In support of Mental Illness Awareness Week, Oct. 1 – 7; and International OCD Awareness Week, Oct. 8 – 14, we are pleased to share the following story with you. What do you know about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)? Most people think of Jack Nicholson in the movie As Good As It Gets or about the popular sitcom on TV right now where a main character has to knock on a door and say a name 3 times every time he wants to enter a room. Many people joke about having “an OCD moment” because they want something to be a certain way, and won’t accept it any other way. While all these examples have some basis in truth, they don’t come close to sharing the often crippling struggles that a person with OCD goes through every single day.
Take a moment and think about a picture of a dog – any dog will do.
Now think about a different dog.
That was easy, wasn’t it?
Now, think about that first dog again, and imagine that you can’t stop thinking about him. Imagine the image of dog 1 being replayed in your mind’s eye over and over, overriding that image of dog 2 and any other thought you may try to distract yourself with.
Imagine that even if you aren’t thinking about that dog 1, he may appear at any time in your mind whether you like it or not, and that thinking about it is giving you horrible anxiety and depression.
Those feelings of anxiety are your brain’s alarm system, telling you that you have to do something to deal with the dog that won’t go away. You can’t stop thinking about it and feel anxious even though you know logically that those feelings make no sense and that it’s just a picture of a dog. You are stuck in a loop, forced to live endlessly with dog 1 stuck in your mind, because your brain is lying to you – more than that it is forcing you to perform compulsions and routines to help get you past that endless loop, so you might have to walk around the block three times before dog 1 leaves your head.
And on and on and on this cycle goes, endlessly repeating itself. That is a vastly over-simplified way to help you understand how OCD affects a person.
Stacey struggles daily with her OCD, and has for most of her life. Yet, when you speak to her you can’t help but notice her positive attitude, especially when describing some of the trials and tribulations she has lived through while dealing with her condition. She speaks very matter-of-factly about the voices in her head, jokes about the horrible thoughts she has to deal with, and is extremely honest about how her OCD led to self-mutilation. Stacey is in a good place now, through hard work and with help, and is dedicated to helping others with OCD by sharing her story, and how medical cannabis has made a major impact in her life.
It's important to understand that individuals with OCD don’t want to have the thoughts and compulsions that they do. They can’t just “suck it up” and “push through.” Acting on their compulsions can provide some relief, but it’s only temporary. Learning to live with OCD takes years, and is generally achieved through a combination of therapies and medications.
Stacey’s journey began when she was a child. She was always a little quirky, always focused on making sure everything was just right. Her family and the school guidance counsellor considered her a bit of a perfectionist.
I remember being four or five years old, a little ballerina, except I had trouble with my ballet slippers. You see if I put my right one on first and it was wrong, something bad would happen. If I put the left one on first and it was the wrong one I also felt the fear of the unknown bad consequence. It was scary to decide what to do. I thought everyone was the same as me, but they could make the right choice as to what slipper to put on first. I believed I was simply a failure at what everyone else could handle.
Despite these challenges she was able to channel her OCD nature into her schoolwork. Over the next decade Stacey continued to struggle with the condition, and at one point was even incorrectly diagnosed with schizophrenia, and medicated for it. Being obsessed with doing everything right actually made her a fantastic student and she graduated high school with honors. Of course there were challenges as well, and as Stacey neared adulthood the stresses that come with getting older began to take a toll on her. It was at this point that Stacey began to cut herself.
I believed that cutting myself would cause pain that would cause me to focus on the pain which would make it so that I didn’t have to listen to the voices.
Once Stacey had to deal with post-secondary education, and then the work world, things got progressively worse. At one point Stacey had what she describes as a “nervous breakdown.” By then she was hearing voices in her head that would incessantly nag at her and promise dire consequences if she didn’t do what they told her.
I was around 19 when I lost control completely of all the voices and they were so loud, so very loud. I remember rocking slowly back and forth, counting as high as I could, breathing hard, gasping for air, hot beads of sweat alternating rapidly with cold shivers in every muscle and bone, crying about the routine I broke and the consequences or death that was the result of my wrong doing.
At one point Stacey ended up in the Emergency Room. She had decided that night that she would give her family a “gift”: she would take her own life. She reasoned that in taking her life she would spare them from the pain and suffering she was inflicting on them and that they would live better lives without her in them. Stacey shared her idea with the on-call psychiatrist in the emergency room, and he took the time to listen and have a discussion with Stacey. At the end of the discussion two things happened: he talked Stacey out of giving her family the “gift”, and he diagnosed her with OCD.
