The Paradox of Marijuana and OCD: Could Weed Help Your Mental Illness?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety condition characterized by unending obsessions and compulsions. An obsession is an intrusive thought, urge, fear, mental image, doubt, or negative emotion that simply will not go away, while a compulsion is a ritualistic behavior that is designed to stop the stress and anxiety causing the obsession.
OCD can manifest as washing your hands again and again, because you think you may have left some germs behind. It can also manifest as hiding all of your knives because you are afraid that you may hurt someone. Cannabis, also known as marijuana or “weed” has a reputation of being beneficial for people, who suffer from anxiety or social phobia, but what about people with OCD? Does marijuana help these individuals or make things worse?
With so much conflicting information floating around, it’s hard to know the exact effects of cannabis on an individual with OCD. However, supporters of cannabis swear that this herb has made a significant difference in their lives. But keep in mind that what works for one person may not work for the next. Thus, the purpose of this article is to help you determine if cannabis can and will work for your type of OCD.
What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
People, who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), experience obsessions and compulsions that cannot be controlled, and are often debilitating. The key to understanding OCD is understanding the nature of the thoughts that tend to plague people with this condition. These thoughts are not only deeply disturbing, but also very repetitive, which is why OCD is a challenging to cope with. Intrusive, upsetting, sexual, or violent thoughts stick in one’s brain no matter how hard you try to shake them off.
These obsessive thoughts can be about germs, fears, or being harmed or harming others. They may also be violent or sexual. What makes OCD different from many other mental health conditions is that OCD thoughts are normally (but not always) paired with compulsive behaviors (i.e., repetitive rituals or routines). OCD-sufferers tend to feel compelled to do certain things to alleviate the discomfort caused by their obsessive thoughts. For example, if an OCD-sufferer convinces himself or herself that he or she may get sick, say from coronavirus, he or she may wash his or her hands a 100x a day.
How is OCD Normally Treated?
A multi-treatment approach is normally used to treat OCD. The first-line OCD treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and/or exposure-response and prevention (ERP) therapy, however, other therapies, like acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), TMS, DBT, addiction counseling, grief therapy, individual counseling, couples counseling, family therapy, and/or CBT group therapy may be added to an OCD treatment plan. The go-to therapy is ERP therapy.
When OCD therapies alone are ineffective, one or more medications, usually antidepressants may be added to therapy. This is referred to as treatment-resistant OCD. The go-to medications for OCD are SSRI antidepressants, like Luvox, Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft. However, if SSRIs do not work, other medications, like SNRIs, tricyclic antidepressants, MAOIs, or antipsychotics may be prescribed. Natural remedies and self-help tools are also often unofficially added to the OCD treatment plan.
What is Marijuana?
Marijuana, also formally referred to as cannabis and informally referred to as “weed,” is a plant that contains THC, a psychoactive property. It is THC that causes people, who smoke or eat foods, tinctures, edibles, vape oil, etc., laced with it, to experience a “high” sensation in their bodies.
Marijuana is usually used for recreational purposes, however, some states allow chronically or terminally ill people to legally ingest it in a medicinal capacity. Keep in mind, however, that only certain strains of marijuana contain THC. Other cannabis plant strains include CBD, Delta 8, and Delta 9. These versions of cannabis must have less than 0.3% of THC to be legally ingested. So, while these other strains may produce a slight “buzz” they will not get you “high.”
Can Marijuana Help Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
While there are many questions around whether marijuana is good or bad for OCD, studies have shown that CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid, has been shown to help people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Researchers have also found that CBD may actually have anti-inflammatory and anti-anxiety properties that may help people with OCD. Similarly, another study indicates that CBD may boost serotonin in the brain, which could help OCD-sufferers.
Serotonin is a hormone/neurotransmitter (chemical messenger in the brain) that is responsible for your mood, behavior, sleep quality, motivation, focus, etc. People with mental health conditions, like OCD, tend to have low levels of serotonin in their brains. A serotonin deficiency or low levels of serotonin can lead to impulsivity, a lack of focus and concentration, intrusive thoughts, compulsivity, moodiness, and irritability. CBD may also mimic traditional antidepressants, like SSRIs, thereby reducing anxiety and depression in people with OCD.
Can CBD Help OCD-Sufferers?
Yes, it can. CBD is also linked to low levels of serotonin and dopamine, a hormone/neurotransmitter, responsible for movement, memory, motivation, regulating emotions, and “pleasurable” rewards. Studies suggest that people with OCD have lower levels of dopamine, which could make them less motivated and able to experience happiness, joy, or pleasure. Because CBD is linked to serotonin and dopamine, it makes sense that CBD could restore serotonin levels in the brains of people, who struggle with OCD.
Are There Studies on Using Marijuana for OCD?
Yes, but studies are limited in this area at this time. However, a 2020 study found that cannabis can be beneficial for people with OCD. Researchers found that cannabis reduces anxiety, eases depression, and improves the overall quality of life for OCD-sufferers. According to a 2021 study, inhaled cannabis may temporarily reduce OCD symptoms. However, researchers also suggest that a tolerance to cannabis may develop, so a higher dosage to receive the same or similar effects. Conversely, another 2020 study found that cannabis (CBD or THC) produced little-to-no improvement in OCD.
What Are the Side Effects of Marijuana?
As with any medication, vitamin, or herb, weed can cause side effects, although serious side effects are rare.
Listed below are weed side effects:
- Poor Regulation & Inaccurate Dosages
It can be hard to regulate the cannabis oils or edibles dosage, so there is a good chance the “dosage” will either be too strong or too weak – at least until you figure out the right “dosage” for your type of OCD. If you decide to try cannabis or CBD for your OCD, keep in mind, it will be “trial by fire.” In other words, you will need to “tinker around” with the dosage until you notice an improvement in your OCD symptoms.
