Psychedelic therapy refers to the use of psychedelics to treat medical conditions. We have witnessed significant changes in the psychedelic space in the last decade. Even mainstream institutions such as John Hopkins take the lead in spearheading psychedelic research.
Clinicians and researchers are eager to explore the potential of psychedelics in tackling conditions that are difficult to treat, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This article explores the role of different psychedelics such as psilocybin, DMT, cannabinoids, and even ketamine in alleviating obsessive and compulsive symptoms in OCD.
What Is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition that is characterized by a pattern of uncontrollable obsessions that trigger repetitive compulsions. For example, the patient may be obsessed with cleanliness, and as a result, they find themselves constantly cleaning surfaces even when they are not dirty. These constant obsessions and compulsions interfere with one’s ability to perform their daily activities and, therefore, diminish their quality of life.
Symptoms of OCD
Symptoms of OCD can be divided into obsessions and compulsions. While most people will have obsessive and compulsive symptoms, others will have only one of the two.
Obsessive symptoms are repetitive thoughts or urges that are hard to ignore. Obsessions usually center on a particular theme, such as fear of contamination or uncertainty, wanting things to be symmetrical, or a fear of losing control over yourself. This may prompt the user to carry out some repetitive behavior to get rid of the obsessions.
Compulsive symptoms are repetitive behaviors that are performed to overcome the obsessions. This may include the repetitive washing of hands and the need to follow a strict routine. Unfortunately, doing these actions brings no relief or pleasure, and neither do they remove the obsessive thoughts or fears.
Traditional Treatments for OCD
The treatment for OCD aims to relieve symptoms (obsessions and compulsions) and improve the patient’s quality of life. Current, traditional treatment involves combining psychotherapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, with antidepressant medications such as Fluoxetine (Prozac), Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva), Sertraline (Zoloft) , Clomipramine (Anafranil), Fluvoxamine, and others.
Serotonin and OCD
The feel-good hormone serotonin has been implicated in the pathophysiology of OCD. Therefore, treatment for OCD may be geared towards regulating the levels of circulating serotonin.
One study investigating the role of serotonin in OCD found that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have an anti-obsessional effect that may help to relieve symptoms of OCD. Most psychedelics exert their hallucinogenic effects through their interaction with serotonin receptors.
The Potential of Psychedelics Treating OCD
Psychedelic therapy for OCD is a new area of research that scientists are looking at. Even though the research is still in its early stages, the preliminary evidence is quite promising. A few psychedelics have been implicated in the management of OCD. As per the current research, psilocybin and cannabinoids have tremendous potential in this area.
For example, one man that used shrooms for years developed a tolerance that prevented him from getting high and managed to keep his OCD under control. On the other hand, in his search for shrooms to fight his OCD, Adam Strauss, NYC writer, and performer, found the psychedelic mescaline, which contains that cactus peyote, used in Native American religious rituals. However, unlike mushrooms, the magic cactus didn’t seem to work in relieving his OCD symptoms.
How Psychedelics Help OCD Patients
Let’s take a closer look at each of these psychedelics and what the relevant research says.
Psilocybin and OCD
Psilocybin, a classic hallucinogen, is a chemical naturally produced by more than 100 species of mushrooms worldwide. It appears to have a significant role to play in the treatment of OCD. This compound has a profound effect on serotonin receptors located in brain areas that are related to OCD.
One study showed that treatment with multiple doses of OCD might alter serotonin binding and, in the process, relieve symptoms of OCD. Psilocybin may also help to alleviate anxiety which is a trigger for obsessions.
A different study involving 29 participants suffering from OCD demonstrated that psilocybin could help to reduce core OCD symptoms in multiple participants. Another case study of an individual suffering from OCD highlighted the role of serotonin receptors in OCD and the potential of psilocybin in reducing the core symptoms.
Currently, an ongoing study (double-blind, placebo-controlled) sponsored by Yale University and Heffter Research Institute is investigating the efficacy of psilocybin in OCD.
Ketamine and OCD
Ketamine is a prescription anesthetic medication traditionally used in the OR to induce anesthesia but is currently under investigation for several off-label uses. The off-label uses of ketamine include the management of pain and treatment-resistant depression.
DMT and OCD
DMT is a hallucinogenic tryptamine drug that can be applied in spiritual, recreational, and therapeutic settings.
Cannabinoids and OCD
Although some people may not consider cannabis to be a hallucinogen, it is still worth mentioning its potential in helping relieve OCD symptoms.
The marijuana legalization wave sweeping across the world has paved the way for research into the therapeutic potential of the bioactive compounds in cannabis, mostly cannabinoids.
Cannabinoids (most notably THC and CBD) have been implicated in managing pain, insomnia, anxiety, depression, nausea, vomiting, and more. The potential effect of cannabinoids on OCD has not yet been fully explored. However, a few studies have pointed researchers in the right direction regarding the role of cannabinoids in OCD.
One case study of a 22-year-old man suffering from OCD demonstrated the potential of cannabinoids in reducing OCD-related depression, which resulted in an improved quality of life. The researchers also reviewed the literature in this area and found that cannabinoids have a role in OCD, suggesting a cannabinoid hypothesis for OCD.
The Verdict: Do Psychedelics Help OCD Patients?
OCD is a chronic condition that reduces one’s productivity and diminishes the quality of life. Traditional treatment involves combining psychotherapy with antidepressant medications. Psychedelics such as psilocybin, ketamine, DMT, and cannabinoids may reduce the symptoms of OCD through various mechanisms, including modulating the serotonergic system.
However, be cautious about self-medicating on psychedelics as this may jeopardize your health. Street drugs are not the same as clinical drugs, and some may be contaminated or contain unsafe compounds. It is advisable to work with your healthcare provider as you explore psychedelic therapy for OCD.