Evidence based

CBD and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Current Research & Understanding

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a subcategory of anxiety. It can be debilitating in many cases. Here’s how CBD may be used to alleviate symptoms of OCD.

Article By
Justin Cooke , posted 1 month ago

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately 1.2% of the American population has clinical obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

OCD is a subcategory of anxiety, which is expected to affect as many as 29% of the public at some point in their lifetime [2].

The conventional treatment for these conditions is pharmaceutical medications.

These medications often improve symptoms, but rarely treat the underlying cause of the disorder. Additionally, they often produce other undesirable side-effects. Some are even highly addictive and can even worsen side-effects of OCD or anxiety.

CBD is a popular nutritional supplement esteemed for its potent anti-anxiety benefits, among others. Its powerful anti-anxiety effects also make it effective for treating OCD-specific anxiety symptoms.

We’ll go over how CBD can be used to alleviate common symptoms of OCD, what dose to take, and what else you can do to maximize the benefits.

  • Table of Contents

Summary: Using CBD for OCD

OCD is characterized clinically as an anxiety disorder.

There isn’t much research on how effective CBD is for OCD specifically — however, there are other studies that indicate potential benefits for anxiety as a whole.

There are a few mechanisms CBD uses to alleviate anxiety symptoms, many of which can be linked to the pathology involved with OCD.

Relevant Effects of CBD for Anxiety Disorders, Including OCD:

  • Lowers inflammation
  • Protects the nervous system from damage
  • Relieves pain
  • Relaxes tense muscles
  • Regulates mood
  • Relieves nausea
  • Offers antioxidant support
  • Reduces stress levels
  • Improves appetite
  • Supports sleep

Tips for Using CBD Effectively for OCD Symptoms

  1. Choose a full-spectrum extract containing other cannabinoids such as THC, CBC, and CBG
  2. Use oral CBD products — avoid smoking
  3. Combine CBD use with other diet and lifestyle changes that reduce OCD symptoms
  4. Seek doctor supervision — especially if taking other medications

What is OCD?

OCD is an anxiety disorder involving frequent, recurring thoughts and obsessions. It often causes people to develop strong urges to do things repetitively or compulsively — often referred to as tics.

The obsessions and urges of those affected can become disruptive to normal life — making social interaction, changes in routines, and productivity more difficult than usual.

Examples of obsessive behavior that may be affected by OCD:

  • Checking on things
  • Cleaning
  • Clearing throat frequently
  • Counting things over and over
  • Enforcing specific routines
  • Forcing others to follow strict routines
  • Gambling addictions
  • Hair-pulling (trichotillomania)
  • Hand-washing
  • Hoarding
  • Nervous tics (blinking, muscle spasms)
  • Repeating words or phrases
  • Skin-picking (excoriation)

What Causes OCD?

Fear and anxiety are both normal human responses. We use these responses to cope with threats to our survival, such as coming face to face with a hungry animal.

Feelings of fear and anxiety are meant to be short-lived and appropriate for the situation. This means that the level of anxiety and stress we experience should be enough to give us an advantage for getting out of danger (such as fighting off the hungry animal or running away) but not too much that it makes us freeze in fear.

Once the danger is gone and we’re back to safety, feelings of anxiety and stress should subside.

The stress response can become dysfunctional in several different ways, leading to anxiety disorders such as OCD.

Signs of a Dysfunctional Stress Response:

  1. Stress response lasts too long
  2. The intensity of the stress response is excessive for the level of danger involved
  3. Stress response activates more often than we need it to

Any issues with the stress response can lead to problems over time. We refer to these conditions as “poor stress adaptation” — the ability to adapt to and react to stresses is no longer working correctly.

Anxiety is the umbrella term for this form of neurological disorder, but there are many different conditions associated with a dysfunctional stress adaptation, including OCD.

Conditions Associated with Dysfunctional Stress-Adaptation:

  • General anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Social anxiety disorder (SAD)
  • Panic disorder (PD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • OCD

The Importance of Stress Adaptation

All life on earth is faced with some form of stress. In the natural world, this stress usually came in the form of environmental changes temperature, hunger, and encounters with other humans or animals.

