EducationCan CBD help manage OCD symptoms?

Can CBD help manage OCD symptoms?

7 min read

Sam North

Can CBD help manage OCD symptoms?

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an often misunderstood and misrepresented mental health condition characterised by symptoms such as extreme anxiety, obsessive intrusive thoughts, and compulsive behaviours. This condition can affect people of all ages and genders, and can have been seen in children as young as six.


Living with OCD can be extremely challenging, and even debilitating. Intrusive thoughts can, and do, strike sufferers at any time. Concentrating on work, family, and the quotidian matters of daily life can feel insurmountable when combined with ever-present intrusive thoughts necessitating compulsive behaviours and rituals. These symptoms can be ruinous to one’s mental health, causing a great deal of anxiety, depression, and self-recrimination.

Fortunately, there is evidence to suggest that the endocannabinoid system plays a key role in regulating the anxiety and other symptoms associated with OCD symptoms. As such, cannabinoids – compounds found in the medical cannabis plant (phytocannabinoids to be more precise) – may provide relief from these symptoms, potentially enabling those with OCD to better manage the condition.

Cannabidiol (CBD) in particular has been linked to possible improvement in OCD symptoms, with a 2020 study demonstrating that CBD may be effective in the treatment of this condition. Here, we look at how CBD may be employed to help mitigate these symptoms.

What are the symptoms of OCD?

The NHS has a comprehensive guide to the symptoms of OCD. While it’s important to know that everyone’s experience with OCD is slightly different, symptoms tend to fall under the following categories:

Intrusive thoughts

Those with OCD typically experience intrusive and obsessive thoughts. These tend to dominate trains of thought, making it hard to concentrate on tasks at work or even enjoy relaxing at home with a book or a film. These thoughts tend to be extremely unpleasant and often include a need for orderliness, symmetry, or tidiness. Intrusive thoughts may be of a violent or sexual nature, and can frequently come with a sense of impending personal doom.


OCD frequently triggers intense emotions, leading to feelings of anxiety or distress, even in benign surroundings.

Compulsive behaviours

OCD tends to result in compulsive behaviours that conform to an internal logic that is unlikely to make sense to friends, family or loved ones. These compulsive behaviours can fleetingly bring relief to intrusive thoughts, and repeating behaviours can seem like a way of preventing something terrible from happening.

Compulsive behaviours can include:

  • Checking and rechecking around the house (door locked, oven off, windows shut, etc.)
  • Washing and cleaning
  • Counting and repeating words
  • Ordering and arranging items
  • Hoarding behaviours

How can CBD help to potentially manage OCD symptoms?

Although we still do not know the exact cause of OCD, there are many that hypothesise a combination of genetic factors, environmental factors, and learned behaviours that can trigger the disorder. However, there is an increasingly large body of evidence to suggest that the endocannabinoid system, which manages a wide range of bodily processes including appetite, sleep, mood, and immune function, is potentially instrumental in the way the condition affects the mind and body.

While there are only a few studies examining the treatment of OCD with CBD and its derivatives, there are substantially more studies exploring the effects of CBD on anxiety. A 2015 review of studies in the US, for instance, demonstrated that a dose of 300-600 mg of orally-administered CBD may be effective in managing anxiety. Although the study acknowledges that OCD and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are no longer classified as anxiety disorders, it notes that “excessive anxiety is central to the symptomatology of both disorders”.

Furthermore, a recent study in the Journal of Affective Disorders found CBD-rich strains of cannabis had shown promise in quickly and temporarily reduced anxiety, compulsions and intrusive thoughts in a sample of 87 individuals who self-identified as having OCD. A 2014 study has also shown that CBD can help reduce compulsive behaviours in rodents.

What is the best form of CBD for managing OCD symptoms?

In lieu of a more definitive understanding of the cause of OCD, many patients focus on treating the symptoms with complementary therapies alongside other mental health treatments like counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, and exposure therapy. Using CBD for intrusive thoughts, anxiety, and compulsive behaviours may be an effective way to manage the symptoms of this often debilitating condition, but we need more in-depth, OCD targeted studies before any definitive claims can be made.

What makes CBD so appealing to the mass market is that it can be incorporated into a wide range of products, making it suitable for integration into any lifestyle. Those with OCD regularly find solace in small acts of comfort, reward, and self-reassurance, such as having a cup of tea, taking deep breaths, or enjoying a treat.

Because good quality CBD is available in everything from teabags, instant coffee and massage oil to baked goods and gummies, there are many ways in which those with OCD can self-administer CBD without contributing to feelings of anxiety and paranoia. That said, the most effective way to take CBD may be to take sublingual drops as the area under the tongue is packed with capillaries, helping the CBD to reach the bloodstream faster. Vaping with CBD or a CBD-dominant strain of cannabis may prove therapeutic for those who are able to manage intrusive thoughts with deep breathing.

With that said, there have been cases where over the counter CBD products have been proven to not line up with the claims made on the packaging. Always ensure that you are able to view the certificate of analysis (COA) for any and all CBD products you may be interested in purchasing, or even better, source our CBD through medicinal avenues. The medical cannabis sector is subject to a much more stringent range of regulations, and the oversight is comprehensive.

OCD is a serious mental health issue, and so we strongly recommend consulting with a doctor that is registered to, and experienced in providing medicinal cannabis before making any changes to your current treatment plan. You should also discuss this with your existing clinical team. 

While everyone’s tolerance is different, the human body can generally metabolise CBD very effectively without side effects, and there are none of the psychotropic effects caused by THC. Indeed, THC-heavy strains of medicinal cannabis are not recommended for those with OCD, as they may exacerbate feelings of anxiety and paranoia.

When dosing, it is important to start at a low dosage and increase gradually until experiencing a perceptible relief of symptoms. To guarantee you receive the best advice possible in terms of dosage, the need for a consultation with a doctor is paramount. 

What to look for in a CBD product

It’s critical to remember that not all CBD products are created equally. UK law states that all CBD products must contain less than 1 mg of THC per container. As of 2020, any food or drink products containing CBD require a Novel Food authorisation issued by the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA). Nonetheless, there is still substantial variation in the purity and quality of CBD oils, tinctures, and comestibles.

Make sure:

  • The CBD is sourced from organically-grown hemp with no harmful pesticides
  • CBD content is clearly stated as a percentage or in mg
  • The product uses full-spectrum or broad-spectum CBD. This means it uses the whole plant and will include important terpenes to help achieve a more potent ‘entourage effect’
  • The manufacturer has used CO2 supercritical extraction rather than alcohol or butane extraction to preserve the cannabinoids and terpenes
  • That the CBD product has a certificate of analysis (COA) available on request

At Releaf, we understand the importance of a personalised approach to medical cannabis administration. This is why we carefully monitor dosages and CBD:THC ratios, making timely adjustments to ensure that all subscribers get the maximum benefit for their specific needs and health condition. 

Never view medicinal cannabis as a “magic cure all”, and beware any companies making such claims. Medicinal cannabis may be an effective complementary therapeutic addition to your current treatment plan, but this is a decision that should always be made in tandem with your clinical care team and a doctor that is experienced in prescribing medicinal cannabis. 

Releaf understands the importance of medical cannabis in treating various medical conditions. With our tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection, you can access the treatment you need without worrying about the stigma.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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Sam North, a seasoned writer with over five years' experience and expertise in medicinal cannabis, brings clarity to complex concepts, focusing on education and informed use.

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

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