Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is the fourth most common mental health condition affecting people in the United States. It most commonly affects women. Although the exact causes of OCD have not been identified, symptoms of fear, worry, and anxiety underpin this condition.
Addressing this condition is not always easy, as it often requires both therapy and prescription medication. More and more, however, people are looking to natural approaches to help alleviate their symptoms—and many of them are asking if they can use CBD for OCD.
Can You Use CBD for OCD? Just the Facts
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, more commonly known as OCD, involves intrusive obsessive thoughts followed by compulsive behaviors. Unfortunately, there have not been many studies on using CBD for OCD, or many mental health and mood disorders at all. But there is some promising research that shows CBD oil may help some people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive compulsive disorder is a mental condition in which a person experiences obsessive thoughts which cause anxiety, as well as compulsions to perform a certain behavior.
Here is an example: After a person leaves the house, they begin having a persistent, intrusive thought that the door is not locked, even knowing they double- or triple-checked it. This is the obsessive thought. Next, that person returns home to check that the door is locked. This is the compulsion. In some cases, this cycle of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors repeats several times.
OCD used to be classified as an anxiety disorder, but the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), which is the main reference for all mental health disorders, no longer views it in the anxiety category. However, one of the main components of OCD is anxiety, so most people still see OCD as an anxiety-related disorder.
Common Obsessive Thoughts
Each person has different types of obsessive thoughts. However, most of the time, they fall into one of several categories. Examples include:
- Fear of germs, viruses, or contamination
- Harmful thoughts toward yourself
- Harmful thoughts toward others or animals
- Having things organized in a particular order
- Fear of harming someone because of something you did or did not do (i.e. worrying the shoes you left out could cause a person to trip and fall)
- Unwanted thoughts that are sexual in nature
- Fear of forgetting about an important date
- Obsession with certain colors or numbers being good or bad
- Inability to make decisions
A person uses compulsive behaviors in an attempt to reduce the anxiety they feel from their obsessive thoughts. Often, a person will repeat these behaviors over and over—which may reduce their anxiety level, but only temporarily. Common compulsive behaviors include:
- Excessive hand washing or bathing
- Excessive cleaning
- Continually checking that things are done (i.e. the door is locked)
- Compulsive counting
- Repeating certain words or phrases
- Repeating actives (i,e. going up and down stairs or turning light switches on and off)
The Impact of Having OCD
As previously mentioned, obsessive thoughts cause great anxiety to people affected by OCD. The severity of OCD ranges from mild to severe. However, in all cases, OCD causes distress to a person, affects their quality of life, and can even overtake their life.
In some instances, people don’t realize that what they’re doing is out of the ordinary—but friends, family, or teachers (in the case of children) notice. In other cases, a person knows that their thoughts or behaviors are not rational, but they cannot control them.
Risk Factors of OCD
We do not yet completely understand what causes OCD or all of its risk factors. We do know that there may be a genetic link, as OCD is more common in people who have a first-degree relative with the disorder.
Also, a history of sexual trauma or abuse in childhood increases the likelihood of developing OCD.
Conventional Treatment of OCD
Before looking at whether CBD for OCD is effective, let’s look at some of the conventional treatments available to those with OCD. People with OCD may try to avoid situations where they know their thoughts or actions may be be triggered. In addition, unfortunately, some may turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-treat.
The most common treatment for OCD is cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps people uncover their underlying thoughts and fears as well as address them.
Anti-depressant medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are also prescribed for OCD. However, about 50% of people do not response to SSRIs. The next line of medications (for those who do not respond to SSRIs) is anti-psychotics. Research shows mixed results for both SSRIs and anti-psychotic medications in OCD treatment. In addition, both have numerous adverse side effects.
Can You Use Medical Cannabis and CBD Oil for OCD?
Many people do not find relief from their OCD symptoms with the current medication treatments that are available. Because of this, OCD patients are experimenting with alternative approaches, including using medical cannabis and CBD for their OCD symptoms.
