Inflammation is a powerful part of the body’s natural processes for healing wounds, fighting infections and destroying damaged cells. But unchecked, chronic inflammation can also contribute to a long list of conditions such as heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
To combat the effects of inflammation, doctors often prescribe corticosteroid medications such as Prednisone, but these potent steroid drugs can cause some serious side effects. Now, though, research indicates that cannabidiol (CBD) could be as effective as Prednisone for reducing chronic inflammation, without the risks of strong steroid medications.
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What Causes Inflammation?
Inflammation can appear to be a bad thing. It’s made headlines lately as the reason behind a variety of serious health problems, and it drives the creation of numerous anti-inflammatory diets, supplements and lifestyle recommendations.
But inflammation is an essential tool for the body to heal itself. It’s an immune response that repairs damaged tissue and eliminates foreign invaders from the system. And without it, the body wouldn’t be able to heal from wounds and infections.
Acute inflammation is an immediate immune response. When an injury happens, the damaged tissues release cytokines, proteins that signal the body to release a hormone called prostaglandins. The body also releases specialized white blood cells called neutrophils to repair the problem. This immune response also causes blood vessels to enlarge so that proteins and fluids can reach the site of the injury.
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That’s why when you have a wound, you may experience:
As the inflammation response progresses, fever can develop, and fluids can collect at the site of the damage.
A similar process happens when pathogens such as bacteria or viruses enter the body, or the body is exposed to irritants like chemicals or allergens. In those cases, inflammation can cause symptoms such as:
- Muscle and joint pain
Acute inflammation typically subsides once healing is complete. But inflammation can also become chronic.
Sometimes the immune system simply can’t overcome a particular pathogen or foreign body, although it keeps trying. In certain situations, the immune response itself goes into overdrive, attacking healthy cells and tissues. That’s the cause of autoimmune diseases such as lupus.
Obesity can also trigger inflammation, and so can stress, which increases the production of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
Chronic inflammation can last for months or years. It’s associated with many common health conditions, including:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Cardiovascular disease
- Peptic ulcers
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease
The symptoms of chronic inflammation are often subtle. They include:
- Abdominal pain
- Chest pain
- Muscle and joint pain
- Unexplained rashes and skin eruptions
What Is Prednisone & Why Is It Prescribed?
In some cases, diet and lifestyle changes can reset the immune response and reduce inflammation throughout the body. If those strategies don’t provide relief, medications can help, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like:
- Naproxen (Aleve)
But for severe inflammation and immune system dysfunction, doctors may also prescribe corticosteroids such as Prednisone.
Like other corticosteroids, Prednisone can decrease inflammation by actively suppressing the immune system. But this can create other problems. Common side effects of Prednisone include:
- Vision problems
- Elevated blood pressure
- Gastrointestinal problems such as nausea and heartburn
- Muscle pain and cramping
- Mental and mood changes
- Skin problems such as thinning and easy bruising
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Increased risk of infections
The risks of Prednisone and other corticosteroids increase the longer they’re taken. To avoid those risks and the everyday discomforts these medications can cause, many people are turning to CBD.
CBD Is a Natural Anti-Inflammatory
CBD is just one of more than one hundred known compounds in the Cannabis sativa plant. But it’s been the subject of numerous studies dedicated to understanding its many benefits for the human body. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD doesn’t make people feel high.
But among its documented properties is the ability to fight inflammation and restore a state of homeostasis, or balance, to the body’s many interconnected subsystems.
The human body produces natural cannabinoid chemicals, called endocannabinoids, that activate responses in a large network of cellular receptors called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). But cannabinoids like CBD are so similar to natural endocannabinoids that they can occupy the same space on endocannabinoid cell receptors and activate them in the same way.
CBD can trigger cannabinoid receptors directly, but it can also act indirectly by activating or inhibiting other processes.
Some research reveals that CBD can inhibit the activity of an enzyme called COX-2. This enzyme triggers the production of prostaglandins, the inflammatory proteins that mobilize to repair damage to cells and tissues.
CBD also appears to support the activity of a protein coding gene called peroxisome proliferator activated receptor—gamma (PPARg).
This gene can inhibit the expression of cytokines and direct immune cells toward expressing non-inflammatory functions.
Replacing or Reducing Prednisone With CBD
CBD works with the body’s systems to reduce the activity of processes that lead to inflammation, and that makes CBD an appealing alternative to Prednisone and other corticosteroids. CBD could allow people to reduce their Prednisone dose, or stop taking it completely. But taking the two together could be risky.
Liver enzymes known as CYP450 process about 60% of all medications. One of these, CYP3A4, breaks down Prednisone in order to make it available to the body.
But CBD strongly inhibits the activity of CYP3A4, so that higher amounts of Prednisone enter the bloodstream. This can amplify the drug’s many side effects and raise the risk of severe symptoms like:
- Blurred vision
- Shortness of breath
- Mood changes
But the powerful anti-inflammatory properties of CBD could also help folks to reduce their use of Prednisone and other corticosteroids. An Israel-based biotech firm is investigating CBD as a “steroid-sparing” treatment that could reduce the side effects of potent steroids.
And recent research on the ways CBD inhibits inflammation processes suggests that CBD could be the source of new drugs to treat inflammation-based diseases.
Inflammation is an essential tool for healing, but chronic inflammation can lead to serious health problems. CBD can work with the body’s own systems to keep inflammation in check, without the many side effects of Prednisone and other prescription steroid drugs.
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