This is the first placebo-controlled investigation of cannabis in adults with OCD. The data suggest that smoked cannabis, whether containing primarily THC or CBD, has little acute impact on OCD symptoms and yields smaller reductions in anxiety compared to placebo. Research shows CBD oil can support anxiety, fear, panic, and compulsive behavior in patients with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). Carrie Cuttler, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Washington State University, on recent findings that show CBD may reduce intrusive thoughts and anxiety for patients with OCD.
Acute effects of cannabinoids on symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder: A human laboratory study
Background: Preclinical data implicate the endocannabinoid system in the pathology underlying obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), while survey data have linked OCD symptoms to increased cannabis use. Cannabis products are increasingly marketed as treatments for anxiety and other OCD-related symptoms. Yet, few studies have tested the acute effects of cannabis on psychiatric symptoms in humans.
Methods: We recruited 14 adults with OCD and prior experience using cannabis to enter a randomized, placebo-controlled, human laboratory study to compare the effects on OCD symptoms of cannabis containing varying concentrations of Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) on OCD symptoms to placebo. We used a within-subjects design to increase statistical power. Across three laboratory sessions, participants smoked three cannabis varietals in random order: placebo (0% THC/0% CBD); THC (7.0% THC/0.18% CBD); and CBD (0.4% THC/10.4% CBD). We analyzed acute changes in OCD symptoms, state anxiety, cardiovascular measures, and drug-related effects (e.g., euphoria) as a function of varietal.
Results: Twelve participants completed the study. THC increased heart rate, blood pressure, and intoxication compared with CBD and placebo. Self-reported OCD symptoms and anxiety decreased over time in all three conditions. Although OCD symptoms did not vary as a function of cannabis varietal, state anxiety was significantly lower immediately after placebo administration relative to both THC and CBD.
Conclusions: This is the first placebo-controlled investigation of cannabis in adults with OCD. The data suggest that smoked cannabis, whether containing primarily THC or CBD, has little acute impact on OCD symptoms and yields smaller reductions in anxiety compared to placebo.
Keywords: THC; anxiety; cannabidiol; cannabinoids; cannabis; marijuana; obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Can CBD Help With OCD? (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a subcategory of anxiety.
Despite a lack of clinical studies on CBD for OCD, there are some things we know already.
Learn how CBD works, how to use it, and what else you can do to support your symptoms.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately 1.2% of the American population has clinical obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
OCD is a subcategory of anxiety, which is expected to affect as many as 29% of the public at some point in their lifetime .
Here, you’ll learn how CBD can be used to alleviate common symptoms of OCD, what dose to take, and what else you can do to maximize the benefits.
MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY
Carlos G. Aguirre, M.D., Pediatric Neurologist
Updated on January 12, 2022
Table of Contents
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Can CBD Help With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
OCD is characterized clinically as an anxiety disorder.
There isn’t much research on how effective CBD is for OCD specifically — however, there are other studies that indicate potential benefits for anxiety as a whole.
There are a few mechanisms CBD uses to alleviate anxiety symptoms, many of which can be linked to the pathology involved with OCD.
The benefits of CBD oil for OCD may include:
- Supports sleep
- Reduces cortisol levels to ameliorate stress
- Reduces brain inflammation
- May help stabilize mood (serotonin support)
- Alleviates pain
- Relaxes muscle tension
- Alleviates nausea
- Protects the neurons from oxidative damage
- Improves appetite
What Type of CBD Products Should I Use For OCD?
There’s capsules, oils, tinctures, edibles, and topicals. Each one has its own set of positives and negatives, and not all are suitable for every person.
The most common choice, by far, is CBD oil, but capsules and edibles are also both excellent forms of CBD for people suffering from OCD or other forms of anxiety.
CBD oil is taken by measuring the desired dose using the supplied dropper. You can place the oil under your tongue for faster absorption or swallow it right away — both methods work perfectly fine.
Capsules and edibles make dosing even easier because they come pre-measured for specific doses. The downside is that edibles and capsules tend to be a little more expensive than oils, and the dose can’t be dialed into the same level of specificity.
What Dose of CBD Oil Should I Use?
Everybody reacts differently to CBD. Some people need a minimal dose; others need a huge dose — it all depends on your genes and the specific set of symptoms.
Therefore, there is no single dosage recommendation that we can make.
In general, people with mild to moderate OCD report a low- to medium-strength dosage is enough to provide relief from their symptoms. For more severe OCD, a high-strength dose is required to deliver the same benefits.
Use the chart below to find your general dosage requirements according to your weight and desired strength. Remember that these are merely guidelines. The dose can vary a lot from one person to the next so always start low and build up to higher doses gradually once you know how it affects you individually.
Recommended strength for OCD: low to heavy strength.
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What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
OCD is an anxiety disorder involving frequent, recurring thoughts and obsessions. It often causes people to develop strong urges to do things repetitively or compulsively — often referred to as tics.
The obsessions and urges of those affected can become disruptive to normal life — making social interaction, changes in routines, and productivity more difficult than usual.
Examples of obsessive behavior that may be affected by OCD:
- Checking on things
- Clearing throat frequently
- Counting things over and over
- Enforcing specific routines
- Forcing others to follow strict routines
- Gambling addictions
- Hair-pulling (trichotillomania)
- Nervous tics (blinking, muscle spasms)
- Repeating words or phrases
- Skin-picking (excoriation)
What Causes Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
Fear and anxiety are both normal human responses. We use these responses to cope with threats to our survival, such as coming face to face with a hungry animal.
