In a new review published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, the authors explore the potential for targeting the body’s endocannabinoid system to hep relieve symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and related disorders such as anxiety, tic and impulse control disorders. The researchers also offer recommendations for the future direction of this line of research.
OCD is a complex psychological condition in which the patient suffers from persistent unwanted thoughts and high levels of anxiety. The disorder can lead to a severe reduction in one’s quality of life. Up to 30 percent of adult OCD patients have also experienced current or past tics.
Currently, most patients with OCD are treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and antidepressants, but recovery rates are still low.
The body’s endocannabinoid system plays a critical role in regulating neurotransmitter signaling and has been an enticing target for drug development against disorders associated with anxiety, stress and repetitive behaviors, such as OCD. Research has shown that medical cannabis oil is effective in other neurological conditions, as it can reduce seizures in children with epilepsy and relieve symptoms in autism.
In the review, the researchers present evidence linking the endocannabinoid system to the pathology underlying OCD. They also include an extensive overview of cannabinoids made by the body, as well as those from outside the body, including phytocannabinoids found in the marijuana plant and synthetic cannabinoids.
Based on both animal study data showing anti-anxiety and anti-compulsive effects of cannabinoid agents and on preliminary human clinical trial data, the authors suggest that continued drug development is warranted.
Which cannabinoid agents to test and how to measure their effects will be among the important questions to consider in designing future studies.
“Is there a place for cannabinoid-based medicines in psychiatry?” asks Editor-in-Chief Daniele Piomelli, Ph.D., University of California-Irvine, School of Medicine.
“Evidence from animal and human studies points to the endocannabinoid system as an important regulator of emotionality, but how can we exploit this knowledge for therapy? This review article offers a critical assessment of the evidence, focused on obsessive compulsive disorder, and clues to future research.”
According to the World Health Organization, it is estimated that one to three percent of the U.S. population suffers from OCD, and approximately one in 200 children has the disorder.