After decades of studies and speculations, medical imaging research has shown the effects that medications containing steroids can have on the brain.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that there was a connection between steroid use and reduced white matter integrity, and this could have major implications for long-term prescriptions of steroid medication.
In the brain, the white matter is the densely packed bundles of nerve fibres that work to coordinate the different brain regions and have a major effect on brain functions and learning, and so decreased integrity can have notable neuropsychiatric effects.
The study noted that people who regularly use glucocorticoid, a steroid commonly used in inhalers to help mitigate asthma symptoms, would appear to be more restless, lethargic, disinterested and show depressive symptoms compared to people who do not use them or only occasionally inhale them.
This study helps to confirm and clarify the reasons why steroids can have a strong effect on mental health, particularly for long-term users and steroid abusers.
Historically, steroid users have commented on a range of different mental health effects, including depression, mania, increased impulsive behaviour, increased aggression (that would sometimes manifest in “roid-rage” outbursts, increased anxiety, paranoia and psychosis.
As well as this, some steroid users reported feeling addicted or psychologically dependent on them, partly due to neuropsychiatric factors but also due to their perceived effects.
Specifically, glucocorticoids are amongst the most widely prescribed anti-inflammatories on the market and are used not only to treat asthma but also Crohn’s Disease, eczema, lupus, tendinitis, multiple sclerosis, allergies and arthritis.
It should be noted that these steroids are only used in certain types of prescribed inhalers, rather than the rescue inhalers commonly used to immediately open an airway during an asthma attack and use muscle relaxing medication.
More research is required, and no dramatic action should be taken yet, as other studies need to show how long the reported effects can last and whether they are permanent.