Obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms predict cannabis misuse in young adults

Individuals with more severe obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms are more likely to misuse marijuana, according to research published in the journal Addictive Behaviors.

The study of 430 healthy young adult cannabis users found that severity of OCD symptoms was positively associated with cannabis misuse, but not frequency of cannabis use or quantity. Those who reported more OCD symptoms were more likely to report that they used cannabis in a way that interfered with their day-to-day functioning. This association was independent of anxiety, depression, and stress.

PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Carrie Cuttler of Washington State University. Read her responses below:

PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?

Cuttler: I have been studying OCD for over a decade but after getting a job in WA state (where recreational cannabis was recently legalized) I changed my line of research to focus on the potentially detrimental and beneficial effects of cannabis. After coming across numerous studies showing links between cannabis use and various psychological disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia) I began to wonder whether there are any links between cannabis use and OCD. Our search of the literature revealed almost no research on the topic and so we set out to investigate such a link ourselves.

What should the average person take away from your study?

The main take away message is that while severity of OCD is not related to frequency or quantity of cannabis use it is related to cannabis misuse (i.e., problems associated with cannabis use and symptoms of cannabis use disorder). Moreover it appears that these links are mediated by the use of cannabis for coping motives. In other words it appears that individuals with higher levels of OCD are more likely to use cannabis to cope with negative affect and other problems and using cannabis for this purpose is associated with cannabis use problems and cannabis use disorder.

Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?

The major caveats are that this research was conducted with a “healthy” student sample rather than patients with OCD. However, a fair number of participants in our sample had clinically relevant levels of OCD symptoms. Also because the study was cross-sectional/correlational we cannot arrive at definitive conclusions about the causal nature or direction of the relationships we detected.

The study, “Symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder predict cannabis misuse“, was also co-authored by Alexander Spradlin and Dakota Mauzay. It was published online March 31, 2017.