The Short-term Versus Long-term Effects of Cannabis Use for Patients With OCD

February 15th 2021
Contemporary Clinic Staff

Contemporary Clinic® interviewed Carrie Cuttler, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Washington State University, on the short-term versus long-term effects of cannabis on OCD.

Contemporary Clinic® interviewed Carrie Cuttler, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Washington State University, on a recent study she co-authored that was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders on the use of cannabis in treating symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

In this discussion, Cuttler addresses the short-term versus long-term effects of cannabis on OCD, and how these may impact patients with OCD who use cannabis.

Alana Hippensteele: In the study, you noted that cannabis may have some beneficial short-term effects, but potentially less long-term effects on OCD. What do you mean by short-term versus long-term effects, and how might these differing effects impact how cannabis could potentially be used to treat patients with OCD?

Carrie Cutler: Yeah, so by short-term effects, I really mean the acute effects. So, I mean the effects of the drug when people are under the immediate influence of cannabis. And again, our results show that people perceived and reported approximate 50% reductions in these OCD symptoms from immediately before too shortly after inhaling cannabis.

Now by long-term effects, I mean like the more lasting effects of the drug after its acute effects have worn off, so when the person's no longer under the immediate influence of the drug. To examine these effects, we actually tracked people's baseline ratings of their symptoms over time. So, we just looked at their ratings immediately before cannabis use to self-medicate and looked at this as a function of the repeated use of cannabis over time.

We found that these baseline ratings of intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors really stayed pretty constant over time, which either means people just self-medicate once their symptoms hit a certain threshold, which is certainly possible, or it could mean that the repeated use of cannabis over time does little to treat the core symptoms of OCD. Instead, these findings are suggesting that using cannabis might simply kind of just maintain these symptoms over time.

In other studies, I've actually found a similar pattern of results. Collectively, they indicate that cannabis is really serving as a band-aid in that it's temporarily masking these symptoms, but it's not addressing the root core issues that are underlying these problems.

So, people experiencing these symptoms may turn to cannabis, and they may find that yeah it effectively reduces their symptoms in the short term while they're intoxicated or under the influence, so it's negatively reinforcing in that way—it's taking away a bad feeling and making them want to keep using it, but it's not decreasing these symptoms in the long-term. It's not addressing the root core issue. Instead, it's really just maintaining these symptoms over time.

So, when the effects of the drug wear off in 1 to 4 hours, the symptoms are going to return, leading them to potentially use more cannabis, and then eventually increasing the risk for becoming dependent on it. As such, people with OCD should really be seeking out therapy to learn how to effectively reduce their symptoms in the long-term.

Related Content