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St. John’s Wort For OCD: Does It Work?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be taxing and life-altering when left untreated. Although standard treatments consisting of psychotherapy, medication, and self-help tools work for many people with OCD, they do not work for all OCD sufferers. When standard OCD treatments are ineffective, this is called, “treatment-resistant OCD.” In cases like that other methods may be needed to get a person’s OCD symptoms under control. Natural remedies like herbal supplements offer an alternative route to treating OCD.

One herbal supplement that has arisen as a possible treatment for OCD is St. John’s Wort. While some OCD sufferers tout St. John’s Wort’s ability to ease their stress and anxiety, and thereby, reduce the frequency and intensity of their obsessions and/or compulsions, others report little to no improvement while using this herbal supplement for OCD. So, does it really work? And, is it safe for daily or long-term use?

In this article, we are going to talk about St. John’s Wort, its benefits, possible risks, and side effects, if it is an effective treatment for OCD and other alternatives that may work for OCD. We will also give you an inside glance into what it is really like to take St. John’s Wort for OCD, so you can determine if it could be a viable option for you!


The Truth About OCD

What is OCD and how does it manifest? Well, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition, often referred to as an “anxiety disorder,” that if left untreated can take over your life and make it a living hell. OCD involves a non-stop cycle of stress and anxiety, and obsessions and/or compulsions. OCD obsessions can include intrusive thoughts, urges, emotions, and vision, while OCD compulsions can include repetitive rituals and/or routines.

While most people experience both obsessions and compulsions, some OCD sufferers only experience one or the other (obsessions or compulsions). OCD typically presents during the teenage years or early adulthood, however, it can manifest earlier or later than this time. Contrary to popular belief there is more than just one type of OCD. Rather, there are many different types of OCD that are characterized by different obsessions and compulsions, however, two things that are normally present in all types of OCD are obsessions and compulsions.

OCD can be treated in a variety of ways, such as therapy (i.e., cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure-response and prevention (ERP) therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), art therapy, etc.), medications (antidepressants, antipsychotics, etc.), self-help tools (i.e., mindfulness meditation and Impulse Therapy, an online OCD recovery treatment program), natural remedies (i.e., crystal therapy, vitamins and minerals, and herbal supplements like CBD and St. John’s Wort.)

What is St. John’s Wort?

St. John’s Wort (hypericum perforatum) is a yellow flowering plant that originates from Europe. It often blooms on John the Baptist’s birthday, which is where it gets its name from. It was first used medicinal, centuries ago by ancient Greeks, who were looking for natural ways to treat a variety of ailments.

Today, St. John’s Wort is touted for its healing properties and can be taken orally or topically. But although it is often used as a holistic or natural medicine, evidence of its overall effectiveness for ailments and conditions is lacking. In other words, more research is needed to determine if it really does work. Still, many people use this natural remedy to reduce inflammation and improve mental health conditions, like depression, anxiety, and OCD.

Can St. John’s Wort Be Used to Treat OCD?

Many OCD sufferers have used St. John’s Wort for OCD with the belief that it can reduce inflammation and improve brain activity and cognitive function. Recent studies have found that St. John’s Wort works similarly to SSRI antidepressants – the go-to medication used to treat OCD.

Although St. John’s Wort is widely taken to relieve depression, it is also sometimes used to improve anxiety conditions like OCD. Research is currently being conducted to determine if it is a viable, effective, and safe option treatment for OCD. Still, researchers suggest that this natural herbal remedy may ease the stress and anxiety associated with OCD.

The active ingredient in St. John’s Wort, hypericum, alters serotonin in the brain. A serotonin imbalance (i.e., serotonin deficiency) is believed to play a role in the development and progression of mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and OCD. Serotonin is responsible for happiness, joy, stable moods, and behavior.

Experts suggest that approximately 40% of OCD sufferers experienced an improvement in their OCD symptoms after taking St. John’s Wort. Unfortunately, there is not enough research to determine if it is a valid and effective alternative treatment for OCD. However, many people have reported a reduction in OCD symptoms and behaviors after taking St. John’s Wort for a few weeks. St. John’s Wort is generally thought to be safe, so it may be worth trying if you have not had success with standard OCD medications (i.e., SSRIs, SNRIs, antipsychotics, etc.).

