuttler said. “This is one of five papers we have published using Strainprint app data to examine the acute effects of cannabis on various mental health conditions and pain.”

The study, “Acute Effects of Cannabis on Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder“, was authored by Dakota Mauzay, Emily M. LaFrance, and Carrie Cuttler.