CBD for OCD: Can CBD Oil Help With OCD Symptoms?

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Man upset during a therapy session with his therapist

OCD, better known as obsessive-compulsive disorder, is one of the most prevalent mental health conditions among people in the United States. Being the fourth most common mental disorder, it is more likely to develop in women than in men. Although OCD doesn’t have an identified cause (yet), symptoms of anxiety, worry, and fear can trigger and aggravate this condition.

Tackling OCD is sometimes challenging, and often involves a combination of therapy and pharmacological means. However, people have recently started to explore natural approaches to cope with their symptoms without the side-effects of prescription medication.

Many of those people have found relief in CBD oil.

CBD has been touted for its anxiolytic (anxiety) and stress-reducing properties in several scientific publications, so it’s natural to wonder if it can help with OCD and its pesky symptoms.

Today, we’ll cover the potential health benefits of taking CBD for OCD. We’ll also elaborate on the most effective ways to use CBD for this condition, and answer the most frequently asked questions in this subject.

Does CBD Help with OCD?

When you browse the web searching for the evidence on the efficacy of CBD for OCD, you’ll come across dozens — if not hundreds — of anecdotal reports from users claiming CBD oil has helped them at least manage their condition.

The viability of CBD in treating the symptoms of OCD is also well backed by scientific literature.

For example, a 2015 study published in Neurotherapeutics shows plenty of evidence that CBD may be an effective treatment for OCD (1). The study has only confirmed what earlier studies conducted between 1999–2002 have suggested (2).

The symptoms of OCD affect the limbic region of the brain, which controls our emotions and how we process them. Other conditions where the limbic region is affected include ADHD, dementia, and epilepsy.

The above conditions likely derive from endocannabinoid deficiencies resulting from the fast breakdown of anandamide. Anandamide is one of the two major endogenous cannabinoids (produced in the body), and a natural antidepressant. Its name stems from the Sanskrit word ‘ananda,’ which means Divine Joy. Medical researchers also refer to anandamide as the happiness hormone, as it regulates mood as well as sensations of stress, fear, and happiness.

CBD interacts with the human endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is the master regulatory network in all mammals. The ECS keeps the body in the state of homeostasis (internal balance) by regulating the activity of other system organs and their functions. Through that interaction, CBD increases the production signaling of anandamide while slowing down its breakdown.

With more anandamide circulating in the bloodstream, the ECS may efficiently restore homeostasis without suffering from cannabinoid deficiencies.

Studies on Using CBD to Cope with OCD Symptoms

Woman worried and anxious with hands clasped while sitting on a couch

Anecdotal stories, as well as independent studies and a few clinical trials, have provided evidence of CBD’s therapeutic potential in treating the following symptoms of OCD:

  • Anxiety: CBD oil has already been tested as a treatment for anxiety disorders, depression, insomnia, and PTSD in several experimental models (3–5). The use of CBD is particularly popular for people with mental health issues, such as panic attacks, social phobias, and general anxiety disorder.
  • Convulsions: Medical cannabis high in CBD, as well as hemp-derived full-spectrum CBD oil, have successfully been used in the management of convulsions, seizures, and muscle spasms (6–7). The neuroleptic effects of CBD allow it to reduce the frequency and severity of obsessive-compulsive behaviors in adults, children, and even pets.
  • Psychosis: CBD has been shown to alleviate the symptoms of some chronic mental conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and manic depression (8). Research shows that CBD supplementation shouldn’t serve as a replacement of the existing antipsychotic system, but rather as a viable addition.

The combination of anxiolytic, antipsychotic, and anti-epileptic properties make CBD a viable choice for treating a wide range of anxiety disorders. What’s more important, the use of CBD for the symptoms of OCD may reduce the risks associated with the hereditary and neurological aspects.

Which Type of CBD Products Work Best for OCD?

Woman vaping outside

CBD is available in many different forms, including oils, capsules, edibles, vapes, topicals, and even pet products.

