How CBD Works - How does CBD work for OCD
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There is new research coming out across the board on health issues.
OCD is no different.
This is good news for the 2.5% of the population that will experience OCD during their lives.
There are some clues however which may point to how CBD can help.
We'll look at all of it.
Some curious points:
We're going to look at ALL of it.
We'll then jump into the endocannabinoid system and finally, CBD.
We've often heard that a little OCD is needed to be successful.
Let's see if we can shed light on the more extreme type which hinders a quality of life.
You can check out 3rd party screened CBD brands by safety and cost here:
Otherwise, jump to any section here:
Like we said...no stone unturned.
Sufferers of OCD can appreciated that!
Researchers are gaining a better understanding of the mechanics behind OCD.
The current theories involve:
Let's look at each of these separately and then touch on some complicit causes.
Of course, we'll start with the brain!
The new research on this front is fascinating!
Basically, there's an ancient (evolutionarily speaking) circuit that controls primitive impulses such as aggression, sexuality, and bodily excretions
It involves communication between the orbitofrontal cortex (just above and behind your eyes) and the thalmus (part of the old "reptilian" brain in the back...very old).
The interchange between these two very different parts of the brain is partially handled in the caudate nucleus.
Okay...we understand if you're eyes are glossing over but we'll come back around to these areas.
There's a very interesting read here:
This brain pathway is in charge of motivating you to do certain things.
Read the article above...very fascinating and we'll come back around to it.
Next, to the genes please.
There's a known hereditary component to OCD.
Twin studies and family studies both bear this out.
This is where science is going to grow by leaps and bounds.
Throw in CRSPR technology (now being tested by the FDA as I write this) and there's hope to address this aspect and reduce suffering soon.
As expected, the genes tied to OCD govern the function of (wait for it):
This is the very "circuit" that appears to be malfunctioning in people with OCD.
Another critical clue (especially for the medications used) is the HTR2A gene.
This gene governs the function of serotonin which is a powerful signaling chemical in the brain.
CBD has a very interesting connection with serotonin (as does the gut biome) which we'll discuss later.
Right now, just make a note next to serotonin.
Also, demand that your legislators push to move CRSPR forward...we need a moon mission to feeling better.
Sorry for the rant...
We'll touch on the MTHFR gene later (just 40% of the population).
We brought up serotonin...are there are other neurotransmitters at play?
Serotonin is a big one. It's a powerful worker in the "circuit" we described above between different parts of the brain.
Most people know serotonin from its effect on depression.
It's called our "feel good" chemical.
It does so much more than that and helps different parts of the brain communicate.
It's not the only neurotransmitter at work (or not working) with OCD.
This is a key excitatory chemical in the brain.
If there's too much of it, many different mental health issues can occur depending on what part of the brain is affected (or susceptible due to genetics or injury):
You'll notice a trend there.
All share a basic attribute of something being too heightened or overactive.
Thank you, Glutamate.
In fact, a gene tied to glutamate function was implicated in OCD.
We're even starting to get results where low glutamate diets can reduce OCD symtoms:
If elevated glutamate is applied to the circuit mentioned above, you can see how the impulse intensity would spiral out of control.
Finally, if glutamate is the gas on the pedal, GABA is the brake!
There's even a connection there with OCD directly.
So, make one more mental note on GABA and Glutamate which we'll touch on later in regards to CBD.
Next, to the second (if not first) most powerful chemicals in the body...
There's a known connection between reproductive hormones and OCD (usually severity for existing sufferers).
Interestingly, OCD is one of the few mental health issues which is gender neutral.
Most of the differences across other issues are directly tied to the powerful effect of hormones.
Diagnoses are the same across gender (although younger sufferers tend to be male) but hormones can definitely drive the severity...especially in women.
This pattern can be seen anytime we have fluctuation in key hormones:
In a substantial number of patients, the onset or worsening of OCD was related to reproductive cycle events, especially at menarche and postpartum
How much impact after delivery?
That's almost double!
Why is this?
This goes back to serotonin which we mentioned above.
