These days, it seems as though everyone is taking a prescription medication of some kind. We take pills for pain management, to dampen anxiety, to alleviate depression, and to stabilize our moods. A friend of mine once joked, during a conversation about the names of generations (i.e. generation x, y etc.) that he was a member of “Generation Rx”.
And while many of the medications we are prescribed are valuable tools of healing, there seems to be an over reliance on them in many aspects of healthcare, up to a point where dangerous dependency, painful withdrawals and life-threatening overdoses have become commonplace. Indeed, the United States is currently in the midst of an “opioid crisis”, with opiate overdoses fast becoming a leading cause of death for young people, replacing the old stand-by of automobile accidents.
Again, no one is saying that medications are to blame. Certainly a willingness to prescribe large quantities of a medication that is known to be incredibly addictive or to have damaging side effects is something that we should probably examine in ourselves as a culture. But as we said, these chemicals can have serious benefits if prescribed and used responsibly.
But what if there were an alternative? What if medical science announced the discovery of a chemical compound that worked as a pain management agent, as an anti inflammatory, as an anti-seizure medication and had a wealth of other applications and also appeared to lack the dangerous side-effects, the potential for crippling addiction, or the danger of overdose that typically prescribed medications carry?
In this article, we will look at the differences between cannabidiol, or CBD, and the various medications commonly prescribed for the ailments mentioned above. We are not advocating that anyone stop taking a prescribed medication, or that they attempt to replace any therapeutic program with CBD use. We are simply offering a side-by-side examination of the current drugs and the potential for CBD as a medication for the same conditions.
The aim of this article is to offer a kind of “what to expect” template for CBD use versus commonly prescribed drugs. Because the scope of this article is limited, we are going to focus on three ailments most commonly discussed in the CBD arena: Pain management, anxiety/depression management, and sleep management. All three are commonly treated with go-to medications that can have alarming side effects, and all three have shown CBD to be a powerful alternative treatment. Other serious issues such as seizure disorders, cancer and the like are beyond the scope of this article and won’t be addressed here.
For the management of pain, doctors typically prescribe one of three classes of drug. There are opioid drugs like percocet, morphine and the like, analgesics like acetaminophen, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs such as ibupopherine. Obviously, the fist class are ideally prescribed only for serious paid such as one experiences when recovering from major surgery. They do not work well with chronic pain management, as tolerance develops quickly, which can lead to physical dependence (addiction). Often we hear of patients running out of a prescribed supply of these medications, and then trying to purchase them illegally when the pain of withdrawal becomes to great to bear. This often quickly leads the patient to turn to heroin or a similar “street” drug, which is cheaper, more powerful and easier to find.
Analgesics and NSAID drugs work well for acute pain, but also have serious side effects such as liver damage (acetaminophen) and kidney damage (ibuprofen) as well as increased risk of stomach bleeding as often seen with aspirin.
CBD on the other hand, works through a very similar method as the opiate class of drugs as it binds with receptors in the body’s endocrinologist system to block pain signals. It does not, however have a physical dependency risk as there is no withdrawal period when CBD use is stopped. Also, many of the more powerful pain management medications can cause a dangerously inebriated mental state, making it difficult or dangerous to drive, operate machinery or function properly at home and in the workplace. While full-spectrum cannabis use certainly carries these risks to a degree (it is also definitely illegal to drive while high), CBD isolates contain either very little or no THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis that gets you “high”. Therefore CBD is safe to use if you need to be alert or productive.
MANAGING ANXIETY, DEPRESSION AND OTHER MOOD DISORDERS
Perhaps more Americans use prescribed psychoactive compounds for mental and emotional health reasons than ever before. The medications used range widely from chemicals that modify the body’s production and use of serotonin (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors or SSRIs), to “rescue” drugs like Valium and ativan that provide an immediate tranquilizing effect useful in dealing with panic attacks or other anxiety issues. In addition, many other drugs are used “off-label” because they seem to have a beneficial effect in treating these issues. For example, gabapentin, a medication primarily developed to treat nerve pain, is often prescribed for PTSD because it seems to aid in stabilizing one’s mood.
Often, users of these drugs report that they feel “zonked” or “out of it” when on their medication. While there is typically some benefit, many feel that they are simply “turned off”. For some depression medications, there are severe potential side effects ranging from increased irritability to in some cases worsening of the symptoms they are intended to treat, up to and including “suicidal thoughts or actions”.
Medications like Valium and ativan fall under the category of benzodiazepines, and work on the brain in an almost identical fashion as alcohol. In fact, many are used to treat acute alcohol withdrawal symptoms. However with long-term use, these can have their own dangerous, sometimes fatal withdrawal issues. This is because they work by depressing the central nervous system, and that system responds with a strong rebound one it is no longer suppressed, sometimes triggering seizures, heart attacks and other dangerous symptoms.
Once again, we simply do not see these symptoms in CBD use. In fact, CBD users typically report that they didn’t even realize how well it was working until they stop using it. This is one thing that many CBD users will do- intentionally go without the compound for a time in order to allow the body to re-adjust it’s cannabinoid system. The simple fact that this is not only possible but encouraged with CBD use indicates that there is no danger of withdrawal, and indeed no possibility of physical dependency (although it should be noted that psychological addiction is possibly with ANYTHING, CBD included.).
Getting enough sleep is probably one of the most important aspects of managing mental and physical health. While there are many natural products available for managing sleep disorders, such as melatonin and chamomile, many people have more serious sleep issues that require prescription medications like Lunesta. These medications work in a manner similar to opiates or benzodiazepines, by depressing the central nervous and respiratory systems. While this works quite well to put you to sleep, it does carry certain risks. One of the least problematic is that people often feel hungover or groggy the morning after using these medications. Also if there is an emergency during the night, it will be very difficult if not impossible for someone on heavy sleep meds to react safely.
Another major problem is the risk of overdose. If taken incorrectly, an overdose of sleeping pills can be permanently damaging or fatal. If mixed with alcohol, even a normal dose can depress the breathing to the point of death.
As you’re probably anticipating, CBD does not carry these risks. There is literally no way to overdose on CBD, or even full-spectrum cannabis. And while smoking pot can certainly make one feel groggy the next day, using a CBD concentrate certainly will not. In fact it is often noted that users will be more mentally alert and productive during their day, especially when they are finally getting the sleep that they were missing before.
It isn’t clear how CBD helps with sleep management except to say that the compound has been shown in several studies to have a positive effect helping people sleep. The findings have also been seen in experiments with mice and rats.
We hope that some of what you’ve read here will help you on your path towards overall mental and physical health. You may find that combining CBD with your current treatment plan helps greatly, and may even allow you to taper back or stop something that’s been having undesirable side effects. As always, it is important to honestly consult with your doctor before making any medication decisions.