Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental and behavioral disorder affecting nearly 1.2% of American adults, with many more yet to be tested and diagnosed. Among these, over half of the people under treatment for OCD take medication to help ease their symptoms.
But OCD medication can be tricky.
First of all, the first-line treatment option for OCD is currently Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy. Medication merely acts as a supplementary treatment to help ease the symptoms. Particularly, SSRIs and anti-anxiety medications help soothe symptoms related to depression and anxiety that are commonly comorbid with OCD.
However, ERP therapy and medication don’t necessarily help everyone. Approximately one-third of OCD patients undergoing these treatments don’t see improvements.
But could CBD be a potential alternative? After all, there has already been extensive research about its potential benefits for anxiety and depression. Now, anecdotal evidence and emerging research make CBD look very promising.
What Is CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is among over a hundred naturally-occurring chemical compounds in the cannabis plant, known as cannabinoids. The other well-known cannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is responsible for inducing the intoxicating effect— the high— that is typically associated with recreational marijuana.
However, CBD is among the countless other non-psychoactive cannabinoids.
CBD without the effects of THC engenders a more calm and mild effect. Today, CBD is easily available separately as oils, gummies and other edibles, tinctures, and patches. With these consumable forms, it is easy to dose CBD.
How Does CBD Work?
CBD works by interacting with our body’s natural endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a complex network of receptors that transmit signals throughout your body, mainly related to reproductive functions and stress responses. The job of these receptors is to regulate the flow of endocannabinoids, which are naturally occurring CBD in your body, as well as externally consumed CBD.
Experts aren’t completely sure of the mechanism of interaction between CBD and the ECS. For example, we know that THC binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors, but we don’t know with which receptor CBD binds.
Other theories suggest that, unlike THC, CBD merely prevents the breakdown of endocannabinoids in your body. This helps increase their effects on your body, making you feel a high dose of that natural “feel-good” feeling.
A growing body of research suggests that the ECS plays a role in anxiety, fear, and repetitive behaviors— some common OCD symptoms. Hence, the ECS is becoming a new treatment target for OCD, particularly by means of cannabis.
Can CBD Cure OCD?
OCD is a chronic and incurable disease. That’s not to say it isn’t treatable. Instead, it just means that OCD is ever-present, and ERP therapy and medication help you not pay too much heed to this presence and respond to it in a more productive and healthy manner.
Hence, CBD can not cure OCD.
Moreover, CBD alone can not treat OCD, either. To reiterate, ERP therapy is the front-line long-term treatment course for OCD. Medication may lend a helping hand to some people, and CBD can offer even more fortification.
Keep in mind that the research on CBD’s effect on OCD is still in its preliminary stages. However, the results so far look promising.
How Can CBD Help With OCD?
Here are some ways CBD can help alleviate certain OCD symptoms:
- CBD and Anxiety – Anxiety is largely comorbid with OCD, with a prevalence of about 75.8%. Many studies have found strong evidence that CBD is a potential treatment option for anxiety disorders. This includes generalized anxiety disorders, body dysmorphia, social anxiety, and panic disorder. Hence, if you experience a lot of anxiety symptoms along with your OCD, CBD might help alleviate these symptoms.
- CBD and Depression – Likewise, depression also commonly co-occurs with OCD. While the research is still limited, some research and countless anecdotal evidence suggest that CBD can help ease the symptoms of depression. These symptoms include appetite changes, sleep disorders, increased irritability, heightened stress, and demotivation.
- CBD and Eating Disorders – Eating disorders and body dysmorphia often manifest as subtypes of OCD. OCD involves constant intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and rituals (compulsions), and eating disorders issues entail obsessions and compulsions around food and body image. While CBD doesn’t directly affect your appetite as THC does (hint: munchies), it can still stimulate and modify your appetite in other ways. By reducing your stress levels and uplifting your mood, CBD can help regulate your appetite so that you eat as much as you need.
- CBD and Learning/Memory – People with OCD typically have doubts about their memory and ability to recollect past events, actions, or words. Marijuana is often associated with short-term memory impairment. However, the adverse effects on memory are mainly due to THC, not CBD. In fact, CBD has actually been shown to produce the cognitive effects opposite to THC.
CBD Vs Medical Marijuana for OCD
You might be wondering, “is it better to smoke marijuana or consume pure CBD,” you won’t get a straightforward answer.
For the large part, THC produces an intense psychoactive effect. This effect can often intensify the symptoms of OCD, including anxiety, memory loss, and fear.
At the same time, CBD has been shown to produce an “entourage effect,” whereby the effects of THC are regulated. In other words, all the compounds in cannabis or marijuana work better when consumed together. Moreover, a 2020 study found that both CBD and THC had similar effects on OCD symptoms.
However, smoking marijuana won’t give you much control over doses and the ratio of CBD to THC. On the other hand, edible forms of CBD are much more reliable in terms of dosage.
How Much CBD Should You Take For OCD?
CBD is not an FDA-approved treatment option for OCD. Hence, there isn’t a standard dose for its consumption.
Some studies have found strong evidence that 400 to 600 milligrams of CBD can effectively reduce anxiety symptoms. However, there simply isn’t enough research to corroborate this finding.
The best course of action is to start with a low dose, and, depending on how your OCD responds, you can work your way up.
While there is limited research, CBD holds a lot of potential as a formal treatment alternative for OCD. CBD doesn’t cure the condition so much as it helps ease some of the major symptoms.
Before you start to take CBD for your OCD, you must consult with your therapist/psychiatrist. This is especially true if you’re already taking medication, as certain medications can react poorly with CBD.
Plus, it’s always good practice to keep your therapist in the loop!