Updated on January 25, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Although obsessive-compulsive disorder is not life-threatening, it can severely impact the quality of life for those who struggle with the behavioral condition. Also called OCD, it’s an anxiety disorder that involves recurring unwanted thoughts and compulsions.
Often, these compulsions manifest as repetitive behaviors. Certain thoughts and compulsive behaviors begin to consume the patient’s mind and time — they may even start interfering with social interactions, work and other areas of life.
To manage the disorder, doctors will recommend therapy. Sometimes, they also prescribe medications that help patients deal with the anxiety and depression associated with OCD. Unfortunately, these types of medications have a list of adverse side effects — that’s why so many are turning to medical marijuana.
Cannabis not only helps to lessen feelings of anxiety and depression, but it can also decrease the compulsive urges and create a sense of calm for the patient. Here are three studies that aimed to learn more about how marijuana can help people with OCD.
One of the main reasons patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder use medical cannabis is its ability to lessen feelings of anxiety. When a patient has a flood of thoughts and compulsive urges, they often feel anxious even after completing these tasks.
A 1981 study published in The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology analyzed the anti-anxiety properties of synthetic cannabinoids that replicate those found in medical marijuana. In a double-blind study of people with extreme anxiety, 25 patients were either given a placebo or the cannabinoid medication.
Those patients who received the authentic cannabinoid medication showed drastic improvement in their feelings of anxiety. Also, none of the patients reported experiencing an “altered state.” This study showed the cannabinoids in cannabis have merit as treatments for patients with anxiety disorders.
An additional research study performed in 2002 explored how the cannabinoid THC could be used in treating patients with Tourette’s syndrome. This study, which was conducted in Germany, investigated how marijuana could be used to reduce the tics and associated behavioral symptoms, including obsessive-compulsive behavior.
The double-blind study included treating some patients with a placebo and others with medications high in THC. The results were published in Pharmacopsychiatry. All of the patients who received the authentic THC medications showed improvement in their Tourette’s symptoms, including the lessening of obsessive-compulsive behavior. They also had greater impulse control.
None of the patients who received the THC medication had any adverse side effects. Because of this, researchers concluded THC could be used to effectively treat Tourette’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Based on the findings of the previous study — that cannabis could be used to treat tic disorders and obsessive-compulsive behavior — another German-based study was conducted and published in 2008. This study focused on two patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder who had unsuccessful results from previous treatments.
Before treating them with synthetic cannabinoid medication, the researchers attempted common OCD treatments. This, however, proved ineffective. They then began a course of treatment with the cannabinoid medication. Within 10 days for one patient and two weeks for the other, the researchers noted significant reduction in all obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Also, the cannabinoid medication produced no adverse side effects.
In a letter to the editor, they reported their findings in The American Journal of Psychiatry. Their evidence suggests that the cannabinoids found in marijuana could greatly reduce OCD symptoms.
As many states legalize medical marijuana for patients, the list of qualifying conditions continues to grow. However, each state maintains its own qualifications. Although obsessive-compulsive disorder is not approved in every state, even states where you can’t get a cannabis recommendation specifically for OCD may allow it for extreme anxiety disorders.
The best way to find out if you qualify for medical marijuana is by speaking to a marijuana doctor in your state. They can evaluate you and recommend cannabis if they feel it would be beneficial for your condition. Find a licensed physician near you today.