The most common form of CBD is CBD oil. This product contains a hemp extract suspended in a carrier oil, and it uses a sublingual route of administration. In other words, the user squeezes out the desired amount of CBD oil, places the dose under the tongue, and holds it there for up to 60 seconds before swallowing. This way, the CBD will absorb directly into the bloodstream through tiny blood vessels located in the mouth. CBD oil is a relatively fast-acting product; the first effects should be noticeable within 15–30 minutes after administration, lasting up to 6 hours.

If you dislike the botanical taste of full-spectrum CBD, you can try out capsules or gummies. Both are oral products, so they need to be processed by your digestive system before taking effect. As a result, oral products have a delayed onset, but since the CBD is released gradually into the bloodstream, the effects last longer than with CBD oil. CBD capsules and gummies are better for people who travel a lot and those who prefer a fixed dose of cannabidiol per serving.

Another way to take CBD for OCD is through vaping. CBD vape pens contain a CBD E-liquid, which is a combination of CBD oil and thinning agents, such as vegetable glycerin (VG), propylene glycol (PG), or MCT oil. Vaporized CBD offers the highest bioavailability of all consumption methods, meaning it squeezes the most CBD out of your product because the cannabinoid is absorbed through the lungs. CBD vapes also provide the fastest effects; they usually show up within 5–10 minutes after inhalation, lasting up to 3–4 hours.

The choice of your go-to method largely depends on your lifestyle. If you’re looking for a product that will be good for both general supplementation and relatively fast relief from OCD symptoms, CBD oil will be the best bet. Capsules (as mentioned) are better suited for busy people who need their daily dose of CBD on the go. Vapes, in turn, are catered towards users who prefer the ‘acute’ use of CBD and are looking to maximize the amount of CBD they get from a single dose.

Medical Marijuana vs CBD Oil for OCD

People report using both medical marijuana and hemp-derived CBD oil for OCD. There are, however, significant differences between these two sources of CBD. CBD products from hemp contain only trace amounts of THC, so they won’t get you high. You might feel a sense of calm, balance, and have a slightly elevated mood, but you won’t experience any mind-altering effects.

Products sourced from marijuana contain a considerable amount of THC. They induce a euphoric state of mind accompanied by a boost of appetite, deep relaxation, and the heightening of senses. This set of effects is known as the signature marijuana high. In low to moderate doses, THC can reduce anxiety and stress; however, higher amounts of THC are associated with aggravated feelings of anxiety and paranoid thinking patterns.

Therefore, hemp-derived CBD is a safer bet for people with OCD unless they carefully pay attention to the dosage of medical marijuana products. CBD oil from hemp is also more available in the US, as hemp was legalized on the federal level under the 2018 Farm Bill signed by President Trump.

Dosage: How Much CBD Oil to Take for OCD

CBD oil bottle and dropper with hemp leaf and extra bottle in the background

Everybody reacts differently to CBD oil, so the optimal dosage will vary from person to person. There aren’t official dosage recommendations in place because the FDA doesn’t recognize the medicinal value of hemp-derived products.

For now, CBD products are categorized as health supplements; in other words, the CBD market is unregulated when it comes to the manufacturing and labeling of the products. Some companies provide their own dosage recommendations based on several simple criteria. You can use them as a good starting point, but they won’t guarantee the best results for your situation.

The optimal amount of CBD oil for each individual depends on factors like weight, age, gender, metabolism, the severity of symptoms, anticipated effects, and even the sensitivity of one’s endocannabinoid system.

The best approach to taking CBD oil for OCD is to start low and go slow. A good starting point is about 5 mg of CBD throughout the day. You can take your dose once at a time or split it throughout the day (e.g. 2 x 2.5 mg). Increase the amount of CBD oil gradually, one week after another, until you reach the dose that eases your symptoms. From there, you can lock in at that dosage and stick to it; people don’t build a tolerance to CBD.

