Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition that is characterized by uncontrollable, frequently occurring thoughts and behaviors. People who suffer from this disorder obsess over certain thoughts and experience ongoing compulsions to conduct certain actions over and over again.
It’s estimated that 1.2% of adults in the US suffer from OCD, which tends to occur more frequently in females than in males.
The degree of severity varies from one person to the next, but in its most severe form, OCD can be debilitating and completely consume a person’s life. People suffering from severe forms of OCD may find it difficult to hold down a job and maintain relationships with others.
While there isn’t currently a known cure for OCD, there are conventional treatments that can alleviate the symptoms associated with the disorder, including psychotherapy and medications. However, sometimes these treatments aren’t effective enough to keep the symptoms of OCD under control, prompting those who suffer to seek out alternative ways to manage their condition, and CBD may be one of them.
CBD’s Role in Alleviating Symptoms of OCD
In the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th Edition), OCD was declassified as an anxiety disorder and reclassified under its own separate disgnosis. That said, anxiety remains an important factor in the symptoms presented, and CBD may be effective at alleviating these symptoms. In fact, there have already been a number of studies that have linked the use of CBD with reduced feelings of anxiety. 
The human body’s endocannabinoid system plays a crucial role in regulating the signaling of neurotransmitters. This system is made up of cannabinoids and receptors, the latter of which are found all over the body. This system can be targeted to manage a host of different ailments, including anxiety and obsessive behaviors, such as those associated with OCD. 
CBD’s effect on the mind and body are directly related to how it affects the endocannabinoid system. By interacting with the receptors of this system, CBD may help to reduce feelings of anxiety.
OCD affects the limbic region of the brain, and CBD may be effective at calming this area that is typically overactive in those with anxiety.  CBD can also stimulate activity in the hippocampus, which is part of the brain’s limbic system that helps regulate emotions.
One study of particular interest as it pertains to CBD and OCD involved lab rats that were trained to seek out food, out of either habit or directed action. In the study, researchers blocked CB1 receptors of the endocannabinoid system, which are predominantly found in the brain. When these receptors were blocked, the rats were no longer able to develop new habits. Such findings suggest that the endocannabinoid system is integral in the adoption of habitual behavior as opposed to directional action.
It should be noted that CBD does not actually directly bind to CB1 receptors, nor does the cannabinoid deactivate them. That said, while THC is the cannabinoid that interacts directly with CB1 receptors, CBD may still influence other molecules to block them.
While current evidence certainly suggests that CBD may be an effective tool for controlling OCD symptoms, more focused research is required to solidify the cannabinoid’s effectiveness in specifically combating OCD.
- Blessing, E.M., et al, “Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders”, Neurotherapeutics, October 2015, Vol. 12(4), pp.825–836.
- Kayser, R.R., et al, “The Endocannabinoid System: A New Treatment Target for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?”, Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, June 2019, Vol. 4.
- Crippa, J.A., et al, “Effects of cannabidiol (CBD) on regional cerebral blood flow“, Neuropsychopharmacology, February 2004, Vol. 29(2), pp.417-26.