Is CBD Effective For OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) impacts an estimated 2-3 million adults¹ in the United States, although many may not receive a diagnosis. A 2021 study² discovered that OCD often goes undiagnosed for ten or more years due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of the condition. 

It can be time-consuming and costly to receive an OCD diagnosis, so evidence-backed treatments, including psychotherapy and medications, may be out of reach. CBD is marketed as an effective treatment for OCD, but does it actually work? 

Curious about clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

Researchers are studying thousands of new treatments and you could be a part of finding a cure while accessing the newest treatments for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Is CBD safe?

Only one CBD product has been FDA-approved: a prescription drug³ that treats certain seizure disorders, specifically Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), Dravet syndrome, or tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC). It is still illegal to market CBD as dietary supplements or add it to food.

A doctor may prescribe medical marijuana in many states. It’s different from CBD because it contains THC, but it’s only for approved disorders or under limited circumstances. Smoking marijuana for medical purposes is ill-advised due to the effect on your lungs.

Can CBD calm OCD symptoms?

One study⁴ says no, as participants smoked three cannabis varietals, one of which was a placebo. The researchers found the placebo was more effective at reducing anxiety than cannabis. 

However, this study was small and used cannabis varietals rather than products with CBD alone. While the high CBD strain had minimal THC (the substance that gets you high), it did not have zero. 

A systematic review⁵ demonstrated improved outcomes in anxiety disorders in general, including OCD. Still, all of the studies in the review were small, and none were OCD-specific. While they showed a positive response, more research is needed, and it may not be possible to generalize the results of these studies for OCD. One study was about seasonal affective disorder, and another was about performance anxiety.

A third, larger study⁴ showed an impact on symptoms, but the lack of a placebo control group means we must interpret results cautiously. It was also limited to a self-selected sample, and there was a lot of variance in the results.

Right now, the evidence is inconclusive and certainly not sufficient to encourage you to try CBD to control your OCD symptoms. While there are potential indications it may help some people, it does not appear to help everyone. We need much more research to establish whether a subset of people may benefit from CBD for OCD.

Can CBD make your OCD worse?

There is no evidence that CBD-based products will worsen your OCD, but as everyone reacts differently, you might experience a negative effect.

There is evidence of a link⁶ between obsessive-compulsive symptoms and cannabis abuse. People with OCD may be more likely to abuse and become dependent on cannabis, which contains THC and CBD. THC appears responsible for the addictive potential of cannabis. 

Correlation is not causation, and some of this pattern may be from people attempting to self-medicate OCD symptoms with cannabis. However, the possibility of a link between OCD and dependency presents a risk, indicating that it may not be wise to use marijuana if you have OCD. 

You should still talk to your doctor before using CBD products to try and control OCD symptoms, even though CBD does not contain the same chemical components as marijuana.

Are there other problems with using CBD?

The FDA forbids⁷ companies from saying their CBD supplements can treat any disease in humans and pets. The company is illegally marketing if you see a CBD product with health claims. These products are not FDA-regulated, so there is a risk that they are contaminated, do not contain the dosage listed on the label, or contain THC.

As above, you should not use marijuana to control your symptoms. Self-medicating with marijuana can lead to dependency, and people with OCD appear at higher risk. Marijuana contains THC, which gets you high and can also cause the following effects:

  • Altered senses

  • Changes in mood

  • Altered sense of time

  • Impaired body movement

  • Impaired memory

  • Difficulty solving problems

High doses can cause hallucinations, delusions, and psychotic symptoms. These symptoms could potentially interact with OCD in extremely unpleasant ways: Imagine having hygiene OCD and experiencing a hallucination that your hands are dirty.

Smoking marijuana, even in low-THC strains, can impact your lungs. Additionally, there is growing evidence that vaping can harm the lungs.

In other words, using only high-quality CBD-based products from a reputable manufacturer is crucial. Even then, it’s important to understand that these are not FDA-approved products.

Can any other supplements help with OCD?

The best treatment for OCD is therapy combined with medication. However, there have been studies⁸ on nutritional and herbal supplements. You should talk to your doctor before taking anything, but researchers have studied the following to some degree:

Vitamin D

Many people are deficient in vitamin D and may not know it. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with OCD symptoms, potentially because of a deterioration in neuroprotection. While taking more and more vitamin D won't help, you should talk to your doctor about having your vitamin D levels checked. Your doctor may recommend a supplement if you have low levels.

Vitamin B12

There is a potential correlation between vitamin B12 deficiency and OCD, although it is not a solid association. Again, if you are deficient, it may be worth taking a supplement or altering your diet to increase your levels. Vitamin B12 deficiency can cause other health problems and symptoms, so ensuring you get enough is an all-around good idea.

Trace elements

There may be a connection between low levels of certain trace elements and OCD. Specifically, selenium, zinc, iron, and magnesium appear lower in people with OCD, while manganese and calcium appear elevated. Supplementing selenium and zinc can potentially result in improvement.

N-acetyl cysteine

N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)⁹ can improve OCD symptoms in people on SSRIs. The effect appears to be more pronounced in younger people who have not had symptoms as long. It doesn't seem to help people with treatment-resistant OCD except for reducing some anxiety symptoms.

Valerian root

People generally use valerian root to treat insomnia. Still, one trial showed valerian extract was more effective than a placebo for OCD symptoms. It may be helpful for people who experience reduced libido on more traditional treatments. However, more research is needed.

The lowdown

It does not appear that CBD products are particularly effective in treating OCD. You should not use marijuana to self-medicate because of its issues and a potentially higher risk of addiction.

The traditional, science-backed SSRI medication and therapy combination is better, but some supplements may have a complementary effect and ease symptoms. Speak to your healthcare provider before using CBD or other supplements to ensure they’re right for you. 

Curious about clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

Researchers are studying thousands of new treatments and you could be a part of finding a cure while accessing the newest treatments for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

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