Cannabis can reduce symptoms of OCD, at least for a little while

PULLMAN, Wash. — Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be a constant disruptive force in a patient’s life. Researchers at Washington State University say people dealing with these repetitive behaviors and distractions may find relief in a controversial source. Their study reveals cannabis can significantly cut down on the symptoms of OCD, at least for a short period of time.

Researchers find that within four hours of smoking cannabis, patients with OCD experienced 60 percent fewer compulsions. Their intrusive or unwanted thoughts also reduced by 49 percent and anxiety decreased by 52 percent. For patients taking higher doses of cannabis with higher concentrations of cannabidiol (CBD), the improvement was even greater.

The study examined data reported to the Strainprint app by 87 individuals using marijuana to treat their symptoms. These OCD patients logged over 1,800 cannabis sessions over a 31-month period. Although the drug could trigger fast and noticeable results, researchers noted cannabis did not have tremendous staying power. Reductions in unwanted thoughts became smaller as the study went on. Study authors say this likely points to the patients developing a tolerance for marijuana’s effects. The impact on compulsions and anxiety however, stayed steady throughout the experiment.

“The results overall indicate that cannabis may have some beneficial short-term but not really long-term effects on obsessive-compulsive disorder,” says WSU assistant professor of psychology Carrie Cuttler in a university release. “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.”

Normally, OCD is treated with exposure and response prevention therapy. This involves patients having their irrational thoughts and behaviors challenged directly by someone else. Physicians may also prescribe antidepressants called serotonin reuptake inhibitors to reduce the symptoms. While these treatments work on some patients, they don’t cure the condition.

“We’re trying to build knowledge about the relationship of cannabis use and OCD because it’s an area that is really understudied,” says study first author and doctoral student Dakota Mauzay.

Little research on OCD and cannabis

The WSU team says they discovered only one other report looking at marijuana’s impact on obsessive-compulsive disorder. That study examined just 12 people but also revealed a link between the drug and easing OCD. Although a reduction was noted, the previous study found the impact was not much greater than taking a placebo.

While the WSU team is cheering the more significant results of the Strainprint app study, they caution that their research did have limitations. For one, there is no placebo control group in the new report. Participants also self-reported their symptoms to the app and may have inflated their progress. Researchers explain that when there is no control group, an “expectancy effect” may play a role as people who expect to feel better from a medication generally do.

Cuttler contends the study is still valuable because of the large set of data gathered and the fact that participants used market cannabis in their own home. The researcher says federally-grown cannabis from a lab could have affected the results. The Strainprint app study allowed users to pick a type of cannabis tolerable to them for the best results possible.

The study appears in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

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