Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

What is OCD?

OCD stands for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It’s a mental health condition characterized by obsessions and/or compulsions significantly interfering with a person’s daily life. Obsessions are recurring, intrusive, unwanted thoughts, images, or urges that cause anxiety or distress. Examples of obsessions may include fear of contamination, fear of harm coming to oneself or others, excessive concern with order or symmetry, or taboo thoughts.

Conversely, compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that are performed in response to the obsessions to neutralize the anxiety or distress they cause. Examples of compulsions may include excessive cleaning or washing, counting, checking, or repeating specific phrases or prayers.

People with OCD may experience significant distress or impairment in their social, occupational, or academic functioning due to the time-consuming nature of their compulsions or the distress caused by their obsessions. OCD is typically treated with a combination of therapy and medication. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP) are the most effective therapy for OCD.

Are there different types/stages?


  • Contamination and Cleaning OCD: involves obsessive thoughts about contamination or germs and compulsive behaviors related to cleaning or avoiding sources of contamination.
  • Harm OCD: involves obsessive thoughts or images related to causing harm to oneself or others and compulsive behaviors aimed at preventing harm.
  • Symmetry and Ordering OCD: involves obsessive thoughts about order, symmetry, and exactness, and compulsive behaviors aimed at arranging or organizing objects or situations in a specific way.
  • Hoarding OCD: involves difficulty discarding possessions, even those with little to no value, due to fear of losing important information or sentimental attachment.
  • Pure O OCD: involves purely obsessive thoughts without observable compulsions, causing significant distress and anxiety.


  • Stage 1: Doubt and Uncertainty – involves the initial obsessions and the anxiety and doubt that comes with them.
  • Stage 2: The Search for Reassurance – involves seeking reassurance and attempting to alleviate the anxiety caused by the obsessions.
  • Stage 3: Developing Rituals and Compulsions – involves the development of compulsions as a way to alleviate the anxiety caused by the obsessions.
  • Stage 4: The Rituals and Compulsions Take Over – involves the increasing dominance of compulsions in the person’s life, leading to significant impairment in daily functioning.
  • Stage 5: The Breaking Point – the point at which the person realizes they need help and seeks treatment.

Causes of OCD

The exact cause of OCD is not fully understood, but research suggests that a combination of genetic, neurological, and environmental factors may cause it. Here are some factors that may contribute to the development of OCD:

  • Genetics: OCD tends to run in families, suggesting that there may be a genetic component to the disorder.
  • Brain Chemistry and Structure: Some studies have suggested abnormalities in certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, may contribute to OCD. Differences in brain structure and functioning in the areas of the brain that control anxiety and decision-making have also been observed in people with OCD.
  • Environmental Factors: Traumatic or stressful life events, such as abuse, illness, or death of a loved one, may trigger the onset of OCD or exacerbate existing symptoms.
  • Learned Behavior: Some people with OCD may have learned to cope with anxiety and distress through compulsive behaviors.
  • It’s important to note that OCD is a complex disorder and that the causes may vary from person to person. A combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors may all contribute to the development of OCD.

Signs & Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of OCD can vary from person to person but typically involve the presence of obsessions and/or compulsions that interfere with daily life. Here are some common signs and symptoms of OCD:


  • Intrusive, unwanted, and recurring thoughts, images, or urges that cause significant anxiety or distress.
  • Fear of contamination or germs
  • Fear of harm coming to oneself or others
  • Excessive concern with order, symmetry, or exactness
  • Taboo thoughts or impulses related to sex, religion, or violence


  • Repetitive behaviors or mental acts that are performed in response to the obsessions
  • Cleaning or washing excessively
  • Checking and rechecking, such as ensuring the stove is turned off or the door is locked.
  • Counting or repeating certain words, phrases, or prayers
  • Arranging or organizing objects in a specific way
  • Avoiding certain situations or places

Other symptoms:

  • Feelings of guilt, shame, or disgust related to the obsessions and compulsions
  • Difficulty making decisions or completing tasks due to indecisiveness or perfectionism
  • Spending excessive time performing compulsions, which may interfere with daily activities or relationships
  • Impaired functioning in social, occupational, or academic settings

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis of OCD typically involves a comprehensive evaluation by a mental health professional. The assessment may include a clinical interview, questionnaires, and observing the individual’s behavior. The criteria for diagnosis of OCD include the presence of obsessions, compulsions, or both, that cause significant distress or impairment in daily functioning.

Once diagnosed, treatment options for OCD may include a combination of therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. 

Here are some standard treatment options:

  1. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) involves identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors related to OCD through exposure and response prevention (ERP). ERP involves gradually exposing the individual to the source of anxiety and preventing them from engaging in compulsive behaviors.
  2. Medication: Certain medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may be prescribed to reduce the symptoms of OCD. These medications can take several weeks to become effective and may cause side effects.
  3. Lifestyle changes: Regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or mindfulness meditation, may help reduce anxiety and stress related to OCD.
  4. Support groups: Joining a support group for individuals with OCD may provide a sense of community, understanding, and opportunities to learn coping strategies from others who have experienced similar symptoms.

Can medical cannabis help?

the use of cannabis for OCD is not yet well-established. While some studies have suggested that cannabis may have potential therapeutic effects for certain mental health conditions, including anxiety and PTSD, the evidence for its effectiveness in treating OCD is limited. A few small studies have looked at the effects of cannabis on OCD symptoms, but the results have been mixed. Some studies have suggested that cannabis may help reduce the symptoms of OCD, while others have found no significant effects or even adverse effects on OCD symptoms.

Additionally, it’s essential to consider the potential risks and side effects of using cannabis for OCD. Cannabis use can have short-term and long-term side effects, including impaired cognition, memory problems, and increased risk of psychosis in vulnerable individuals. Cannabis can also interact with other medications, potentially causing adverse effects or reducing effectiveness. Overall, the use of medical cannabis for OCD is still an area of ongoing research and controversy, and it’s essential to consult with a qualified healthcare professional before considering cannabis for any medical condition.

Last Updated: March 24, 2023

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