It’s useful to keep a journal or log where you will write down each dose and how you feel after taking it. We also recommend that you consult a doctor experienced in cannabis use if you’re looking for professional advice and want to avoid potential CBD-drug interactions.

Other Natural Remedies for OCD

Looking for other natural remedies that could enhance the effects of CBD oil on your OCS? Here’s a shortlist of some useful compounds:

  • N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) – this natural amino acid effectively reduces the hyperactivity of glutamate in the brain, a neurotransmitter that may contribute to some cases of OCD (9). It also produces a potent antioxidant known as glutathione. A few recent studies have discovered that NAC may be an effective natural remedy for OCD and other mental conditions, such as depression.
  • Inositol – Inositol is a nutrient and a member of the vitamin B family, primarily found in phytic acid, one of the ingredients of fiber. Inositol is also naturally present in nuts, seeds, whole grains, and citrus fruits. In one study, inositol was found to help alleviate OCD symptoms in thirteen patients with this condition compared to the placebo group (10).
  • St John’s Wort – in a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, St John’s Wort has concluded an effective treatment for OCD. The study involved a 12-week trial where patients were treated with 450 mg of St John’s wort twice daily. After evaluating the effects, it turned out that 42% of the subject rated “much” or “very much improved” and 50% described their symptoms as “minimally improved.” (11)
  • 5 HTP – 5 HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) is an amino acid necessary for the synthesis of serotonin. Considering that serotonin-promoting tricyclic antidepressants and SSRIs are used for the treatment of OCD, 5 HTP may also be an effective option. However, this needs to be clinically studied because, despite the theoretical possibility and anecdotal reports from patients and nutritional practitioners, we simply lack research that would bring this subject closer to us.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids – deficiencies in omega 3 fatty acids are common among people suffering from depression and anxiety-related disorders. There’s a growing body of evidence that supplementation with fish oil, which is a rich source of highly bioavailable omega 3 acids, has a beneficial effect on mental functioning, concentration, mood, and stress management. Thus, many people decide to include fish oil and other omega-3-rich products in their diet to boost the effectiveness of their OCD treatment.

Understanding OCD: Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental condition that causes a person to experience obsessive thoughts that trigger anxiety, resulting in compulsions to perform a certain behavior. For example, people with OCD may be bothered by intrusive thoughts that the door isn’t locked when they have left the house. This may happen even when they triple-checked it. An anxious thought leads to compulsive behavior, which manifests in returning home to check if the door is really locked.

What are the symptoms of OCD?

The two main symptoms of OCSD include obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.

When it comes to obsessive thoughts, these vary between individuals, falling into several different categories most of the time.

Examples of obsessive thoughts:

  • Fear of viruses and contamination
  • Having things organized in a particular manner
  • Fear of harming someone
  • Fear of forgetting about important things and events
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Obsession with certain symbols being good or bad

People engage in compulsive behaviors as a way to cope with the anxiety they experience from obsessive thoughts. A person will often repeat these behaviors time and again as short-term means of reducing their anxiety levels.

Examples of compulsive behaviors:

  • Excessive cleaning
  • Excessive hand washing
  • Compulsive counting
  • Repeating certain phrases
  • Repeating activities
  • Continually checking that things are done

Who Is Particularly Prone to Develop OCD?

Although we don’t yet completely understand what triggers OCD, we do know there are hereditary factors involved, as OCD is more likely to develop in people whose first-degree relatives have this disorder. Also, the likelihood of developing OCD is increased among people who have a history of sexual trauma or abuse in childhood.

How Is OCD Typically Treated?

