While OCD doesn't affect many people, it does so more than schizophrenia and can be severe. Photo: airpix
While OCD doesn’t affect many people, it does so more than schizophrenia and can be severe. Photo: airpix

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects 2.3 percent of people in the United States, more than bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. It usually manifests itself between the ages of six and 15 in males and 20 and 29 in females. It is thought to be more prevalent in folk of above average intelligence. It often worsens over time. It can increase the risk of suicide. Around half of sufferers gain no relief from traditional treatment.

So what is OCD exactly?

Some of the more common forms for OCD are the need for order and a fear of germs, making mistakes and sinning and deserving punishment. This results in incessant washing, repeating words or phrases, rearranging things, hoarding and the need to perform tasks in a certain order or a certain number of times. One US sufferer, Ryan, a pre-teen, had an intense fear of the number six and the wind.

What is the treatment for OCD, usually

There are theories that OCD stems from physical or emotional trauma. Treatment usually combines extensive cognitive therapy with anti-depressant selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), of which Prozac, known in the United Kingdom as Fluoxetine, is the best-known, tricyclic anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications. The first two of these have many side-effects that are adverse and severe, including agitation, diarrhoea, drowsiness, headaches, insomnia, depression of the libido and weight gain. Anti-anxiety meds slow down brain activity and can cause blurred vision, confusion, depression, drowsiness, memory loss and impaired thinking – yes, these drugs make you into a zombie. Any drugs would have to be used for a long time to have an effect, and addiction is a definite possibility.

The remedy for all this is cannabis, which has been employed medicinally for centuries worldwide. There is much evidence of its benefits to emotional regulation. In 1563, the Portuguese physician, herbalist and naturalist Garca de Orta wrote of the medicinal plants of India in the book Colóquios dos Simples e Drogas da India, mentioning that cannabis helped people afflicted by anxiety to be “delivered from all worries and care.” Study participants sometimes report increased anxiety after taking cannabis, but usually they report less, and considerably less at that. The difference is believed to be down to individual body chemistry.

It’s the cannabidiol (CBD) in cannabis that does good. This is one of the largest ingredients of cannabis which, unlike the other biggie, tetrahydrocannabinol, doesn’t make you stoned. As regular readers will be aware, experiments have shown it to be an anti-inflammatory, anti-convulsant, anti-oxidant, anti-emetic, anxiolytic and anti-psychotic agent. It is also known to have a highly positive effect on people suffering from anxiety.

One experiment among a number which proved CBD’s usefulness for OCD was undertaken at Brazil’s University of Sao Paulo School of Medicine in 2014 and published in the journal Fundamental Clinical Pharmacology. Rats were given the drug meta-chloro-phenyl-piperazine (mCPP), which prompts OCD and is found in ecstasy. The rats were placed in a sand-filled cage containing dozens of marbles, which they buried – the classic illustration for OCD behaviour. Even at an extremely low dose, CBD immediately negated OCD; no marbles were buried.

 

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