5 Tips for Switching from Prescription Drugs to CBD
CBD is growing in popularity, helping people manage a diverse array of ailments—from arthritis to chronic pain to even cancer—naturally and without the risk of accidental overdose, addiction, or dependence that many pharmaceuticals carry. CBD can offer a non habit-forming, natural, and effective alternative to a variety of different classes of medication, making it possible to replace your medication regimen (in part or entirely) with CBD and other cannabinoids—more on that in a moment. CBD is a powerful anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain reliever), and anxiolytic (anxiety reducer), in addition to offering cancer-fighting benefits (it’s been known to be a potent antioxidant for decades) and combating muscle spasms and seizures.
If you’re one of the estimated 7 in 10 Americans who take some type of prescription medication, you may be looking for a way to manage your symptoms more naturally. CBD may be a good option for you, but there are a few things you should know before you make the transition. Here, we’ll discuss our top 5 tips for switching to CBD from prescription drugs.
Before we begin, we should note that this article is not meant to constitute medical advice; talk to your doctor before making decisions regarding your health, and let them know if and when you intend to discontinue using a prescription. Be prepared to be your own medical advocate, especially in you live in a state that doesn’t have medical CBD legislation on the books.
Do Your Research
We mean this in two ways: first of all, it’s important to be well-informed before making a major decision regarding your health, and you’ll need to know what to expect before making the decision to taper off your current pharmaceutical regimen. Tapering can take time and may not be a perfectly linear process, so it’s important to know what to watch out for in addition to working with your doctor. Secondly, you’ll need to carefully research the CBD products you decide to purchase to ensure that they’re free of additives, heavy metals, and pesticides. Check out our CBD buyer’s guide for more information about what to look out for when purchasing CBD.
If you’re looking for a starting point that’s easier to understand than some of the scientific literature (it can get a little dense), check out our CBD medical case studies, which break down the most current findings for a variety of conditions and symptoms in accessible language, using material from medical professionals and formal scientific studies. If you’re looking for more information specific to tapering off your prescriptions, try our CBD ebook for a complete rundown of everything you need to know to replace your prescription regimen with CBD. You’ll also need to consult with your physician, which leads us to our next point:
Be Prepared to Advocate for Your Health
This is especially true if you live in a state that doesn’t currently allow for the legal medical consumption of CBD, but it’s good advice in general: you need to be prepared to advocate for your medical goals and well-being to your doctor and any specialists you see. This means being open and honest in communicating with your physician, being frank about any symptoms you’re experiencing, and being prepared to seek a second opinion if necessary.
Keep in mind that doctors aren’t infallible experts—they are exceedingly educated and know a lot about how to maintain physical health, but that doesn’t mean they know everything. They are human beings, and they make mistakes like anyone else. You know better than anyone what is going on in your body, and you need to be an active participant in your health decision-making.
Start by working with your doctor, as they can help you form a plan and monitor your condition as you carry it out. That said, many doctors aren’t well-versed in the particulars of drug tapering—after all, there’s not much money in taking you off pharmaceuticals, so consequently it’s not a subject that gets much attention in med schools or in practice.
This means that your input in the process is vital—we've written an article specifically addressing how to talk to your doctor about CBD. Speak up for yourself, make sure any symptoms you are feeling are documented, and don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion if you find you and your doctor aren’t seeing eye-to-eye. It’s important to be on the same page as your doctor and to work as a team to achieve your goals for your physical and mental health.
Know Your Medications
Before you can research what type of tapering schedule will work best for you, you need to know what to expect when discontinuing the medication, or medications, that you’re looking to replace with CBD. Some withdrawal symptoms, like those from opioid pain relievers, are fairly well-known, while others, like the “brain zaps” (an apt description, as anyone who’s experienced them can attest) associated with withdrawal from some antidepressants, are less expected and can be quite jarring if you don’t know what they are. To keep your experience as smooth as possible, it’s important to know what to expect if you start to experience withdrawal.
You’ll also need to find out the length of the withdrawal period, as this will determine how you deal with any symptoms you experience. Some withdrawals are short-lived, but others can last for months (antidepressants and other psychotropics are notorious for this) and can be potentially debilitating.
We advise taking a slow-and-steady approach to tapering, hanging out at the same dose in between dose decreases to let your body gradually get used to operating with less and less of the drug, avoiding acute withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms are a sign that you’re tapering too aggressively and need to ease back a bit, and they’ll only continue to worsen as long as you continue to taper. You need to know what to watch out for and communicate with your doctor to make a plan of what to do in the event of withdrawal symptoms.
Start With CBD Before Starting to Taper
Before you begin to actually decrease your dose of your current medication, you’ll need to determine the dose you need to effectively alleviate your symptoms. This isn’t an exact science, so expect to do a little experimenting before you find the right dose. Many people find a dose between 15 and 50 mg to be effective, but that’s a fairly broad window and some people may find they need more to produce effects, especially if you’re aggressively treating an illness like cancer or epilepsy. If you need more, take more; you can’t overdose and you won’t feel high.
We recommend taking your CBD about two hours before you take your regular medication, giving you time to feel its effects and determine if it’s working, adjusting your dose if necessary. CBD (read our review OR just buy it) taken orally takes about 45 minutes to an hour to take effect, and vaporized or dabbed CBD takes effect moments after inhalation. The effects of CBD are more powerful when used long-term, so try taking it this way, two hours before your current meds, for at least two weeks before you begin to decrease your dose. If everything is going well, you’re ready to finally take the final step: decreasing your pharmaceutical dose.
Tapering: Slow and Low
The key to avoiding withdrawals, which can be nasty and make daily activities difficult, is to decrease slowly, with low increments. This means it will take a longer time to fully discontinue your pharmaceuticals, but it’s the safest way to come off your medication without harming your body. We absolutely do not advise quitting cold turkey—there are some drugs whose withdrawal can kill you, and can be debilitating for anywhere from a few days to months.
After you’ve decreased your dose, take at least a week at that dose before decreasing again. Generally, you can decrease your dose by about 10% at a time (meaning at some point there’s going to be some weird fractions involved, so check with your doctor if you’re unsure), but each drug is different, and smaller increments may be required. When in doubt, go with a smaller decrease, as it’ll be gentler on your system. You may be eager to get off of your medication, but be patient—your body will thank you.
A Quick Note About Drug Testing
Much of the data we have about CBD is anecdotal, and its potential impact on drug testing is no exception. There are very few peer-reviewed studies on the subject, and the ones available paint a rather murky picture: avoiding full-spectrum products containing traces of THC can reduce your risk of a false positive, but that may not eliminate the risk entirely. A single study (as yet unconfirmed) suggests that even isolate-based products may not be completely risk-free under certain circumstances.
If you are concerned about passing a drug test, you’ll need to consider this potential risk when deciding whether CBD is right for you. To learn more about the science of CBD and drug testing, check out our article for a more thorough discussion of how to minimize your risk of a false positive.
If you’re considering switching to CBD from prescription medications, your goal is completely attainable and reasonable. That said, it may take some time to get there. That’s okay! It’s better to be safe and take it slow than to try to tough through the pains of withdrawal. Take your time, listen to your body, and work with your physician to find the taper schedule that’s right for you. If you’re looking for more information, check out our CBD ebook to learn how to replace your current medication regimen with CBD, or read our case studies for a breakdown of how CBD can be effective for a variety of conditions.