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.
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.
Important Note: This is a constantly-evolving document. If you believe we’re missing something important, please let us know via the contact page.