How Much St. John’s Wort is Needed To Reduce OCD Symptoms?

St. John’s Wort is offered in a variety of forms, such as dry powder, teas, liquid tinctures, gummies, and capsules. This herbal supplement is designed to treat a variety of mental health conditions, like anxiety, depression, and OCD. Herbalists suggest that the best way to ease OCD symptoms (obsessions and/or compulsions) is to take St. John’s Wort consistently (daily). These herbal experts suggest that people with OCD take 300mg of St. John’s Wort 3x daily to ease their OCD symptoms.

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How Long Does It Take For St John’s Wort To Start Working For OCD?

It could take 3-6 weeks to experience the effects of St. John’s Wort. However, DO NOT abruptly stop taking it because it could lead to St. John’s Wort withdrawal symptoms and an OCD relapse. The best course of action is to wean off of it – if you have been taking it for a while.

Is St. John’s Wort An Effective Alternative Treatment for OCD? What Does the Research Say?

St. John’s Wort has been used for centuries to ease pain, relieve symptoms, and promote healing, still, research is limited. Although evidence of St. John’s Wort’s effectiveness for OCD is limited, supporters swear that it can help a variety of mental health conditions like OCD.

Listed below are studies on the effectiveness of St. John’s Wort for OCD:

  • A 2005 study found that people who took St. John’s Wort for a mental health condition, like OCD, experienced no change in their OCD symptoms. But although these individuals did not experience an improvement in their symptoms, their symptoms did not worsen after taking the herbal supplement. Thus, researchers concluded that more research is needed to determine its true effectiveness in the treatment of mental health conditions.
  • Likewise, a 2008 study found that while some people with depression experienced an improvement in their symptoms after taking St. John’s Wort, people with anxiety or OCD did not.
  •  According to a 2013 study, people who drank St. John’s Wort tea experienced panic attacks and an increase in OCD symptoms afterward.
  • Researchers also found that while people with mental health conditions, like OCD, may have a serotonin deficiency, St. John’s Wort, could overcompensate causing them to experience serotonin syndrome (too much serotonin), which could also worsen OCD symptoms.
  • Conversely, a 2017 meta-analysis involving 27 clinical trials found that St. John’s wort is just as effective as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) when treating mild-to-moderate anxiety, depression, and OCD.
  • Another 2017 study discovered that St. John’s Wort may alleviate anxiety, depression, or OCD symptoms by improving a person’s response to stress.
  • Similarly, a 2019 study found that people who take St. John’s Wort for depression, anxiety, or OCD are able to respond to stress and negative signals in a more positive way. However, researchers found very little change in a person’s memory or cognitive function after taking the herbal supplement. 
  • According to a 2022 study, St. John’s Wort may have inconsistent effects on neurotransmitter levels. People with mental health conditions, like anxiety, depression, and OCD tend to have an imbalance in neurotransmitters, like serotonin, glutamate, and acetylcholine. Thus, St. John’s Wort may be inconsistent when it comes to easing OCD symptoms.

Are There Any Risks Associated with Taking St. John’s Wort for OCD?

Yes, there are. 

Most of the risks lie with St. John’s Wort’s ability to interact with other medications. There is an increased risk of serious side effects (i.e., severe gastrointestinal distress) when taken with other medications. This herbal supplement can be especially harmful when combined with antidepressants. St. Johns may worsen symptoms or render antidepressants ineffective when taken simultaneously.

What Are the Side Effects?

The most common St. John’s Wort side effects are:

  • Disorientation
  • Headaches or Migraines
  • Dizziness or Confusion
  • Drug Interactions
  • Extreme Fatigue
  • Skin and Eyes Hypersensitivity to Light or Touching
  • Liver Toxicity (Note: This Typically Occurs with Prolonged Use or High Doses)
  • Mood Swings
  • Irritability
  • Increased Stress and Anxiety
  • Insomnia or Sleep Issues (i.e. Oversleeping, Vivid Dreams, Nightmares, or Night Terrors)
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and/or Vomiting
  • Upset Stomach or Severe Abdominal Pain
  • Suicidal Ideation (Suicidal Thoughts or Attempts)

Should You Take St. John’s Wort for Your OCD?

It depends.