People with OCD may try to avoid situations in which they know they might demonstrate compulsive behaviors due to their obsessive thoughts. In addition, some may turn to alcohol or drugs as a misguided attempt to self-treat.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is by far the most common treatment for OCD. It helps people reach their underlying fears as well as address them. Other forms of treatment include antidepressant medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI). However, about 50% of people fail to respond to SSRIs. The next type of medication involves antipsychotic drugs. Studies show conflicting results for both SSRIs and antipsychotic medications in OCD treatments.

Final Verdict: Is CBD a Valid Option for OCD?

OCD is a troubling mental health condition that can be difficult to diagnose and treat with success. Cognitive-behavioral therapy generally works for OCD, but some people may be apprehensive about taking this approach due to a stigma associated with the mental diagnosis. Pharmaceuticals, such as antidepressants, are another possible option, but 50% of people do not respond to these medications.

CBD is the new promising molecule for the treatment of OCD and its symptoms. CBD has been shown to influence several aspects of our mental health, including feelings of anxiety, fear, panic, and compulsion. Since anxiety is one of the core symptoms of OCD, you can use CBD oil to curb it effectively without the side effects of the pharmacological treatment. CBD has an excellent safety profile and is well tolerated by humans.

However, keep in mind that CBD products aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). CBD is a versatile tool for improving one’s quality of life, but for the time being, the FDA classifies it as a health supplement, so there is no standardization when it comes to manufacturing practices or dosages. Therefore, it’s essential that you leave no stone unturned when researching your potential supplier. Doing so will help you ensure both the quality and safety of the products.

References:

  1. Blessing, Esther M et al. “Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders.” Neurotherapeutics : the journal of the American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics vol. 12,4 (2015): 825-36. doi:10.1007/s13311-015-0387-1
  2. Boshuisen, Marjolein L et al. “rCBF differences between panic disorder patients and control subjects during anticipatory anxiety and rest.” Biological psychiatry vol. 52,2 (2002): 126-35. doi:10.1016/s0006-3223(02)01355-0
  3. Blessing, Esther M et al. “Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders.” Neurotherapeutics : the journal of the American Society for Experimental NeuroTherapeutics vol. 12,4 (2015): 825-36. doi:10.1007/s13311-015-0387-1
  4. de Mello Schier, Alexandre R et al. “Antidepressant-like and anxiolytic-like effects of cannabidiol: a chemical compound of Cannabis sativa.” CNS & neurological disorders drug targets vol. 13,6 (2014): 953-60. doi:10.2174/1871527313666140612114838
  5. Shannon, Scott, and Janet Opila-Lehman. “Effectiveness of Cannabidiol Oil for Pediatric Anxiety and Insomnia as Part of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Case Report.” The Permanente journal vol. 20,4 (2016): 16-005. doi:10.7812/TPP/16-005
  6. Devinsky, Orrin et al. “Effect of Cannabidiol on Drop Seizures in the Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome.” The New England journal of medicine vol. 378,20 (2018): 1888-1897. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1714631
  7. Malfitano, Anna Maria et al. “Cannabinoids in the management of spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis.” Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment vol. 4,5 (2008): 847-53. doi:10.2147/ndt.s3208
  8. Davies, Cathy, and Sagnik Bhattacharyya. “Cannabidiol as a potential treatment for psychosis.” Therapeutic advances in psychopharmacology vol. 9 2045125319881916. 8 Nov. 2019, doi:10.1177/2045125319881916
  9. Grant, Jon E et al. “N-acetylcysteine, a glutamate modulator, in the treatment of trichotillomania: a double-blind, placebo-controlled study.” Archives of general psychiatry vol. 66,7 (2009): 756-63. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2009.60
  10. Fux M, Levine J, Aviv A, Belmaker RH. Inositol treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 1996 Sep;153(9):1219-1221. DOI: 10.1176/ajp.153.9.1219.
  11. Taylor, L H, and K A Kobak. “An open-label trial of St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) in obsessive-compulsive disorder.” The Journal of clinical psychiatry vol. 61,8 (2000): 575-8. doi:10.4088/jcp.v61n0806

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