Over the past decade, psychedelic therapy has emerged as a promising approach to treating various medical conditions, garnering attention even from mainstream institutions like Johns Hopkins, which now leads significant research efforts in this area.
This article delves into the potential of psychedelics such as psilocybin, DMT, cannabinoids, and ketamine for alleviating the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a condition traditionally challenging to treat.

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is marked by uncontrollable obsessions that lead to repetitive compulsions. For instance, a person may be fixated on cleanliness, compelling them to repeatedly clean already clean surfaces. This relentless cycle disrupts daily activities and diminishes quality of life.

Symptoms of OCD

OCD symptoms are categorized into obsessions and compulsions, with some individuals experiencing both, while others may exhibit predominantly one type.

Obsessive Symptoms

These include persistent, intrusive thoughts or urges focusing on themes like contamination fears, a need for symmetry, or fears of losing control. These obsessions often drive individuals to engage in specific behaviors repeatedly.

Compulsive Symptoms

These behaviors are executed in an attempt to address obsessions, such as incessantly washing hands or adhering strictly to routines. Unfortunately, these compulsions neither provide relief nor effectively banish the obsessive thoughts.

Traditional Treatments for OCD

Typical OCD treatments aim to mitigate symptoms through a combination of psychotherapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and medications like SSRIs—Fluoxetine (Prozac), Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva), Sertraline (Zoloft), and Clomipramine (Anafranil).

Serotonin’s Role in OCD

Given the linkage between serotonin, a key neurotransmitter involved in mood regulation, and OCD, treatments often focus on adjusting serotonin levels to alleviate symptoms.
Through this exploration, the role of psychedelic therapy in augmenting traditional OCD treatments becomes evident, offering new hope for those affected by this debilitating disorder.

One study investigating the role of serotonin in OCD found that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have an anti-obsessional effect that may help to relieve symptoms of OCD. Most psychedelics exert their hallucinogenic effects through their interaction with serotonin receptors.

The Potential of Psychedelics Treating OCD

Psychedelic therapy for OCD is a new area of research that scientists are looking at. Even though the research is still in its early stages, the preliminary evidence is quite promising. A few psychedelics have been implicated in the management of OCD. As per the current research, psilocybin and cannabinoids have tremendous potential in this area.

For example, one man that used shrooms for years developed a tolerance that prevented him from getting high and managed to keep his OCD under control. On the other hand, in his search for shrooms to fight his OCD, Adam Strauss, NYC writer, and performer, found the psychedelic mescaline, which contains that cactus peyote, used in Native American religious rituals. However, unlike mushrooms, the magic cactus didn’t seem to work in relieving his OCD symptoms.

How Psychedelics Help OCD Patients

Let’s take a closer look at each of these psychedelics and what the relevant research says.

Psilocybin and OCD

Psilocybin, a classic hallucinogen, is a chemical naturally produced by more than 100 species of mushrooms worldwide. It appears to have a significant role to play in the treatment of OCD. This compound has a profound effect on serotonin receptors located in brain areas that are related to OCD.

One study showed that treatment with multiple doses of OCD might alter serotonin binding and, in the process, relieve symptoms of OCD. Psilocybin may also help to alleviate anxiety which is a trigger for obsessions.

different study involving 29 participants suffering from OCD demonstrated that psilocybin could help to reduce core OCD symptoms in multiple participants. Another case study of an individual suffering from OCD highlighted the role of serotonin receptors in OCD and the potential of psilocybin in reducing the core symptoms.

Currently, an ongoing study (double-blind, placebo-controlled) sponsored by Yale University and Heffter Research Institute is investigating the efficacy of psilocybin in OCD.

Ketamine and OCD

Ketamine is a prescription anesthetic medication traditionally used in the OR to induce anesthesia but is currently under investigation for several off-label uses. The off-label uses of ketamine include the management of pain and treatment-resistant depression.

One study demonstrated the potential of ketamine in inducing alterations in OCD patterns. This lays the foundation for future research in this area.

DMT and OCD

DMT is a hallucinogenic tryptamine drug that can be applied in spiritual, recreational, and therapeutic settings.

One study showed that DMT might alter the concentrations of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. In the process, it may help to relieve OCD symptoms.

Cannabinoids and OCD

Although some people may not consider cannabis to be a hallucinogen, it is still worth mentioning its potential in helping relieve OCD symptoms.

The marijuana legalization wave sweeping across the world has paved the way for research into the therapeutic potential of the bioactive compounds in cannabis, mostly cannabinoids.

Cannabinoids (most notably THC and CBD) have been implicated in managing pain, insomnia, anxiety, depression, nausea, vomiting, and more. The potential effect of cannabinoids on OCD has not yet been fully explored. However, a few studies have pointed researchers in the right direction regarding the role of cannabinoids in OCD.

One case study of a 22-year-old man suffering from OCD demonstrated the potential of cannabinoids in reducing OCD-related depression, which resulted in an improved quality of life. The researchers also reviewed the literature in this area and found that cannabinoids have a role in OCD, suggesting a cannabinoid hypothesis for OCD.

The Verdict: Do Psychedelics Help OCD Patients?

OCD is a chronic condition that reduces one’s productivity and diminishes the quality of life. Traditional treatment involves combining psychotherapy with antidepressant medications. Psychedelics such as psilocybin, ketamine, DMT, and cannabinoids may reduce the symptoms of OCD through various mechanisms, including modulating the serotonergic system.

However, be cautious about self-medicating on psychedelics as this may jeopardize your health. Street drugs are not the same as clinical drugs, and some may be contaminated or contain unsafe compounds. It is advisable to work with your healthcare provider as you explore psychedelic therapy for OCD.