St. John’s Wort is a natural remedy that could ease your OCD symptoms. However, on the flip side, there is a possibility it could worsen them and even lead to other side effects (associated with the herbal supplement). Therefore, it is important to talk with your doctor about the herbal supplement and how it may affect your condition if you are thinking about taking it for OCD.

Although St. John’s Wort is unlikely to have the same side effects and complications as standard OCD medications, like OCD, you could still experience serious side effects, depending on your health status. So, taking this for a prolonged period and on a high dosage should be heavily considered. Still, there is a chance it could produce the desired results (a decline in OCD symptoms), so if you, your doctor, and your family feel like it is a safe and effective treatment for you, it is worth a shot.

What Is It Like To Take St. John’s Wort For OCD?

Listed below are real-life accounts of what it is like to take St. John’s Wort for mental health conditions like OCD:

  • “Stop taking St. John’s Wort. Inositol (and potentially theanine) is the way to go for OCD. Theanine may also help (found in green tea). For comparison, an orange has about 0.5g of inositol in it, so if you take 1g a day (the trials went as high as 6g/day), you could try taking a quarter teaspoon of the combined inositol powder once a day or go up to 3g a day (2 quarter teaspoons, or one-half teaspoon). That would also provide you with about 300 mg of theanine. There is not much evidence for theanine’s efficacy for OCD, but anecdotally, it has helped a lot of people.”
  • “My boyfriend has been taking St. John’s Wort for OCD for a little while and he looked into it. It has been shown to work in some trials, but it is only suggested for low mood and very mild depression. If you are having OCD symptoms, I’m not sure how helpful it will be. It is worth remembering that all prescribed medications were once herbal in some way and have been perfected and refined along the way.”
  • “I have been taking St John’s Wort for about 9 weeks. It has not worked miracles but it has taken the edge off of my worrying. It has also helped me develop a better sleep pattern by raising my melatonin levels at night. I have been feeling a bit calmer and feeling a bit more rational. I do not think St. John’s Wort would have worked if I had been suffering from severe depression, OCD, or anxiety (like before). I have a phobia of antidepressant drugs due to really really bad experiences. So, St John’s Wort is the only option for me now.

My only side effect now is nausea. I had heartburn at the start which increased my hunger slightly for a week or two, it also disturbed my sleep for a couple of weeks. These side effects settled down after the third week. Still, these effects were nowhere near as severe as the ones with SSRIs. However, a recent death, a car crash, and money troubles have caused my OCD and worries to return. But I’m calming back down a little quicker than I would have done without St. John’s Wort.

I think that is the key thing with herbal supplements like St. John’s Wort – they take the edge off, but may not help with chronic or severe panic attacks, anxiety, and/or obsessions. Regardless, I had been feeling calmer and was having more positive thoughts – until the emotional stuff happened, dragging my obsessions back up again.”

Final Thoughts

OCD is a life-altering mental health condition that can be treated in a variety of ways, ranging from therapy to medications and natural remedies. When standard OCD medications, like SSRIs, SRNIs, or antipsychotics do not work, a viable next step may be to take the natural route. Natural OCD treatments may involve mindfulness meditation, CBD, crystal therapy, acupuncture, OCD podcasts or forums, and herbal supplements like St. John’s Wort.

For some, St. John’s Wort may be the blessing they have been seeking, while for others, it could be a nightmare – i.e., increased obsessions and/or compulsions – combined with St. John’s Wort side effects. Still, for those who are at their wit’s end and desperate to get relief from their non-stop obsessions and/or compulsions, it may be worth a shot. St. John’s Wort has been used since the beginning of time for a variety of ailments, and it is still used today which is a testament to its effectiveness – for some people.

St. John’s Wort is a natural remedy which makes it an appealing treatment option for people with mild anxiety, depression, or OCD symptoms. It does not have all of the side effects and complications associated with standard OCD medications – i.e., SSRIs. Still, it can take a while for you to experience an improvement in your OCD symptoms, and it also comes with some serious risks and possible side effects. So, it is important to discuss the pros and cons of taking St. John’s Wort with your doctor and family.


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DR. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham has a B.A. in English, an M.M.F.T in Marriage and Family Therapy (Psychology), and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She is currently a medical, health & wellness contributor, copywriter, and psychological consultant

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