Can Psychedelics Be Used To Treat OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a condition that can completely consume sufferer’s lives. Many patients spend hours every day undertaking repetitive, meaningless tasks that they can’t break free from.
It’s thought that the default mode network (DMN), a brain system that controls our sense of self, is involved in OCD. In the same way that the DMN is overactive in people with depression, causing repetitive negative thoughts, it’s likely that the DMN is overactive in a similar way in OCD.
Thankfully, psychedelics can help to release the control of the DMN and could help free people from obsessive thinking.
The first research on psychedelics and OCD took place in the 60s and 70s when two case studies suggested that their patients had been dramatically and permanently affected by LSD experiences, reducing their OCD symptoms and improving their lives. Further case studies from the 80s and 90s reported on psilocybin helping to reduce OCD symptoms.
Listen to find out how psychedelics helped Adam Strauss gain a fresh perspective on his OCD or Click here to read the transcript
MODERN STUDIES ON PSYCHEDELICS AND OCD
The first multi-patient trial of psychedelics in the treatment of OCD was performed in 2006, where nine sufferers of OCD were given varying doses of psilocybin and sat in a quiet room for eight hours. All the patients showed improvements in OCD scores in the next 24 hours; however, after six months, all had returned to their previous OCD symptoms. The authors concluded that larger scale, long-term studies are required to see the potential benefits of using psychedelics to treat OCD.
Although there are still no large, long-term studies on psychedelics and OCD, in 2009 researchers ran a promising study on OCD-like behaviors in mice. They found that mice given 1.5mg/kg psilocybin (equivalent to a fairly strong dose in humans) were half as likely to bury marbles.
While this may sound kind of bizarre, marble-burying behaviors in mice represent OCD symptoms in humans, adding more evidence that psychedelics could help reduce OCD symptoms.
A 2005 brain-imaging study lends support to the idea that psychedelics could treat OCD through the serotonin system. Brain imaging of 15 OCD sufferers showed that they were more likely to have an upregulation of serotonin receptors in certain areas of the brain, which is linked to a serotonin deficiency. It’s possible that psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin could treat OCD symptoms through their enhancement of serotonin signalling in the brain.
Learn about how psychedelics affect the Serotonin System in our interview with neuroscientist Dr Zach Mainen
ANECDOTAL REPORTS FROM OCD SUFFERERS
As well as this collection of preliminary evidence, there are piles of anecdotal reports of psychedelics helping people with OCD symptoms. One of the most well-known stories is that of comedian Adam Strauss, who used psychedelics to overcome his debilitating OCD compulsions. He’s currently performing a play based on his experiences, and is donating all profits to the psychedelic research charity MAPS.
Other anecdotal accounts can be found on forums such as Bluelight or Reddit. We’ve found dozens of reports of psychedelic experiences helping to alleviate OCD symptoms – here are just a few:
I used psilocybin mushrooms to treat my OCD! I was on citalopram for 5 years prior to that and my OCD had only worsened. After the first 5 trips, 3.5g each, I was practically cured. It was like the mushrooms hit a reset button in my brain. […] I attribute the therapeutic effects to not only the high doses but mainly to the cathartic release of negative thought patterns. It was really scary to trip so hard but by losing all control while tripping I learned to let things go in life. I’m no longer afraid of death and am healthier psychologically than I was before I tripped.
I would say that it was probably more than a coincidence that when I started using mushrooms once a month my OCD suddenly was phased out of my life. Even now, it almost never comes up.
When I take psychedelics, (mushrooms more so than acid or mescaline) my OCD decreases in severity by 40-75% based on dosage, until they wear off. I’ve found microdosing mushrooms to be a fairly effective treatment for my OCD, and also my Tourette’s.
I recently took some Psilocybin semilanceata (Liberty caps) with some friends, for recreational/spiritual purposes. The experience was profound intense and ineffable. After the experience was over I noticed straight away that I didn’t feel anxious or depressed, I felt more at peace than I had done in years, but assumed that would have worn off by the next day, it didn’t. 4 weeks later I remain free from anxiety and depression and most remarkably of all, my OCD all but vanished after that night, as if a switch had been flicked in my brain. The majority of my ticks have gone entirely, and those that remain are diminished to the point where I don’t think it would be right for me to say I have OCD anymore. I couldn’t believe it myself afterwards, but the drug (or should I say medicine) has apparently sent my OCD wildly into remission- I’d forgotten what it was like to live life unencumbered by anxiety.
There are also some accounts of people finding negative effects from psychedelic use:
I have OCD. Psychedelics tend to not be a good idea for people with anxiety disorders. They often can lead to a negative headspace, especially in those with OCD, thought loops can become extremely problematic. Intrusive thoughts can become very real and very scary for the tripper. You might say that this could be good for them, to help them face their fear and yada yada, but it really really does vary. Some will have this effect, but others could be potentially traumatized.
Accounts like these highlight the importance of being in a therapeutic environment, and treating psychedelics like a potential tool rather than a cure.
THE FUTURE OF OCD TREATMENT?
The evidence isn’t yet conclusive – but we’re slowly building a picture of how psychedelics could help people break free from the restrictive and obsessive thought patterns typical of OCD. There are many anecdotal reports of people using psychedelics to treat their OCD, and it’s likely it will only be a matter of time before we have extensive evidence to support the anecdotal benefits.
