Cannabis and Mental Health: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Can you alleviate the symptoms and reduce the effects of OCD with cannabis?
Cannabis and Mental Health: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that is often misunderstood and misrepresented by the public to some degree. Such misunderstandings may stem from the media’s frequent inaccurate depictions of the disorder and similar conditions like it. Other causes may be due to its similar symptoms to other medical conditions. 

Whatever the case may be, it is time we better understand OCD and other mental health conditions like it. 

Despite an increase in public awareness, portrayals of OCD are often incorrect. The often hyperbolic, comedic depiction of an OCD patient that includes hoarding of niche items and excessive cleaning may play a part in some symptoms. However, it does not accurately summarize what diagnoses OCD.

In fact, OCD symptoms vary by person. Furthermore, the condition equally affects men and women of all ethnic backgrounds at a rather frequent rate. One in 40 adults, and one in 100 children in the United States have OCD.  

Symptoms of the disorder include spending an hour or more each day obsessing over thoughts, images, impulses and/or compulsions. These thoughts become a seemingly unstoppable force, rapidly looping in a person’s mind over and over. Anxiety builds as the person tries to find ways to cope or relieve the internal tension. Compulsions, commonly known as rituals, are employed in an attempt to control these obsessions. Over time, the process tends to disrupt or derail the person’s quality of life over time. 

OCD is often incorrectly associated with the similarly named Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). People with OCPD believe in their own routines despite it resulting in possibly detrimental results. Patients often seek control of situations and other aspects of their lives to maintain their habits. With OCPD, a person is focused on perfection, which may lead them to repeat tasks numerous times.

In some cases, OCD has been miscategorized as being on the autism spectrum. This is likely due to both patients often having a preoccupied focus on specific interests. The confusion can be compounded as the two conditions can coexist together. Coexisting conditions are common in OCD. Possible conditions include anxiety and depression as well as bipolar disorder, ADHD, eating disorders and Tourette’s syndrome, among others. 

OCD can also lead to the development of related disorders. These include body dysmorphia, hoarding, hair pulling, skin picking and other conditions focused on picking or chewing certain parts of the body.

At this point, no definitive causes for OCD have been identified. It is thought that a combination of factors, including genetics and a person’s environment, can have a role. 

Studies have shown cannabis may help address OCD symptoms. A 2008 analysis of two patients noted a “significant symptom improvement” when they used medical cannabis or the man-made cannabis-derived drug Dronabinol. 

In 2015, an analysis of 49 studies found that CBD reduced anxiety behaviors in OCD as well as several other conditions. They included generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder (PD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder (SAD). The analysis noted another 2015 study which found that CBD reduced subjects’ behavior to bury a marble for up to seven days. 

In recent news, a 2019 pilot research study of 14 patients aims to understand if smoked THC or CBD can reduce OCD symptoms. The research completed in March of 2019. It has not published its results as of this article’s filing.

Like lab studies, some medical professionals believe cannabis could be a treatment option as well. 

Mitchell Sadar is a clinical psychologist with a specialty in measuring brain waves using biofeedback activity. He believes cannabis may help some OCD patients. 

The 30-plus year medical professional explained that OCD symptoms may stem from “deviant brainwave patterns.” A lack of normal alpha activity may make a person vulnerable to OCD and other anxiety symptoms, according to Sadar. He believes cannabis may help resolve the issue. 

“Cannabis typically increases alpha activity…in the case of OCD associated with a lack of alpha activity, cannabis would be expected to have a beneficial effect,” Sadar elaborated. 

He added that cannabis could be detrimental in other cases, such as when a patient has increased alpha activity. “The bottom line is that cannabis may or may not be helpful depending on the underlying EEG endophenotype.”

While High Times attempted to contact those affected by OCD, none were able to provide us with their personal accounts by the time of this article’s submission. To better understand the patient perspective, we turned to anecdotal evidence supplied over the past few years. Several discussions can be found in online forums. An assortment of responses supports Sadar’s assessment. 

A 2017 Quora thread offered both pros and cons on the issue. One person claimed that cannabis lowered their inhibitions while lessening anxiety. They added that cannabis use made them a more affable person. Another said using cannabis helped them notice when they fall into thought loops. On the other hand, a respondent in the thread claimed that their symptoms were worse when consuming THC. They did not elaborate further. 

The same mixed results were found on Reddit. In one thread, a person claimed cannabis helped them focus, while another reported feeling intense fear and a state of panic.

Few anecdotes about minors could be readily found online. However, a July 2010 ABC News report profiled a California mother Judy Mendoza and her son, Ryan. She claimed that cannabis helped her then 12-year-old son cope with severe OCD brought on by pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with streptococcal infections, or PANDAS. 

Ryan’s symptoms were so bad that violent meltdowns could be triggered by everyday occurrences like the wind and the number six. The condition intensified to a point that Ryan asked his mother to kill him to relieve the pain. Judy tried cannabis after using numerous opiate medications. A positive early response prompted the family to continue Ryan on a once-daily cannabis pill with additional liquid drops for when his anxiety became severe. 

Now nearly a decade old, the Mendoza’s story is one many continue to face. Some studies, coupled with stories like the Mendozas, paint a positive picture for cannabis treatments. That said, uncertainty remains over THC as a treatment. With its ability to work for some, it may appear to be the wonder drug many see it as. However, for others, THC can prove to be detrimental. 

As such, it is highly recommended that you or your loved ones speak with a physician before incorporating cannabis into any OCD treatments.

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