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CBD and steroids: can CBD offer the same benefits as corticosteroids?

Studies show that as many as 30% of patients will not respond to steroid treatments, requiring more information on CBD as a replacement for steroids...

Studies show that as many as 30% of patients will not respond to steroid treatments, and at the present time there are 629 clinical studies on CBD, some pertaining to CBD and steroids

Corticosteroids (steroids) such as cortisone, prednisone, and hydrocortisone are prescribed to patients regularly. In some cases, these types of drugs are used to reduce inflammation. This makes them beneficial for individuals diagnosed with respiratory tract infections or allergic reactions. Steroids can also be helpful for those who are diagnosed with chronic inflammatory conditions such as asthma and various forms of arthritis. In the conversation of CBD and steroids, can CBD offer the same benefits for individuals who have issues with steroids?

Other times, steroids are the treatment of choice for conditions impacting the immune system. Since they are immunosuppressive, they reduce the body’s tendency to erroneously attack itself. Autoimmune diseases that often respond to steroid treatments include lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, and sarcoidosis.

Although steroids can provide patients relief from these types of issues and conditions, the problem in using them is they don’t always come without negative side effects.

Harmful effects of corticosteroids

In 2017, BMJ published a population-based cohort study. In this study, data was collected from more than 1.5 million adults who submitted private insurance claims between the years 2012-14. Approximately one in five (21.1%) of these patients received at least one oral corticosteroid prescription during this time.

Within 30 days of receipt of this prescription, patients had elevated rates of sepsis, venous thromboembolism, and fracture. Sometimes it took as long as 90 days for these risks to return to their pre-steroid level.

According to another 2017 study, this one published by BMJ Open Quality, almost two-thirds of the 22 subjects studied (64%) had at least one adverse reaction. Of the patients, 41% reported experiencing two or more harmful effects.

Among the negative reactions noted were:

  • weight gain (45%)
  • osteoporosis (18%)
  • cataract (18%)
  • hypertension (14%)
  • diabetes (14%)
  • dyspepsia (9%)
  • adverse psychological effects (5%)

This same study noted that long-term corticosteroid use can have negative consequences as well. Five years after the study initiated, two patients developed secondary hypertension. One developed diabetes, one a cataract, and one had adrenal insufficiency. Additional studies support this finding, adding other long-term effects such as gastrointestinal and hepatic issues.

It’s often said that the cure shouldn’t be worse than the treatment. Therefore, some patients are turning to alternate treatment methods such as CBD.

CBD for inflammation, immunity, and pain relief

The cannabidiol CBD is found within the hemp plant that has been linked to a variety of health benefits. Inflammation, immunity, and pain relief are three that are most relevant in the replacement of steroid use when discussing CBD and steroids.

For example, one animal model involved rats with arthritic knee joints. After having transdermal CBD gel applied for four days, the test subjects had “significantly reduced joint swelling.” There were also indications that they experienced less pain.

An article published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research in March 2020 adds that CBD has positive effects on both the innate and adaptive immune systems. Like steroids, it acts as an immunosuppressive, controlling immune response through actions such as T cell induction.

Still other pieces of research connect CBD with easier management of difficult to treat pain. Since some of the conditions that steroids are typically used to treat involve pain as a symptom — like arthritis and lupus — CBD can potentially assist with this as well. CBD research is booming, and more human trials are underway since certain types of CBD were made legal with the Hemp Farming Act of 2018.

CBD and steroids: resistance and studies

Another factor to consider when it comes to CBD and steroids in terms of replacement is that some people are resistant to steroids’ effects.

The University of Bristol, UK, indicates that as many as 30% of patients will not respond to steroid treatments. This can make their conditions more difficult to control and treat. In situations such as this, CBD may be a suitable alternative, providing patients relief when other drugs don’t seem to work.

The one factor that makes it difficult to know exactly what effect CBD has on patients who would typically be prescribed steroids is, until passage of the Farm Bill, industrial hemp was illegal. As a result, a number of studies in this area have been conducted on animals versus humans. This has made it harder to identify CBD’s full effects.

At this moment in time, there are 629 clinical studies that are hoping to provide more information in this area. As each one is completed, we will begin to learn more about this cannabinoid and how it influences inflammation, immunity, and pain. Once we do, we will also know about whether it is, in fact, a suitable replacement for prescription steroid drugs.

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