Curious about supporting your mental health through psychedelics? Check out Third Wave’s vetted directory of psychedelic therapists.
Important Note: This is a constantly-evolving document. If you believe we’re missing something important, please let us know via the contact page.
Lisa Tyler says
In regards to the above account of the negative effects on OCD:
“I have OCD. Psychedelics tend to not be a good idea for people with anxiety disorders. They often can lead to a negative headspace, especially in those with OCD, thought loops can become extremely problematic. Intrusive thoughts can become very real and very scary for the tripper. You might say that this could be good for them, to help them face their fear and yada yada, but it really really does vary. Some will have this effect, but others could be potentially traumatized.”
I’d like to know if these negative effects in endured long after the use of psychedelics.
Denise Polis says
Interested in psychedelics for OCD
OCD tripper says
In regards to Lisa, I have OCD for more than 10 years of my life. Every time I take psychedelics my symptom diminishes greatly and I almost don’t have intrusive thoughts anymore, or I am able to just ignore them(they aren’t that “loud” anymore). I can also be more mindful and meditation on psychedelics is wonderful. I have never had bad effects on psychedelics, they always help my anxiety more than any medications or psychotherapy I have had.
There might be people who feel worse on psychedelics but to me they are the most helpful thing.
Mark Ryan says
Ye that makes sense
Opposite in my case. I had near to non existent OCD symptoms until I had my first acid trip and a month later i was being sucked into an OCD bout that had showed no signs of stopping. The intrusive thoughts feel even real and terrifying only causing them to pronounce more. It kind of felt like being inside a shell I couldn’t break out of for those months and nothing i did was providing relief. Like a nightmare, like a delusion. Fast forward to a few years I dropped acid again and guess what?! The exact same symptoms reappeared. Im struggling with it now but avoiding therapy. I prolly might go for it soon but not dropping ever again if I get out of this alive!
I wonder partly whether psilocybin/mushrooms might be better for you than LSD with regard to psychedelic treatments (or at least as a way to ease yourself back into psychedelics for future growth). I personally have struggled with varying forms of OCD since I was about 10 years old – for most of my teenage years it was classic OCD with physical compulsions (touching specific things, hand washing obsessively, counting to certain numbers before I could perform certain actions); now I am in my mid 20s and the physical compulsions have greatly diminished as I’ve understood more about this illness and realised that if I feed the compulsions they grow more and more present.
More recently I’ve started to struggle with Pure – O which has been really traumatising at times, though again, when I realised that this was just another side to an illness I already had, I was more able to cope immediately as I know that these thoughts are not me or some evil side to myself I didn’t know about – but rather what I like to call ‘an evil brain virus.’ It’s not you.
I’ve tried psychedelics a few times and I’ve found they can both help and be unhelpful. The first time I took LSD was in totally the wrong setting (basically a party) and the appearance of OCD related stuff took me by surprise and it became quite scary. I think in particular the way LSD makes you go into thought loops can be terrifying if you aren’t prepared for it and if you already have intrusive thoughts. With that said – if you go into a psychedelic experience in a safe environment, having accepted the risks and with the goal of taking the ‘evil brain virus’ head on, I suspect it can help. I’ve found a small to medium dose of mushrooms (between about 1.5 and 2.5g dried) has helped to calm me down and because psilocybin tend to give me a more earthy feeling, and one of being connected, I think it’s allowed me to look back on myself and develop a certain acceptance and view my own mind more clearly. LSD can maybe be useful too if you’re using it right, but if you’re concerned about starting to trip again, that would be my advice.
If you’re really struggling though, definitely get professional help as well as self-medicating. Take care of yourself!!
Clare M Venet says
I need to find someone who is qualified to help my son with his severe OCD. He is 35 and needs help. His psychiatrist said it would be helpful but he cannot do it. We live in Sonoma County. Any ideas and suggestions are gratefully appreciated….
Britt at The Third Wave says
Thank you for reaching out and sharing about your son. Unfortunately, due to the legality of many classic psychedelics, there aren’t any legal psilocybin and LSD treatment facilities in the U.S. as of now.
Have you looked into ketamine therapy? There has been great success in legally using ketamine to treat anxiety, depression, OCD, etc. You can read more about the therapeutic use of ketamine in our guide here. I would encourage you to look online for ketamine treatment centers in your area and see if you can find one that might specialize in OCD cases.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly at [email protected] and I will do my best to help in any way I can.
– Britt at Third Wave
I also live in Sonoma County and I just got diagnosed with OCD. I was prescribed medication but I am looking into this alternative. I hope your son has found something helpful! I’m sure there are resources in the area.
Daniel Shields says
Thank you for sharing and spreading awareness! Mushrooms are really indeed a magical fungus. As studies progress, it unfolds a lot of possible uses and applications in science and medicine. I hope this could be the future treatment of a lot of diseases. It has endless capabilities!
To Clare: In regards to ketamine, there is currently a clinical trial happening at Stanford that your son might be interested in which is examining ketamine for OCD: https://med.stanford.edu/rodriguezlab/research/ocd-research/current-clinical-studies/mket-study.html. If your son were fortunate enough to get the ketamine (2/3 chance over placebo), then at least he would know if it’s a viable option. If so, there are ketamine clinics currently in existence that are legal, though very expensive. Good luck. OCD sucks. I have it and I did the trial–think I got placebo.