Medical marijuana and the treatment of OCD

Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD may work effectively at treating the symptoms that are associated with OCD. What's more, they may work at a deeper level to actually treat the condition.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), is a mental health condition that can result in obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour, and has close ties to anxiety. Although the condition does typically develop around early adulthood, the condition is common and can affect men, women, and children at any age in life.

It is estimated that OCD affects around 12 in every 1000 people, or 1.2 percent of the total population within the United Kingdom. While some people are only subtly affected by OCD, for others it can be highly distressing and even devastating.

Symptoms like compulsive ritual routines, fear of contamination, and uninvited thoughts can greatly decrease a person's quality of life. So much so that the World Health Organisation once classified OCD as one of the top ten most disabling conditions of any kind.


Most people’s impressions of obsessive compulsive disorder may be that the condition results in the obsessive washing of hands and people constantly switching light switches on and off in an attempt to satisfy internal impulses. Whilst these examples are common, the symptoms of OCD are far higher in number and complexity.

Symptoms can also manifest psychologically and often present themselves as uncontrollable thoughts, images, impulses, worries, and fears. These thoughts are often highly disturbing and can interfere with a person's everyday life.

Many people with OCD are completely aware that these thoughts are irrational. However, they may be so strong and vivid that they lead the person to carry out irrational rituals and behaviours in order to possibly eliminate a perceived threat to either themselves or others.

Traditionally, it has been thought that there are four main categories of OCD, with each category containing numerous subgroups. These four categories are checking, contamination/mental contamination, hoarding, and ruminations/intrusive thoughts.


Although several factors have been detected that may contribute towards the disorder, the exact cause of OCD is currently unclear. A person’s family history may dictate whether they develop obsessive compulsive disorder or not, so this could possibly also be down to genetic factors.

Differences in brain activity could also cause the disorder to manifest. Some people with OCD have been shown to display unusually high activity in certain areas of the brain, and lower levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin that plays a role in social behaviour, mood, sleep, memory, and more.

OCD may also be tied to a person's life experiences and traumatic events. It has been reported that events such as bullying, abuse, neglect, childbirth, and bereavement may all lend towards the development of obsessive compulsive disorder.

Personality traits such as being neat and methodical, and harbouring a strong sense of responsibility, may be factors that also contribute to OCD.

The main treatments for OCD currently involve psychological therapy, specifically cognitive behavioural therapy. This form of therapy helps patients to effectively face fears and compulsions. Medication such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that work to alter the balance of chemicals within brain can also be prescribed,


In 2008, a team of German researchers submitted a letter to the editor of the American Journal of Psychiatry, in which they expressed their clinical experiences regarding the use of cannabis molecules as a possible treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder.

The researchers documented two cases in which subjects received powerful relief from symptoms when administered with dronabinol, a man-made form of THC, the psychoactive molecule found within cannabis.


The first case the researchers presented regarded a subject named “Mrs. L”, a 38 year old woman who was admitted with recurrent major depression and OCD. It was documented that Mrs.L had been prescribed antidepressants and cognitive behavioural therapy, yet neither had been effective for the condition.

It was reported that smoking cannabis usually relieved her symptoms, and therefore it was decided to augment her self-medication with dronabinol. It was found that the patient’s OCD symptoms decreased significantly within a period of only 10 days.


The other patient documented within the letter was named “Mr.K”, a 36 year old man who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and OCD, and was admitted for deterioration of psychotic and obsessive symptoms.

This patient had been prescribed an assortment of antipsychotic and antidepressant medications, along with electroconvulsive therapy. However, regardless of these treatments, the patient's symptoms still persisted.

After dronabinol was administered, along with ongoing doses of clomipramine and clozapine, OCD symptoms were significantly reduced within 2 weeks.

The authors of the letter stated, “Based on data from case reports and small clinical trials suggesting cannabinoids can reduce symptoms of tic disorders and on findings from genetics studies linking tic disorder with OCD, we hypothesized that cannabinoids might also reduce OCD symptoms.”

The researchers also state that glutamatergic hyperactivity is involved in OCD, and that cannabinoids have been reported to inhibit glutamate release within the central nervous system. They also state that CB1 receptors of the endocannabinoid system are found abundantly in the striatum, a region of the brain that is frequently associated with OCD.


Various animal studies also point towards cannabis as a potential therapy for obsessive compulsive disorder. A paper published within the journal Behavioural Pharmacology observed the effect of the cannabinoid CBD on mice that had been subject to a marble-burying test in order to simulate an animal model of compulsive behaviour.

It was found that CBD significantly reduced the amount of buried marbles in comparison to control groups. It was also found that the effects of CBD were still significant after 7 days of daily repeated administration, whereas the effects of antidepressants within the same study disappeared.

The authors of the paper documenting the study stated that these results suggest a potential role of drugs that act on the cannabinoid system as modulators of compulsive behaviour.

Another paper documenting a study involving mice was published in the Psychopharmacology journal. The authors of this paper stated that, “CBD inhibited obsessive-compulsive behaviour in a time-dependent manner matching its pharmacokinetic profile.


Although cannabis is making a run for it and is being accepted as a promising medicine for many conditions, OCD is not yet officially recognised as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.

However, Tourette’s syndrome is closely related to OCD and good results are being seen in treating Tourette’s with cannabis.

Hopefully new research will provide more insight into the relationship between OCD and cannabis in the near future. We advice you to talk to your doctor about experimenting with cannabis as a treatment for OCD symptoms.

Note: We have taken the utmost care and precaution whilst writing this article. That being said, please take note of the fact that we are not medical professionals of any kind. is strictly a news and information website. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.