People report using medical cannabis as well as CBD products to help with anxiety and depression. Many report that these products have helped with their depression, anxiety, and stress-related symptoms.
Medical Marijuana vs CBD Products
People report using both medical marijuana and CBD to manage their anxiety. There are, however, significant differences to consider. CBD products are derived from the hemp plant and contain cannabinoids such as cannabidiol. Medical marijuana also contains cannabinoids, but it also contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which has psychoactive properties. In addition, research shows that THC may worsen anxiety.
What the Research Says
Unfortunately, there have not been any human studies to determine whether CBD oil can help with obsessive compulsive disorder directly. However, there has been research conducted on CBD for other anxiety-related mental health issues such as generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A large component of OCD is constant anxiety. Therefore, if CBD is effective in managing anxiety symptoms, it could be useful as an adjunct treatment for those suffering with OCD.
The Endocannabinoid System and Anxiety
CB1 receptors are found throughout the brain in the areas involved in emotional and behavioral reactions, learning, memory, and decision making.
CB2 receptors are heavily involved with pain and inflammation of the body. However, research is beginning to discover their role in emotions and mood regulation as well. In addition, inflammation itself is a factor in mood disorders such as depression.
CBD and the Endocannabinoid System
CBD contains cannabinoids—anandamide, in particular—which stimulate CB1 and CB2 receptors within the endocannabinoid system.
Studies have found a relationship between lower levels of anandamide in people with PTSD. PTSD, is another mental health condition that’s characterized by panic attacks and, much like OCD, high anxiety levels. This means it is possible that there is less stimulation of their endocannabinoid systems, which could be contributing to their high anxiety levels.
Studies have also found that activation of CB1 receptors has resulted in lower levels of fear, anxiety, and compulsion.
5-HT Receptors and Anxiety
Another component involved in anxiety is 5-HT receptors. These are affected by the drug Buspirone, which is one of the most common anxiety medications. Cannabinoids are also shown to stimulate these receptors. Therefore, CBD products may help to alleviate anxiety symptoms through this mechanism. And, as such, CBD oil may be able to help people with obsessive compulsive disorder.
CBD and the Brain
Very preliminary evidence has found that CBD oil affects certain structures of the brain that are involved in mood and emotions, such as the amygdala. This study found that CBD works to reduce amygdala activation—which, in turn, lowers the fear, compulsion, and anxiety response.
A recent animal study assessing the use of CBD oil for OCD in mice found that was effective at reducing obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Although this is a step in the right direction, it’s important to keep in mind that animal studies do not necessarily represent the effect that a substance will have in humans.
A Summary of What the Research Says
Currently, there are no human studies regarding the use of CBD oil for OCD directly. However, there are positive human studies on CBD products and anxiety, which is a large aspect of OCD.
Reasearch shows that CBD affects several mechanisms of the brain involved in anxiety, including the endocannabinoid system, 5-HT receptors, and brain structures.
In general, research studies have found that at low doses, CBD is an anxiolytic, and at high doses, it does not improve anxiety or can worsen it.
Animal studies have found that CBD improves OCD symptoms in mice.
OCD is a distressing mental health condition that can be difficult to successfully treat. Cognitive behavioral therapy is generally useful for this condition, but 50% of people do not respond to the standard current medications. Overall, preliminary research strongly supports the use of CBD oil as a treatment for anxiety disorders.
CBD has shown to influence several aspects of OCD, including anxiety, fear, panic, and compulsion. Given that anxiety is one of the central symptoms in OCD, anxiety-reducing therapies are of great use for symptoms of this condition. Therefore, it is likely that using CBD for OCD may be able to help.
If you suffer from OCD and are interested in using CBD products to help with your obsessive compulsive disorder, speak with your doctor first. Keep in mind that CBD products are not regulated by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Therefore, make sure any CBD products you purchase are from a reputable source who uses third-party testing. This helps to ensure both the quality and safety of the products.