- Slow Effects
It may take a while to experience the full-benefits of weed. Sometimes, cannabis, especially CBD cannabinoids, can take a couple of weeks to really kick in, although you may experience a slight improvement in your OCD within a few hours. CBD, in particular, needs to build-up in your system to reap the full benefits of it. Marijuana, on the other hand, can kick-in within minutes, so if you are looking for a quick “temporary” fix for your OCD symptoms, marijuana will work much faster than CBD.
- Worsening OCD Symptoms
Using any form of cannabis could “temporarily” worsen your OCD symptoms, so it is important that you exert caution when using cannabis. Cannabis is a mood enhancer, which means it could cause you to be more emotional while using it. It is also extremely important to use cannabis safely and lock it away from children. Any form of cannabis, even CBD, can be harmful, and even life-threatening to children of any age.
Can I Combine Marijuana With Other Natural Remedies & Self-Help Tools for OCD?
Yes, you can for the most part. However, it is not wise to combine marijuana with opioids or other herbs because it is unknown how you will react to these interactions. A bad drug interaction could land you in the hospital – or worse dead. So do not combine marijuana, CBD, Delta-8, or Delta-9 with any medication with psychoactive properties, like opioids or certain herbs. Also, do not combine marijuana with herbs, like St. John’s Wort or Ginseng because of the possible drug interactions.
However, there are some natural remedies and self-help tools you can use with marijuana, such as hypnotherapy/hypnosis, mindfulness meditation, healthy coping skills and strategies, OCD books, apps, forums, podcasts, and support groups, a healthy lifestyle, journaling, art therapy, yoga, deep breathing exercises, music therapy, keeping busy, and online OCD treatment programs, like Impulse Therapy. Using natural remedies and self-help tools can enhance your OCD treatments, helping you experience relief faster than without them.
So, Should I Use Marijuana For My OCD?
You could, however, it is important to use caution if you decide to use anything with psychoactive properties. If you are experiencing severe OCD symptoms, it is important that you contact your doctor, so you can receive guidance on whether or not he or she thinks cannabis could or would work for your type of OCD.
What Do OCD-Sufferers Have to Say About Using Marijuana to Ease Their Symptoms?
The best way to truly understand how effective marijuana is for most OCD-sufferers is to read the reviews of people, who are or who have used marijuana for their OCD symptoms.
Listed below are real-life stories from OCD-sufferers, who are using or who have used marijuana in the past:
*Names have been changed to protect the OCD-sufferers.
Little Flower Powers
“I have had OCD since I was a young kid, and started smoking marijuana around the age of 13. I’m 23 now and I smoke rather often. I’ve experienced anxiety on and off while smoking, kind of at random, but it never showed a pattern of impacting my OCD regularity. I was curious if anyone had any stories about how it has helped or hindered their OCD.”
“I moved to a state where it is legal,so I finally tried weed. (Yeah, I was always scared I would be caught if I did it before). I don’t like to smoke, so I do edibles, which was somewhat more intense for me. I feel like weed really “relaxes” me, or at minimum, eases my anxiety. When the anxiety does show its ugly head, I feel less impacted by it. But to be fair, all I do is sit in my chair with my headphones on listening to music, or watching Netflix. I wish weed would have been a ‘transformative experience’ OCD-wise, but it’s really neither positive nor negative in regards to my OCD. It is fun though.”
“Honestly, it depends on if I’m smoking hash or weed (where I’m from hash is vastly easier to get a hold of). Hash makes me paranoid, my intrusive thoughts feel a million times more real, and I don’t feel calm at all. As for weed, it obviously depends on the strain, but sativa kind has the same effect on me as hash.
Indica on the other hand – wow. It really calms me down, makes me a lot more chill. And, although I’m still aware of my compulsions, they seem to not matter as much anymore. For example, I don’t feel the need to clean my room, if I drop something on the floor. So, instead of flipping out, now, it’s more like “wow.” That’s it. Before, this would have freaked me out.
Still, I wonder if CBD-oil would work better for me because from what I have heard you can get the positive effects of weed (calmness, physical relief) without getting ‘high.’ Apparently, CBD works wonders for people with epilepsy and stops seizures in a matter of seconds. Maybe, I should give it a try for my OCD.”
“I have seen mixed reviews around the internet about marijuana and how it affects people with OCD.Some people have also said that weed really helps them, while others say it drives them crazy. I personally get slightly paranoid when I smoke.It makes me feel like I need more reassurance about certain things. On the other hand, when the “high” is not as intense, it is more enjoyable for me. So, my question is what has your experience been with marijuana and OCD? Whether it’s negative or positive I’d love to hear everyone’s feedback!”
Although cannabis may worsen OCD symptoms temporarily, it may actually be helpful in the long-term. Remember, every individual will react to marijuana differently, so it may not be a good idea to smoke weed without consulting your doctor first. If you are suffering from OCD, or know someone who is, it is important to see a doctor and get a proper diagnosis. Once you know what you are dealing with, ask your doctor if marijuana would likely help or hurt you – then go from there.
- Szejko, N., Fremer, C., & Müller-Vahl, K. R. (2020). Cannabis improves obsessive-compulsive disorder: Case report and review of the literature. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 11, 681. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00681
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- Kayser, R. R., Snorrason, I., Haney, M., Lee, F. S., & Simpson, H. B. (2019). The Endocannabinoid system: A new treatment target for obsessive-compulsive disorder? Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, 4(2), 77–87. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1089/can.2018.0049
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