Coming out of that encounter Stacey began the process of learning how to cope with her illness, trying a combination of coping strategies and medications to help her lead an active life. She even worked as a teller at a bank for a short while, but the numbers, which are a key part of working in a bank, made her OCD worse, so she was forced to quit.
The repercussions of trying to work were that Stacey’s voices got louder. For hours she would turn the lights off and on – to the point that her fingers began to bleed. She had to constantly check the door to make sure that it was locked. She began to be obsessed with germs and cleanliness, and began to wash her hands with boiling water.
The voices got so loud that I couldn’t hear anything but the voices yelling at me to double-check that I unplugged the curling iron because if I didn’t it would burn the bathroom down, and then burn the house down and then it would burn the neighbour’s house down and then I would be responsible for the whole neighbourhood burning down. All because I didn’t check 100 times that I unplugged the curling iron.
The same psychiatrist who had helped her in the Emergency Room continued to help Stacey learn how to manage her condition, but it was an ongoing struggle. Eventually they discovered that expressing herself through art, painting and poetry helped Stacey find some peace. She dove into that passion, and was even able to make some money creating art for local businesses.
So it went for years, with Stacey having good days and bad days, doing her best to cope with her illness and getting by. Then she met the man who would become her husband and moved to the US where he was from, and things began to change for the better when Stacey experienced just how effective medical cannabis was in treating her OCD when she used it as part of her overall treatment strategy.
At this point it’s important to note medical science does not recommend medical cannabis for individuals with mental illnesses, particularly those with a personal history of psychosis. This is due in large part to the lack of research on the topic. To date, research on humans has been very limited, meaning that we have a limited understanding of how cannabis can affect the brain chemistry of someone with OCD. Having said that, research initiatives are underway and we are optimistic that there will be more useful data available soon.
While there is limited research data on how medical cannabis can help OCD patients, there is a growing amount of anecdotal evidence from patients like Stacey who have been using medical cannabis to help manage their OCD.
It was while she was in the US that Stacey tried cannabis medically for the first time. For her it was a revelation, a fantastic option for treating her symptoms without the side-effects common with conventional medications. Over the space of a few years Stacey determined that she received the best results from a balanced THC/CBD mixture and was able to wean herself off all her OCD medications.
I 100% managed my symptoms with medical cannabis and behavioral therapies.I was in a better place while on cannabis by itself than I’ve ever been while on my presciption drugs. I was better mentally and physically. I was happier and more normal.
Stacey is quick to point out that she treated her cannabis like any other medication. “Start low and go slow” is the key to success, and that is what she did. Starting on a low dose Stacey slowly worked her way up to find the dose and products that gave her the best results. Once she had done that, she slowly weaned herself off her conventional medications. She is also clear that cannabis is not for everyone.
Some things work for some people, some things work for other people, and they should have the choice. But some people are better on anti-depressants.
But for Stacey it did work. Cannabis allowed her to manage her symptoms in a way that worked for her life. If you ask her how it helped she is very clear:
Medical cannabis quiets the voices. The routines seem not so important, the compulsions not so detrimental. It softens the stress.
This is in keeping with some of the other anecdotal evidence we’ve heard from other patients: medical cannabis can help reduce anxiety and improve focus.
For Stacey, and many other patients, getting off the conventional medications also means leaving behind the many side-effects that can come with them: constipation, insomnia, detachment, etc.
The prescription drugs quiet the voices too, but they slow me down mentally and physically. The cannabis quiets the voices, but I could cope. I could go grocery shopping with my husband, or go outside and paint. I can’t do that while on the regular medications.
After half a decade in the US, Stacey and her husband returned to Canada. Back at home she hasn’t had the unrestricted access to medical cannabis afforded her by the state she lived in, so she’s had to go back on some of her conventional medications as she determines the best way to get what she needs from Canada’s medical cannabis system. But make no mistake, medical cannabis is still very much a part of how Stacey deals with her OCD.
OCD never goes away, but it can be managed. Stacey uses medical cannabis as part of an overall treatment plan that includes coping mechanisms and strategies, routines, some conventional medications, and the support of her friends, family, husband, psychiatrist and dog.
After decades of struggle, Stacey finally has stability in her life, thanks to a treatment plan that includes medical cannabis. Stacey is sharing her story in hopes that others will be inspired by it. She is confident that if she can learn to manage her condition and find happiness, others can too.
If I can help just one person it makes all my struggles and all my hurt worthwhile.
If you have questions about how medical cannabis can help treat the symptoms of OCD, ADHD or other mental illnesses, please contact our patient care team at 1-855-787-1577, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or talk to your medical practitioner about how medical cannabis may be able to help you.