If you’re one of the nearly 70% of Americans who take at least one prescription drug (or the estimated half who take two or more), you may be searching for an alternative to your current medication regimen. Because of its anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, analgesic, and anxiolytic properties, CBD is gaining popularity as a potential supplement to, or even replacement for, your current pharmaceutical medication regimen.
There are a lot of reasons you might want to taper off a pharmaceutical medication in favor of CBD: pharmaceuticals can be habit-forming, inducing addiction and even dependence with prolonged or heavy use. They can also produce undesirable side effects and can produce a level of impairment that makes day-to-day functions difficult or even impossible. CBD, by contrast, has the potential to treat a variety of conditions and produces no psychoactive effects, meaning you can take it at as high a dose as you need to treat your condition without worrying about impairment.
CBD can be an attractive option for many reasons, but it’s not as simple as just stopping your meds and dosing with CBD. How long will it take to fully switch? Well, the short answer is, as long as it takes for you to safely discontinue your medications.
Before we begin, we need to emphasize that this article is not meant to constitute medical advice, and no one should cease their medication regimen because of a single article they read online; be sure to research your options thoroughly before making any decision regarding your health.
Tapering off of any medication is a complex, challenging, and potentially dangerous process and shouldn’t be undertaken without medical supervision. Furthermore, as with any medication, no two patients respond identically to any one tapering schedule, tapering is not an exact science, and you may need to commit to some trial and error before you find what works for you.
If this is something you’re interested in, look at a variety of resources before talking to your doctor to discuss the best tapering strategy for you and your needs. We’ve actually put together a guide specifically addressing how to talk to your doctor about CBD.
How to Taper: A Few Thoughts and Considerations
It’s an unfortunate fact of our medical system, but here it is: there’s not a lot of research dedicated to discontinuing medications, compared to the body of research dedicated to their effectiveness and chemical mechanisms. In addition to a lack of medical literature on the subject, surprisingly few doctors are trained in helping their patients taper off of a drug safely. Especially where psychiatric medications are concerned, the taper regimen recommended by your doctor may be far too aggressive for you, causing withdrawal and negative side effects.
For these reasons, we advise that you listen to your body in addition to working with your physician. While your doctor can offer advice and help get you back on track if you taper too aggressively, you ultimately know better than anyone what’s going on with your body. It helps to take notes on how you feel day to day, whether through a paper journal or notebook—we devised a Daily CBD Journal specifically for this purpose.
It also helps to research potential withdrawal symptoms, a telltale sign you’re tapering too aggressively, so you know what to look out for and can adjust course before it gets too serious. Since there’s a lack of scholarly information on this topic, we recommend talking to other patients through message boards or support groups, or seeking out resources for people seeking to discontinue a medication safely; anecdotal information is better than no information, after all.
Before You Switch: Know Your Meds
The type of medication(s) you are taking can greatly affect the type of tapering schedule you undertake. Psychiatric drugs in particular are notorious for necessitating slow, gradual tapers of just a few milligrams at a time, while other drugs can be tapered more aggressively without the risk of negative effects. You may need to taper different medications at different rates. This is totally okay; it’s better to taper slowly and safely than to go too quickly and experience the pains of withdrawal.
You’ll need to consider they types of medications you’re currently taking, from opioid pain relievers to barbiturates to benzodiazepines to antidepressants. Each of these different classes of drugs can potentially require different taper schedules. It’s important to remember not to taper off too quickly, as this can cause withdrawals and a host of weird and potentially alarming adverse effects, particularly discontinuation syndrome for psychiatric medications.
To taper your dose successfully, you’ll need to carefully research your options (look for information about similar medications in the same class if you can’t find much for your particular prescription) and be prepared for any withdrawal symptoms you might experience that are particular to your medication. For example, SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), a class of drug often prescribed to treat depression, can cause dizziness and disorientation, peculiar tingling sensations, and an aptly-named sensation called “brain zaps” that feels like a current of electricity running through your brain. Since drug withdrawal can produce such varied and potentially alarming effects, it’s important to know what to expect going in.
Making the Switch: Changing from Pharmaceuticals to CBD
Once you’ve done all your research and talked to your doctor to create a plan for your taper, you’ll need to start actually consuming CBD. This is because adding in CBD helps ease the transition, as the effects of the CBD will grow stronger over time and can pick up where your ever-decreasing dose of medication is leaving off. So, if you’re a first-time CBD consumer, where do you begin?
There are a variety of ways to incorporate CBD into your medical regimen that affect different parts of your system, targeting different types of conditions. For maximum effectiveness, we recommend using different forms of CBD to treat your condition at multiple levels. Check out our CBD Buyer’s Guide for more info on how to choose a CBD supplier, but here we’ll focus on finding the right specific CBD product for you. We should note that it’s important to peg down your CBD dosage before you begin tapering, as this will allow the CBD to take effect and lessen the withdrawal symptoms as you begin to decrease your dose of medication.
We recommend a good systemic CBD product to provide full-body relief that can last up to 8 hours. You can use CBD softgel capsules(which make for easy dosing and are available in multiple dosage strengths, allowing you to easily increase your dose) or, if you prefer, a CBD tincture that lets you add CBD to food and beverages (CBD coffee, anyone?) in addition to dropping it under your tongue. Tinctures require a little more math to dose, but make fine-tuning your dosage easy and straightforward. Softgels or tinctures will take up to 45 minutes to work, but their effects are longer-lasting than other modes of delivery.
For instances where you need more immediate relief, we like to vape CBD. This is for a couple of reasons: vaporized CBD acts within minutes, providing nearly instant symptom relief, and it lasts for up to four hours. For sudden flare-ups, it’s hard to beat a CBD vape. That said, you can also dab 99% pure CBD isolate if you prefer, or if you need a stronger dose; both methods will take effect quickly and last for comparable windows of time.
If you’re looking to target inflammation in a particular body part, consider using a topical CBD salve. This allows CBD and other beneficial cannabinoids to penetrate the skin and work on tissues from the outside while your systemic CBD attacks it from the inside. Topical CBD is especially helpful for healing inflammation and alleviating pain from conditions like arthritis (including rheumatoid arthritis) or acute injury.
A Quick Note About Drug Testing
If drug testing is a part of the conditions of your employment, you might be concerned about the potential of CBD to cause you to test positive for THC. This isn’t an unfounded concern — however, there isn’t exactly a cut-and-dry way to answer it.
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.