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New Research Suggests That Cannabis Could Bring Relief For OCD Symptoms

November 13, 2020 11:36 am ET
New Research Suggests That Cannabis Could Bring Relief For OCD Symptoms

Until recently, there has been little to no research available that examines the effects of cannabis in patients diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Thanks to an ever increasing interest in the medical benefits of cannabis, a study was recently conducted that researched the acute effects of cannabis on the symptoms of OCD. Many patients with OCD tend to perform actions without wanting to, but feeling powerless to try and stop it. Perhaps cannabis can be used to bring back some of that control for OCD patients. 

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is considered a mental illness that is characterized by repeated, unwanted thoughts and sensations (obsessions) as well as by the irresistible urge to do something over and over (compulsions). Many people associate the illness with habits such as nail-biting and an intense focus on neatness when in reality is more like the need to wash hands several times after touching something perceived as dirty. 

Every person has habits or thoughts which may come across as repetitive but the difference between OCD and non-OCD individuals is that the actions of OCD individuals take up at least an hour every day, the actions are beyond their control, they don’t enjoy the actions and it may even interfere with work and other aspects of life. 

Types of OCD

There are many different types of OCD but most of the cases fall within four categories.

  • Checking
  • Contamination
  • Symmetry and ordering
  • Ruminations and intrusive thoughts

Checking refers to the need to check up on things such as security, lights, electronics, or even constantly checking whether they have a medical condition. Contamination refers to the fear that things may be dirty which is then followed by a compulsion to clean. Symmetry and ordering refer to the uncontrollable need to have things done or lined up in a certain manner, while ruminations and intrusive thoughts refer to being obsessed with certain lines of thought, which could even be violent or disturbing. 

Obsessions vs Compulsions

Individuals with OCD know that their habits or thoughts don’t make sense but they can’t quit and if they try to, they feel so bad that they begin all over again. 

Obsessions

Compulsions

Obsessive thoughts include worrying about oneself and others getting injured or hurt. Compulsions include the need to do certain tasks in a specific order or in specific amounts of time. 
Obsessions include constant awareness of actions such as breathing or blinking.  Compulsions also include the need to count things such as steps. 
Suspicion over things without having reasons to warrant suspicion.  It can also include the fear of touching things that may be perceived as contaminated such as public toilets or shaking hands. 

What Does Research Say About Cannabis and OCD?

The study was published online last month in the Journal of Affective Disorders. The team of researchers explained that they looking to cannabis for OCD in order to “examine whether symptoms of OCD are significantly reduced after inhaling cannabis, examine predictors (gender, dose, cannabis constituents, time) of these symptom changes, and explore potential long-term consequences of repeatedly using cannabis to self-medicate for OCD symptoms, including changes in dose and baseline symptom severity over time”.

The team made use of an app known as Strainprint that allows users to track changes in symptoms as different doses and strains of cannabis are consumed over time. The data of 87 individuals with OCD who tracked the severity of their intrusions, compulsions, and/or anxiety immediately before and after a total of 1810 cannabis use sessions over a time period of 31 months. 

Patients in the study reported a 60% reduction in compulsions, a 52% reduction in anxiety as well as a 49% reduction in intrusions. The team also found that cannabis with higher concentrations of cannabidiol (CBD) would lead to larger reductions in compulsions. However, they found that tolerance built up to cannabis led to fewer reductions in compulsions, intrusions, and anxiety but also found that the baseline symptoms severity and cannabis doses “remained fairly constant over time”. 

The conclusion of the research states that while cannabis is beneficial to OCD patients, the high tolerance that develops over time will ultimately hinder the benefits and not fully eliminate them. Fortunately, high tolerance can be mitigated by taking tolerance breaks.

Tips for Reducing Tolerance Build-up:

  • Reduce the frequency and quantity of cannabis consumption through a method called micro-dosing.
  • Use a variety of strains.
  • Monitor and control the quantity of intake in order to find the most optimal time of consumption to avoid using cannabis too frequently.

Changes caused to the cannabinoid receptors from consuming cannabis can be reversed through tolerance breaks and effective management of consumption. OCD patients deserve to have some control over their obsessions and compulsions. Cannabis can help OCD sufferers and is an all-natural form of therapy, which is gaining more and more support as time goes by. 

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