saffron is as effective as and safer than drugs for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Sometimes thoughts and memories and fears can be too painful to face. Sometimes, when we can’t face these obsessive thoughts, we develop compulsive behaviours to distract ourselves from the thoughts or to relieve ourselves of the stress from these thoughts. These obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours can cause significant suffering and interfere with our lives. There is a beautiful purple flower that could help.


There is substantial evidence that saffron powerfully helps depression and anxiety. Recently, researchers have begun to put it to the test for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The first study was a 10 week double-blind study that compared 30mg a day of saffron to 100mg a day of fluvoxamine, an SSRI drug used to treat OCD, in 46 people with mild to moderate OCD. OCD scores on the Yale-Brown Obsessive-compulsive Scale went down slightly more in the saffron group, but the difference was not significant, meaning that saffron is at least as effective as the drug for treating OCD (Iran J Psychiatry 2017;12(3):154-162).

Now a second study backs saffron. This time the drug was 20mg of fluoxetine (Prozac), and, instead of using the whole saffron herb, the researchers used 15mg of crocin, an active ingredient in saffron (saffron’s botanical name is Crocus sativus). The study included 50 adults between the ages of 18 and 60 who suffered from OCD. It lasted 8 weeks.

What happened this time? Scores on the Yale-Brown Obsessive-compulsive scale went down significantly in both groups. Scores on the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale also went down in both groups: they went down slightly more in the Prozac group, but the difference was not significant. The researchers concluded that the herbal treatment was as effective as the drug treatment. But there was a bonus: there were fewer side effects in the crocin group. That means that crocin may be as effective and safer than Prozac in the treatment of OCD.

This is very exciting research for people who struggle with OCD.

Hum Psychopharmacol 2021 Feb 18:e2780

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