It may not be serotonin directly but metabolites that contribute to OCD such as vasopression, oxytocin, and others.
In fact, this maybe the mechanism by which common OCD medications have their effect:
So balance of hormones and neurotransmitters. Dog-ear that thought for later.
Next up...the root of seemingly all major ailments (body and brain).
They have an innocuous-sounding name for it...PANDA.
Basically, exposure to strep infection during adolescents can result in OCD later in life.
What is going on here?
For a subset of OCD sufferers, antibodies from infection (including strep) may cross the brain/blood barrier.
The body (and brain's) immune response targets this and unleashes its attack.
This is classic auto-immune disease.
We're seeing more and more examples of this.
Such as mouth bacteria tied to dementia.
Check out CBD and autoimmune here.
Scientist are actually finding inflammation directly linked to OCD in the brain circuitry:
And then there's the gut!
The trillions of bacteria that reside in our gut are incredibly important to our health and mental health.
Remember how we said that serotonin may be instrumental in OCD progression?
What about GABA and Glutamate (the brake and gas pedal of the brain)?
Much of those chemicals are partially synthesized in the gut.
Maybe more importantly, the gut is the seat of our immune and inflammatory response.
So what happens when the gut goes wrong?
The microbiome is cutting edge research (unfortunately).
Studies are just getting underway for specific issues such as OCD.
The initial animal studies are intriguing.
Researchers were able to affect OCD symptoms and progression by affecting the gut bacteria:
We expect OCD to follow all the other issues where the gut biome is very influential (anxiety, depression, autism, etc).
Let's look at past trauma.
OCD may just be a very specific response to reduce anxiety with influence from the circuit in the brain mentioned above.
The relationship between PTSD and OCD is well established (as are both to anxiety):
There's a great review here:
We have an entire article on PTSD and CBD which gets into the mechanics of what causes PTSD.
You'll see very similar actors with both.
One interesting point comes into play.
The ability to heal this loss is critical across many issues (Alzheimers, PTSD, Anxiety, Depression, etc).
It's called neurogenesis.
We have an entire article on CBD and neurogenesis but it might be one of our favorite topics with CBD.
We'll touch on that below.
One more powerful actor that has a direct impact on the type of CBD we might consider.
Histamine is a powerful brain signaling chemical.
We know it for its allergic reaction effects but it does so much more in the brain.
It's excitatory (speeds up processes and signaling) in the brain.
In fact, it directly controls wakefulness, focus, and alertness.
That's why antihistamines make you feel drowsy and sluggish!
There are three aspects that make histamine really important to OCD.
There's an entire explanation below but a quick synopsis.
A gene called MTHFR controls a key chemical transformation process in the body called methylation.
Basically, it's how our body "activates" or "de-activates" various chemicals across the body.
It's critical for the synthesis of neurotransmitters (such as serotonin and dopamine).
If we've learned anything above, these players are critical to a host of mental health issues including OCD.
People with a less than ideal functioning MTHFR gene do not break down histamine correctly.
Histamine builds up and is excitatory in the brain.
That's the first aspect and more info here:
Why does an imbalance of histamine matter (aside from horrible allergies)?
The first clue came from studies of Tourettes and tics.
Finally, an exciting, new front in brain research deals with microglial cells.
These are the immune cells in the brain.
They safeguard the brain from injury, attack, and infection.
A host of issues including OCD are showing that the microglial cells may be functioning incorrectly.
There's a fascinating summary of different studies where researchers knock out specific microglia genes and resulting OCD behaviors occur:
This is exciting and ground-breaking. They can literally knock a gene tied to microglial function and OCD behavior appears.
They can then cross-breed this out and the symptoms go away.
The golden age of CRSPR is coming folks!
What chemical in the brain moderates or balances microglial activity?
Finally, why histamine matters for CBD.
We'll get into that below but we definitely want CBD Isolate for OCD.
You can learn all about CBD and Histamines here.
Let's look quickly at the meds. We're almost there!
The common medications used for OCD all center around serotonin function.
Primarily boosting it or the availability of it to neurons.
SSRI's are the goto approach which basically makes more serotonin available.
Of course, they can come with pretty severe side-effects depending on the person.
Other medications look to impact the pathways for norepiniphrine (SNRI's), Glutamate, and GABA itself.
Unfortunately, the results are less than favorable.
Let's finally get into why we're here.
What about CBD and OCD?
Enter the endocannabinoid system.
Every living animal has one down to the sea urchin.
It's been "conserved" by nature for about 600 million years.
We've only known about it for a few decades now and research is showing that it's critical for balancing other key systems:
Any of those sound familiar?
We're talking about the dominant systems in the body and brain that govern how we feel, interpret, and interact with the world.
Here's a quick visual:
Let's look at OCD specifically.
The first question is simple...are there even endocannabinoid receptors in the key brain areas tied to OCD?
The first clue is when researchers found that the endocannabinoid system is tied to the process in the brain that governs switching between habitual and non-habitual behaviors.
This is key to OCD, addiction, and other issues.
To put a fine point on it...
Remember way back up top...the orbitofrontal cortex as being implicated in OCD (we won't hold it against you if you don't...that was paragraphs ago!)
OFC is orbitofrontal cortex.
So endocannabinoid receptors are directly involved in the proper function of habitual behavior.
We spoke of the excitatory nature of Glutamate and inhibitory nature of GABA plus the need for balance between the two.
The endocannabinoid system is the great balancer:
This just means that the ECS (endocannabinoid system) is able to both increase or decrease activity across almost all these pathways.
Almost all the current medications rely on boosting serotonin levels available to neurons.
The problem is that this carries pretty significant side effects and eventually loses its effect.
A new study points to focusing on the CB (endocannabinoid receptors) instead:
There was also an anti-anxiety effect but we have an entire article on CBD and anxiety here.
We're finally starting to get studies on people with OCD and other compulsive behavior illnesses.
The initial results are encouraging.
There, the key was boosting 2-AG, the most prominent cannabinoid in the brain.
We've spoken quite a bit about the brake/gas pedals in the brain...GABA and Glutamate specifically.
AEA is Anandamide, our 2nd most prevalent endocannabinoid in the brain behind 2-AG.
That's a great place to jump to CBD.
You're going to love the connection between AEA and CBD.
First, CBD is short for cannabidiol.
It's a cannabinoid found naturally in the cannabis plan.
CBD is able to interact with the endocannabinoid system we have in our body.
Here's a great article on exactly what is CBD.
Let's zoom in for CBD and OCD.
There are dozens of studies (finally) on the effects of CBD on OCD and a host of other related issues (anxiety, PTSD, etc).
Let's see what NIH has to show.
First, they studied a proxy for OCD in animal models (called marble burying):
Research details here.
Interestingly, they studied multiple cannabinoids and only CBD had the effect.
This means that CBD is causing this effect by directly affecting CB1 receptors in the brain.
5HT receptors are where serotonin does most of its work.
It's good that CBD doesn't directly hammer the 5HT pathway like other meds.
The serious side effects are missing as a result.
This is where most sites end in terms of OCD.
We're just getting started.
CBD has a fascinating effect of promoting fear extinction.
This is a technical term for "forgetting bad things" and yes, the brain has specific circuitry to "remember trauma and fear".
It's helpful (don't touch a hot stove) but if too heightened, you can see the implications in a range of issues with PTSD and OCD being first and foremost.
Remember that past trauma can be a determining factor with OCD.
Anxiety is intimately tied to OCD.
There's a pretty comprehensive overview of CBD's benefits for anxiety here for additional reading.
Anxiety may offer the single greatest potential for CBD and that definitely affects OCD.
Let's look at the neurotransmitter angle.
Glutamate, GABA, and Serotonin to start.
A current theory is that an imbalance of these neurotransmitters are at the root of OCD.
We showed the studies above on their effects.
CBD has a direct effect on balancing all three (and others).
Let's look at a specific example that pops up with studies on convulsions and schizophrenia.
Look...Glutamate is important within limits.
It's needed for learning, memory formation, and reacting to outside stimulus.
The key is within limits.
The endocannabinoid system that CBD boosts is the balancer there.
We can't put it better than researchers did here:
NMDAR is the pathway glutamate operates in.
The key word there is "within physiological limits"
Too much glutamate (not enough endocannabinoid reigning it in) and we have issues.
Remember the marble burying test above (animal equivalent to OCD behavior)?
It was Anandamide (our naturally occuring cannabinoid) that brought down excessive glutamate:
What's the connection with CBD and Anandamide (so called the "bliss" molecule)...
Thanks were staying with us there. It is brain science after all!
That's the gas pedal.
What about the brake? GABA
There's a beautiful explanation of CBD ability to affect GABA levels in the brain here:
One of the most fascinating aspects is that it doesn't directly pump neurotransmitters like the common medications (hence their side effects) but supports when activity is slow and backs off when high.
This goes back to the balancing act that the endocannabinoid system is tasked with.
Give when needed but take when too much.
It's quite a beautifully responsive system.
Sorry...we geek out sometimes.
Back to OCD.
Most of the most meds for OCD deal with serotonin.
Does this same "support system" apply to serotonin?
The danger with the meds (SSRI, etc) it that they work in one direction.
They pump up serotonin available to the brain.
If you get too much, it can actually have psychotic effects!
Serotonin is such a powerful workhorse in the brain.
It's not just about feeling good.
It's a communicator across different brain areas!
There's lots of research on CBD and serotonin due its effects on depression.
Learn all about that pathway at CBD and depression here.
Some key takeaways..
Maybe more importantly, let's go back to some key determinants of OCD we described in the beginning.
The sections on strep infection, inflammation, and brain mass loss become important.
A study showed that CBD's effect on the serotonin system may be caused by a very interesting reaction to infection and inflammation.
We'll start with the easier-to-chew bullet point:
CBD is an FAAH inhibitor.
It therefore enhances serotonin signaling and creates new brain tissue in the hippocampus (which can lose tissue as a result of inflammation, infection, and autoimmune).
Here's where things get downright silly for OCD and just generally, health.
Brain inflammation is a known cause of many serious mental health issues (we mentioned ties with OCD above).
Here's the connection...and we're going to summarize because it's very complicated (study link below for the brave).
Stay with us...it's very cool!
Bacteria, viruses, etc can use an amino acid, tryptophan, to make new invaders
The body responds to infection by reducing the levels of trytophan as a counter measure
Tryptophan is an important building block for serotonin (and other pathways) and NAD (the source of all our energy).
Therefore...infection leads to poor serotonin signaling.
Without the side effects of SSRI's and other "hammers" on serotonin levels.
This can explain the autoimmune angle. The strep and infection angle. The inflammation angle.
We need more research but its effect could be widespread and matches other research which shows that our immune response to antibodies that get out into the body are the key to most modern diseases.
CBD's side effects and safety profile is significantly stronger (see CBD safety here).
More information on corresponding topics here:
Whew...thanks for staying with us but there is so much suffering caused by OCD.
We wanted to give it our full effort.
People deserve to feel better!
On to more practical questions.
We have an entire section on CBD dosage here.
Basically, the general starting dosage to test how your body responds is 20-30mg.
There are definitely tips on how to take CBD to get the most out of it at this Quick Start Guide on CBD.
Lots of ways to get the most out of CBD.
Remember the issue on histamines?
Let's talk about why that's important.
All the research we mentioned above is on CBD by itself.
Not CBD Full spectrum. Not Hemp oil.
Not only do those introduce other chemicals which we don't have research on (some is actually negative such as THC for anxiety), but there's the histamine issue.
Roughly 40-60% of people have histamine (think allergies) issues.
For this reason, CBD isolate is the safest option for people with OCD.
We also don't want any THC in the product.
Based on this and cost per mg of CBD, the two from our safety screen list are :
Let us know what works for you.
If we're able to help, pass on the word. There are so many people out there suffering from OCD.
Let's help each other!
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