Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a relatively mild disorder that seems to pose very little threat to a person’s physical wellbeing. On the other hand, for those who suffer from severe forms of OCD, the disorder can wreak havic on social and mental stability.
And despite the many advancements made by modern science, approximately half of OCD patients fail to obtain relief from traditional forms of treatment.
Interestingly, research has slowly turned to medical marijuana – an age-old medicine that seems to hold promise as a treatment for this disorder.
What is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that causes repetitive thoughts and behaviors.
Symptoms of OCD can range widely from one individual to next. OCD-like behavior may include excessive washing or cleaning, repeated checking, extreme hoarding, fear of particular numbers and nervous rituals, but the list goes on and on.
Interestingly, OCD is believed to be more common in individuals with above-average intelligence. And while there are various pharmaceuticals and behavioral therapies available for dealing with OCD, approximately 40-60% of cases do not respond to first-line treatment.
In 2008, a group of German researchers wrote a letter to the editor of the American Journal of Psychiatry documenting their clinical experiences with using marijuana derivatives as a treatment for OCD. The researchers outlined two cases in which patients with treatment-resistant OCD obtained significant relief from dronabinol – a THC-based pill.
The first case was a 38 year old woman who suffered from recurring major depression and OCD, despite 8 months of traditional pharmaceutical and cognitive behavioral therapy treatments. Based on the patient’s personal experiences of using marijuana for symptom relief, the researchers encouraged her to try a 10mg dose of dronabinol taken three times a day in addition to her current pharmaceutical regimen. Within 10 days, the patient reported a significant decrease in OCD-related symptoms.
The second case was a 36 year old man with schizophrenia and OCD who was experiencing an increase in psychotic and obsessive symptoms. Despite receiving a variety of antipsychotic medications and a course of 18 electroconvulsive therapy treatments, the patient’s OCD symptoms remained resilient. However, a significant reduction in OCD symptoms was observed within 2 weeks of adding dronabinol to the patient’s pharmaceutical regimen.
In addition to case reports, evidence from animal studies also provides support for the use of medical marijuana as a treatment for OCD.
So far, a number of studies have investigated the effectiveness of various cannabinoids at reducing obsessive-compulsive behavior in rodents. These studies relied on the marble burying test as a measure of OCD, which is widely used as a screening tool for anti-OCD drugs.
Between 2010 and 2011, two studies were published by a team of researchers from Brazil, both of which demonstrated a reduction in obsessive-compulsive behavior following treatment with cannabinoids.
The first study involved 30mg/kg doses of CBD and the second study involved 3 mg/kg doses of the synthetic cannabinoid WIN55212-2 – a chemical that mimics the effects of THC but is significantly more potent. Both studies pointed to activity of CB1 receptors as the cause for reduced obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Tics, OCD and Tourette’s syndrome seem to share a number of common underlying factors. While tic disorders are more strongly associated with Tourette’s syndrome, genetic studies have also linked tics to OCD. Furthermore, it is believed that around 30% of Tourette’s patients also suffer from OCD.
As of today, 2 clinical trials have set out to investigate THC as a treatment for tic disorder, both of which revealed positive results. Although the subjects were recruited based on a diagnosis of Tourette’s syndrome, the results demonstrated that THC was not only effective in reducing tics in patients with Tourette’s, but obsessive-compulsive behavior as well.
Despite the lack of clinical trials, parents with OCD children have witnessed the benefits of medical marijuana first-hand. On the other hand, a significant portion of doctors continue to remain hesitant about prescribing the drug.