Our ability to adapt to stress helps us manage these situations. When it’s too cold outside, our stress response activates our metabolic system to drive our core body temperature up.

When we encounter a malicious animal or human, our stress response gives us a boost in energy levels to help us fight or flee to safety.

In the modern world, this same stress response is activated by non-life-threatening stressors — sometimes throughout the day. If our stress adaptation isn’t working optimally, we begin to experience debilitating side-effects of the stress response when we shouldn’t be.

Think about road rage for a moment — this is a prime example of a stress response that doesn’t serve us. Getting cut off by another driver or sitting in stand-still traffic triggers us. Despite the fact that other drivers can’t hear us, we yell or curse — creating no change to the situation.

Someone who has strong stress adaptation reflexes will find it easier to avoid road rage.

Factors that can cause the stress response to become dysfunctional:

  • Recreational and pharmaceutical drug use
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Smoking
  • Heavy metal exposure
  • Asperger’s syndrome
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Huntington’s disease
  • Drug addictions
  • Regular high-stress experiences

Medications Used for OCD

  • Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Zoloft)
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (Pristiq, Khedezla)
  • Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin, Librium)
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (Marplan, Nardil, Emsam)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants (Amitriptyline, Doxepin)
  • Partial 5-HT1A receptor agonists
  • Anticonvulsants (Clonazepam)

Guide to Using CBD for OCD

Although there haven’t yet been any studies published on the effects of CBD for people with OCD, there’s been plenty of research highlighting the benefits of CBD on other forms of anxiety.

Overall, the benefits of CBD for OCD and anxiety as a whole include:

  • Regulates serotonin levels to support mood
  • Enhances the endocannabinoid system to regulate central nervous system activity
  • Increases GABA levels to produce a calming effect on the mind
  • Improves side-effects of OCD such as insomnia and muscle tension

Many of the studies done on CBD that investigate its effects on anxiety have successfully mapped out some of the specific biochemical processes taking place to produce these benefits:

  1. CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system (CB1 and CB2 receptors)
  2. CBD activates the vanilloid pain receptors (TRPV1)
  3. CBD activates the serotonin receptors (5HT1A)

All of these specific receptor systems have been shown to be involved with the regulation of fear and anxiety-related behaviors [47].

By supporting a dysfunctional stress-response system, we can alleviate the underlying cause of OCD and other anxiety disorders.

The overall effect is to lower inappropriate (excessive) stress reactions and help the stress-response shut down faster after a stressful episode.

What the Research Says About CBD and OCD

There’s almost no research explicitly looking at the interaction between CBD and OCD. However, there’s plenty of excellent research supporting the use of CBD for other anxiety disorders.

A 2015 preclinical study investigating the potential new treatment of anxiety disorders using CBD concluded that:

Preclinical evidence conclusively demonstrates CBD’s efficacy in reducing anxiety behaviors relevant to multiple disorders, including PTSD, GAD, PD, OCD, and SAD, with a notable lack of anxiogenic effects.”

Although more specific research is needed to explore the use of CBD for OCD, the current findings are promising. The complexity of the condition makes it challenging for researchers to make any conclusive statements on the subject. OCD often comes with other medical conditions — which complicates the diagnosis.

Getting Started with CBD for OCD

Getting started with CBD is easy; the first step is to decide on the type of product you want, then determine what dose you’re likely to need. Once you have this information, all you need to do is find a product that matches that description.

You can even do extra research by glancing over our review of that particular product to see whether we recommend it or not and get more information on how the price, potency, and quality compare with others in its class.

Step 1: Assess the Different Types of CBD Products Available

CBD is the active component in some different product types.

There’s capsules, oils, tinctures, edibles, and topicals. Each one has its own set of positives and negatives, and not all are suitable for every person.

The most common choice, by far, is CBD oil, but capsules and edibles are also both excellent forms of CBD for people suffering from OCD or other forms of anxiety.

CBD oil is taken by measuring the desired dose using the supplied dropper. You can place the oil under your tongue for faster absorption or swallow it right away — both methods work perfectly fine.

Capsules and edibles make dosing even easier because they come pre-measured for specific doses. The downside is that edibles and capsules tend to be a little more expensive than oils, and the dose can’t be dialed into the same level of specificity.