Feelings of fear and anxiety are meant to be short-lived and appropriate for the situation. This means that the level of anxiety and stress we experience should be enough to give us an advantage for getting out of danger (such as fighting off the hungry animal or running away) but not too much that it makes us freeze in fear.
Once the danger is gone and we’re back to safety, feelings of anxiety and stress should subside.
The stress response can become dysfunctional in several different ways, leading to anxiety disorders such as OCD.
Signs of a Dysfunctional Stress Response:
- Stress response lasts too long
- The intensity of the stress response is excessive for the level of danger involved
- Stress response activates more often than we need it to
Any issues with the stress response can lead to problems over time. We refer to these conditions as “poor stress adaptation” — the ability to adapt to and react to stresses is no longer working correctly.
Anxiety is the umbrella term for this form of neurological disorder, but there are many different conditions associated with a dysfunctional stress adaptation, including OCD.
Conditions Associated with Dysfunctional Stress-Adaptation:
- General anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
- Panic disorder (PD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
The Importance of Stress Adaptation & OCD
All life on earth is faced with some form of stress. In the natural world, this stress usually came in the form of environmental changes temperature, hunger, and encounters with other humans or animals.
Our ability to adapt to stress helps us manage these situations. When it’s too cold outside, our stress response activates our metabolic system to drive our core body temperature up.
When we encounter a malicious animal or human, our stress response gives us a boost in energy levels to help us fight or flee to safety.
In the modern world, this same stress response is activated by non-life-threatening stressors — sometimes throughout the day. If our stress adaptation isn’t working optimally, we begin to experience debilitating side-effects of the stress response when we shouldn’t be.
Think about road rage for a moment — this is a prime example of a stress response that doesn’t serve us. Getting cut off by another driver or sitting in stand-still traffic triggers us. Despite the fact that other drivers can’t hear us, we yell or curse — creating no change to the situation.
Someone who has strong stress adaptation reflexes will find it easier to avoid road rage.
Factors That Can Reduce Our Ability To Resist Stress
- Recreational and pharmaceutical drug use
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Heavy metal exposure
- Asperger’s syndrome
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Huntington’s disease
- Drug addictions
- Regular high-stress experiences
How is OCD Treated?
Treatments for OCD can vary widely. It often requires a lot of trial and error to see which medications or lifestyle changes work, and what doesn’t.
The process for treating this disorder may take several months before an effective treatment is found.
The most common medications used for OCD include:
- Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Zoloft)
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors(Pristiq, Khedezla)
- Benzodiazepines(Xanax, Klonopin, Librium)
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors(Marplan, Nardil, Emsam)
- Tricyclic antidepressants(Amitriptyline, Doxepin)
- Partial 5-HT1A receptor agonists
What the Research Says: CBD For OCD
There’s almost no research explicitly looking at the interaction between CBD and OCD. However, there’s plenty of excellent research supporting the use of CBD for other anxiety disorders.
A 2015 preclinical study investigating the potential new treatment of anxiety disorders using CBD concluded that:
“Preclinical evidence conclusively demonstrates CBD’s efficacy in reducing anxiety behaviors relevant to multiple disorders, including PTSD, GAD, PD, OCD, and SAD, with a notable lack of anxiogenic effects.”
Although more specific research is needed to explore the use of CBD for OCD, the current findings are promising. The complexity of the condition makes it challenging for researchers to make any conclusive statements on the subject. OCD often comes with other medical conditions — which complicates the diagnosis.
Key Takeaways: Can CBD Help With OCD?
There are still no dedicated studies involving the use of CBD for OCD, so we can’t conclusively say that it helps or doesn’t help — however, there are plenty of excellent studies published on CBD for anxiety. Since OCD is a form of anxiety and involves many of the same side-effects and underlying pathologies as other forms of anxiety, it’s highly likely that CBD supplementation can improve symptoms of OCD.
To get the most out of your CBD supplementation, we recommend taking other measures to alleviate symptoms and following your doctor’s advice.
Should you choose to use CBD for your OCD symptoms, make sure you find a high-quality product free from contaminants, as some compounds (such as pesticides or heavy metals) can make symptoms worse.
Use our reviews to assess a company before you buy to make sure you’re not getting scammed or purchasing any contaminated or ineffective products.
CBD May Reduce Intrusive Thoughts, Anxiety for Patients With OCD
Carrie Cuttler, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Washington State University, on recent findings that show CBD may reduce intrusive thoughts and anxiety for patients with OCD.
Contemporary Clinic® interviewed Carrie Cuttler, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Washington State University, on a recent study she co-authored that was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders on the use of cannabis in treating symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Alana Hippensteele: What are the implications of your research on the use of THC, CBD, and other compounds in cannabis, such as CBG or CBN, as potential treatments for OCD? Are there any potential benefits to one compound over another?
Carrie Cutler: Yeah. So, we examined whether THC, CBD, or the interaction between THC and CBD might predict the size of the symptom reductions.
We found that as CBD increased, so did the size of the reduction in compulsions. That’s actually consistent with a couple of previous animal studies that showed that CBD reduced compulsive behavior in rodents.
In contrast, THC and interactions between THC and CBD really did not predict the size of symptom reductions people reported.
So, these findings suggest that cannabis with higher concentrations of CBD may be more beneficial for managing compulsions. Well, inhaling really any cannabis product might produce perceived reductions in intrusions and anxiety.