New research indicates that people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) often experience a dramatic reduction in the frequency and severity of symptoms once they start smoking cannabis. Appearing in the Journal of Affective Disorders, the new study followed the progress of 87 patients over a period of just over two-and-a-half years, revealing that compulsions were reduced by an average of 60 percent after each marijuana session[i].
That’s pretty significant given that OCD is a notoriously stubborn condition to treat and sufferers are often put on medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are associated with a range of problematic side effects and often provide limited symptom relief.
A Massive Reduction In Symptoms
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a chronic psychiatric condition that is characterised by symptoms including intrusive thoughts – such as the constant doubt that the front door has been left unlocked or an excessive concern about hygiene – and the tendency to act in response to these intrusions. This may result in behaviours such as compulsive hand-washing or continually retuning home to check that the door is locked.
To investigate the potential of cannabis to relieve OCD, the study authors analysed data collected by the Strainprint app, which allows medical cannabis users to track changes in symptoms as a result of their medical cannabis consumption. Over the course of 31 months, 87 users of the app conducted a total of 1,810 self-administrations for the treatment of OCD, with some impressive results.
As well as reducing compulsions by 60 percent, inhaled cannabis also resulted in a 49 percent decrease in intrusive thoughts and a 52 percent reduction in anxiety. Higher levels of CBD and higher doses were associated with greater symptom relief, although some users reported that this effect diminished over time, indicating that they may have developed a tolerance to the therapeutic properties of cannabis.
Because of this, the study authors admit that further investigation is needed in order to determine the long-term benefits of using cannabis for OCD, yet their results are still greatly significant as they demonstrate that the acute effects of marijuana inhalation are highly therapeutic for sufferers of the condition.
Treating Severe Cases
A medical case report published by doctors in Florida last month describes the symptoms of a 30-year-old woman suffering from severe anxiety and compulsive behaviours. They reveal how the patient has a tendency to become “extremely agitated and uncooperative, screaming loudly and forcing her fingers down her throat to induce vomiting.”[ii]
Sedative medications have proved incapable of restraining her during extreme episodes, and she has had to be hospitalised several times a month over many years.
However, after failing to respond to a range of anti-psychotic and anxiolytic medications, the woman was eventually advised by doctors to try smoking marijuana, which resulted in a significant improvement in symptoms. Since beginning cannabis use, the patient has benefited from less frequent and less severe episodes, and is now able to go three months at a time without being hospitalised.
How Cannabis Produces Its Therapeutic Effects
Previous studies on mice that had been genetically modified to display OCD-like symptoms revealed that CBD treats the condition by acting on the CB1 receptor – one of the principal cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system. When the rodents were treated with CBD, they experienced a reduction in the compulsive tendency to bury marbles, yet this effect disappeared when the researchers blocked their CB1 receptors[iii].
In humans, high-CBD cannabis has been found to reduce anxiety in a variety of contexts, although the exact mechanisms behind this effect are still not fully understood. This is because, like many other cannabinoids, CBD interacts with numerous different receptors in the brain, and research is ongoing in order to determine which of these are most important for the treatment of anxiety and OCD.
Studies have indicated that CBD binds with serotonin receptors in order to modulate the concentration of this particular neurotransmitter in brain regions that are associated with fear and anxiety[iv]. For this reason, the suggestion has been raised that cannabis could offer a safer and more effective alternative to SSRIs, which also work on serotonin.
[i] Mauzay D, LaFrance EM, Cuttler C. Acute Effects of Cannabis on Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2020 Oct 6. – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165032720328202
[ii] Ferrer GF, Ahmed J, Gomez R, Lunn RD, Sanchez-Gonzalez MA, Rizvi SA. Multifactorial anxiety disorder and severe compulsions showing decreased frequency with cannabis treatment. Consultant. 2020. – https://www.consultant360.com/article/consultant360/mental-health/multifactorial-anxiety-disorder-and-severe-compulsions-showing
[iii] Casarotto PC, Gomes FV, Resstel LB, Guimarães FS. Cannabidiol inhibitory effect on marble-burying behaviour: involvement of CB1 receptors. Behavioural pharmacology. 2010 Jul 1;21(4):353-8. – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20695034/
[iv] Fernández-Ruiz J, Galve-Roperh I, Sagredo O, Guzmán M. Possible therapeutic applications of cannabis in the neuropsychopharmacology field. European Neuropsychopharmacology. 2020 Feb 10. – https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0924977X20300365?via%3Dihub