For more information on finding the best CBD products, check out some of our guides:

Step 2: Assess Optimal Starting Dosage

Everybody reacts differently to CBD. Some people need a minimal dose; others need a huge dose — it all depends on your genes and the specific set of symptoms.

Therefore, there is no single dosage recommendation that we can make.

In general, people with mild to moderate OCD report a low- to medium-strength dosage is enough to provide relief from their symptoms. For more severe OCD, a high-strength dose is required to deliver the same benefits.

Use the chart below to find your general dosage requirements according to your weight and desired strength. Remember that these are merely guidelines. The dose can vary a lot from one person to the next so always start low and build up to higher doses gradually once you know how it affects you individually.

Recommended strength for OCD: low to high strength.

Daily Doses of CBD by Weight and Strength (in mg)

Weight (lbs)Low StrengthMedium StrengthHigh Strength

100 lbs

10 mg

30 mg

60 mg

125 lbs

13 mg

38 mg

75 mg

150 lbs

15 mg

45 mg

90 mg

175 lbs

17 mg

52 mg

105 mg

200 lbs

20 mg

60 mg

120 mg

225 lbs

22 mg

67 mg

135 mg

250 lbs

25 mg

75 mg

150 mg

Step 3: Read Reviews Before You Buy

Now that you’ve decided on the type of product you want (CBD oils, tinctures, edibles, or capsules), and understand what kind of doses you’re likely to need, it’s time to start shopping around.

Not all CBD products are the same, and there are a lot of really poor-quality oils on the market.

Have a look through our reviews for the products and companies you’re interested in buying from to see how they compare in price, potency, and overall quality with the competition.

Final Verdict: CBD for OCD

There are still no dedicated studies involving the use of CBD for OCD, so we can’t conclusively say that it helps or doesn’t help — however, there are plenty of excellent studies published on CBD for anxiety. Since OCD is a form of anxiety and involves many of the same side-effects and underlying pathologies to other forms of anxiety, it’s highly likely that CBD supplementation can improve symptoms of OCD.

To get the most out of your CBD supplementation, we recommend taking other measures to alleviate symptoms and following your doctor’s advice.

Should you choose to use CBD for your OCD symptoms, make sure you find a high-quality product free from contaminants, as some compounds (such as pesticides or heavy metals) can make symptoms worse.

Use our reviews to assess a company before you buy to make sure you’re not getting scammed or purchasing any contaminated or ineffective products.


References

  1. Conelea, C. A., Walther, M. R., Freeman, J. B., Garcia, A. M., Sapyta, J., Khanna, M., & Franklin, M. (2014). Tic-related obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): phenomenology and treatment outcome in the Pediatric OCD Treatment Study II. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 53(12), 1308-1316.
  2. Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., Merikangas, K. R., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of general psychiatry, 62(6), 593-602.
  3. Blessing, E. M., Steenkamp, M. M., Manzanares, J., & Marmar, C. R. (2015). Cannabidiol as a potential treatment for anxiety disorders. Neurotherapeutics, 12(4), 825-836.
  4. Izzo, A. A., Borrelli, F., Capasso, R., Di Marzo, V., & Mechoulam, R. (2009). Non-psychotropic plant cannabinoids: new therapeutic opportunities from an ancient herb. Trends in pharmacological sciences, 30(10), 515-527.
  5. Campos, A. C., Moreira, F. A., Gomes, F. V., Del Bel, E. A., & Guimaraes, F. S. (2012). Multiple mechanisms involved in the large-spectrum therapeutic potential of cannabidiol in psychiatric disorders. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B, 367(1607), 3364-3378.
  6. Robson, P. J., Guy, G. W., & Di, V. M. (2014). Cannabinoids and schizophrenia: therapeutic prospects. Current pharmaceutical design, 20(13), 2194-2204.
  7. McPartland, J. M., Duncan, M., Di Marzo, V., & Pertwee, R. G. (2015). Are cannabidiol and Δ9‐tetrahydrocannabivarin negative modulators of the endocannabinoid system? A systematic review. British journal of pharmacology, 172(3), 737-753.

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