Cannabis use slashes OCD symptoms by half

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Could cannabis offer respite from the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)? According to a recent study fresh out of Washington State University (WSU), quite possibly. 

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) claims that some 2.2 million people endure the symptoms of OCD. This condition is characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears often referred to as “obsessions” or “compulsions” that lead to uncontrollable behaviours. 

The outcome of the study on cannabis for OCD were published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. Researchers discovered that patients were less likely to experience compulsions if they consumed large doses of cannabis. Moreover, strains that were high in the non-psychoactive compound CBD (cannabidiol) proved most effective.

Patients who used cannabis in its smokable form experienced a 50 percent reduction in symptoms severity within a four hour period post-consumption. Specifically, after smoking cannabis, OCD patients claimed that it eased their compulsions by 60 percent; unwanted thoughts or intrusions by 49 percent; anxiety by 52 percent.

In order to come to this conclusion, the researchers reviewed data that had been submitted into Strainprint an app that enables patients to track and better understand their cannabis consumption habits and the efficacy of specific strains.

“The results overall indicate that cannabis may have some beneficial short-term but not really long-term effects on obsessive-compulsive disorder,” said the study’s corresponding author and assistant professor of psychology at WSU, Carrie Cuttler. “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.”

WSU study on cannabis for OCD: Frequent cannabis consumers developed a tolerance to the plant

In order to carry out this WSU study on cannabis for OCD, more than 1,800 cannabis sessions were logged onto the Strainprint app by 87 users within a 31-month timeframe. This lengthy period of time was carefully chosen by the researchers as a way of granting them enough time to ascertain tolerance levels.

Long-term cannabis use was linked with reduced intrusions and unwanted thoughts; indicating that consumer tolerance increased with frequent consumption. On the other hand, the connection between cannabis and reductions in compulsions and/or anxiety was persistent.

Although conventional methods of treatment such as antidepressants called serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRI’s) are known to reduce OCD symptoms, the outcome may vary depending on the patient. Furthermore, antidepressants only mask the problem and are not considered a cure.

Thanks to the large data set that was made available to Cuttler and her team for free via the Strainprint app, researchers were able to assess patient responses outside of a controlled laboratory setting.

WSU study on cannabis for OCD believed to be the second of its kind

Cutter and her team of researchers have carried out four studies into the therapeutic repercussions of using cannabis as a mental health aid; e.g. the plant’s influence on emotional well-being and headache pain. For all of those studies, the Canadian-developed Strainprint app was utilized as a means of collecting data. 

Although the WSU researchers have been busy trying to understand the therapeutic benefits of cannabis, insights into its capability at relieving OCD symptoms are still scarce. 

Notwithstanding the lack of available research pertaining to cannabis for OCD, the team managed to glean findings from another small clinical trial involving 12 participants. Based on this separate experiment’s findings, OCD symptoms also reduced after cannabis consumption. However, symptomatic relief was not overly different when study subjects were administered with either cannabis or a placebo.

Despite the fact that the WSU researchers were unable to use a placebo control in their study, they say that people are likely to feel better if they anticipate recovery; something the team referred to as an “expectancy effect”. 

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

The findings of this WSU study on cannabis for OCD highlight the need for more clinical trials on the non-psychotropic cannabinoid CBD which, the team say, could harbor magnificent therapeutic potential for individuals who endure daily compulsions.