Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can be a crippling condition, but some evidence shows medical marijuana for OCD can potentially offer relief.
Anecdotal evidence is strong. Families interviewed by ABC News told of OCD-wracked children prone to “crippling and violent meltdowns,” which vanished once the desperate parents turned to edible medical marijuana.
OCD is related to anxiety disorders, and cannabidiol (CBD) — one of the most potent cannabinoids in marijuana — has shown promise in treating anxiety, according to multiple clinical studies on animals.
Additionally, the New York State Psychiatric Institute will begin a placebo-controlled study within the coming year to specifically study the effects of marijuana on human OCD patients.
The medical stance for years has been that marijuana causes and worsens anxiety disorders, a family of mental illnesses outlined in the DSM-V, psychiatry and psychology’s diagnostic Bible. This assumption is changing as researchers shed more light on the function of the body’s own endocannabinoid system to regulate mood and cognition.
The confusion comes from the fact that some compounds in marijuana — namely Deta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — do promote anxiety, but others calm the symptoms of anxiety. Furthermore, no two marijuana strains are the same, differing in percentages of active cannabinoid chemicals. Also, few decent studies look at dosage or have controlled for placebo.
What is obsessive compulsive disorder?
A person with OCD is beset by obsessive, intrusive thoughts that compel them to perform compulsive behaviors to alleviate their perceived danger. People with OCD are often aware their thoughts or the intrusive images in their minds are not rational, yet the emotion those thoughts elicit is so powerful they take drastic steps to alleviate them. For example, a common obsessive focus is a fear of germs and disease. These fears lead to compulsive behaviors, such as repeated hand washing or house cleaning.
Researchers have competing theories about what the neurological basis of OCD is, but the central ones involve the serotonin system in the brain which regulates mood and emotion in conjunction with other systems. Scientists generally consider OCD to have a complex neurochemical and anatomical basis that isn’t isolated to a single brain region or system.
However, a 2018 study in PNAS seems to implicate the brain’s Default Mode Network (responsible for internally generated thinking) and the Visual Network in driving OCD behavior. The authors speculated that people suffering from OCD could be triggered by the sight of an object (e.g. a faucet) and then begin ruminating on how they didn’t accomplish their task well and need to do it again (e.g. washing hands over and over).
How do scientists study medical marijuana for OCD?
Regardless of the imperfect understanding of OCD’s mechanism, pharmacological researchers have found the antidepressant drug trazodone will reliably exacerbate obsessive compulsive symptoms. They administer the chemicals to mice, who obsessively bury marbles. Then, researchers use these compulsive rodents to test out various OCD cures.
It turns out, according to multiple studies, administering one of the most potent cannabinoids in marijuana (CBD or similar drugs that activate the CB1 receptor), led to a marked decrease in compulsive marble-burying in mice.
Unfortunately, there have been few solid, double-blind clinical trials testing CBD’s effect on OCD in humans. A 2015 study in the journal Neurotherapeutics stated as much.
“We found that existing preclinical evidence strongly supports CBD as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder,” the authors state. “Overall, current evidence indicates CBD has considerable potential as a treatment for multiple anxiety disorders, with need for further study of chronic and therapeutic effects in relevant clinical populations.”
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, however, the New York State Psychiatric Institute is preparing to recruit study participants to look at marijuana’s effects on OCD. Researchers posted information about their plans for the clinical trial in September 2017, but the study wasn’t yet recruiting as of early November.
“The purpose of this pilot research study is to test whether certain components of the marijuana plant, known as ‘cannabinoids,’ may help to reduce symptoms in patients with OCD,” the study’s designers explain in their project description. “Specifically, patients enrolled in the study will smoke marijuana containing different concentrations of 2 different cannabinoids, THC and CBD. Both of these agents act on the brain’s ‘endocannabinoid system,’ which has been hypothesized to play a role in OCD. ”
Medical Marijuana For OCD References:
“Effects of Marijuana on Symptoms of OCD (ECOS)”
Study Description on ClinicalTrials.gov
“Marijuana From Mom: Mother Says Drug Helps Son Cope with Severe OCD”
Jennifer Joseph and Astrid Rodrigues with Chris Connelly
July 23, 2010
Multivariate resting-state functional connectivity predicts response to cognitive behavioral therapy in obsessive–compulsive disorder
February 12, 2018
“Cannabinoid-related agents in the treatment of anxiety disorders: current knowledge and future perspectives”
Simone Tambaro and Marco Bortolato
Recent Patents on CNS Drug Discovery
“Facilitation of CB1 receptor-mediated neurotransmission decreases marble burying behavior in mice.”
Progress in Neuropsychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry
“Cannabidiol reverses the mCPP-induced increase in marble-burying behavior”
Fundamental and Clinical Pharmacology
“Plasma and brain pharmacokinetic profile of cannabidiol (CBD), cannabidivarine (CBDV), Δ⁹-tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) and cannabigerol (CBG) in rats and mice following oral and intraperitoneal administration and CBD action on obsessive-compulsive behaviour.”
The neural bases of obsessive-compulsive disorder in children and adults.
“Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders”