Article by Candace Good, Psychology Today
Staying home and washing our hands more often is recommended to combat the spread of COVID-19. Is refusing to touch something someone else has touched a compulsion or an appropriate safety measure right now? At what point do fears of contracting illness become an obsession?
Health professionals diagnose obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) when the amount of distress is excessive and impacts a person’s ability to function. The pandemic presents some unique challenges in the recognition and treatment of OCD.
Fears of contamination, which may seem protective, are not the only symptoms patients with OCD are suffering from right now. Obsessions may include forbidden thoughts of a sexual or violent nature, religious preoccupations, or a need for symmetry.
The treatment of choice for OCD is a kind of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) called exposure and response prevention (ERP) and medication. ERP consists of gradual exposures to triggers while keeping the person from performing their compulsion and managing any thoughts related to the experience.
Here are three recently published studies that review current needs and future directions for OCD treatment:
3. Effects of cannabis
A paper by Washington State University researchers is getting a lot of attention given medical marijuana use. There is very little data regarding cannabis use in patients with OCD, and what does exists suggests that cannabis may even exacerbate the condition.
Eighty-seven subjects rated logged their symptom severity into the Strainprint app for 31 months. After smoking cannabis, they reported use reduced compulsions by 60 percent, unwanted thoughts by 49 percent, and anxiety by 52 percent. Cannabis strains with higher concentrations of cannabidiol (CBD) were associated with more considerable reductions in compulsions.
The study did not follow an experimental design as there was no control group, and participants self-identified as having OCD. Improvement in symptom ratings decreased with time, suggesting little long-term benefit.