A good night’s sleep has incontestable benefits for general health and wellbeing. For 30% of the general population, however, sinking into an effortless slumber doesn’t come easy. To make matters worse, sleeping pills and medications commonly used to induce sleep are often accompanied by side effects.
One possible alternative to these medications is cannabidiol (CBD), a non-intoxicating cannabis compound that is currently trending as a sleep aid, as many are discovering that it promotes drowsiness by removing obstacles to sleep, such as anxiety. But are there scientific grounds to believe that CBD can actually support and bolster more healthful sleep? Weedmaps spoke with four experts to find out.
What is CBD & How Does It Work?
While we have some understanding of how CBD interacts with the body, there is still much to learn.
“CBD itself doesn’t do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to binding to CB1 and CB2 receptors but instead promotes the binding of the endocannabinoids already in our systems,” Drew Ford, Chief Science Officer at Kase Manufacturing, a cannabis extraction facility, told Weedmaps. “It ensures they bind to the receptors that they’re supposed to go to.”
CBD’s binding of endocannabinoids with receptors affects the entire body. According to Dr. Thinh Vo, Director of Quality and Compliance at Koi CBD, cannabidiol indirectly has an impact on receptors that send information between “the cells in the nervous, immune, and circulatory systems to regulate biological processes.”
Research suggests that CBD may act on serotonin receptors, prompting the release of endocannabinoids. Serotonin is also one of the most important neurotransmitters for regulating the sleep-wake cycle.
Evidence also suggests that CBD inhibits the uptake anandamide levels. Anandamide is an endocannabinoid that is often referred to as the “bliss molecule,” as it promotes feelings of well-being. Anandamide binds to CB1 receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system. By inhibiting FAAH (Fatty Acid Amide Hydrolase), anandamide levels in the body last longer.
How Does CBD Make You Feel?
When it comes to how CBD products will make you feel, a large part of the answer will depend largely on individual-specific factors.
“Each person’s reactions to CBD are unique,” Vo told Weedmaps News. “Reactions to CBD are also affected by other variables such as delivery method, whether the person is taking existing medications/supplements interaction, and whether the product is an isolate or a spectrum oil.”
Vo also points out that terpenes present in CBD oil also influence the individual’s response. “We know that terpenes play an essential role in determining the strain and influencing a sedative effect, energetic effect or combination of both,” he explained.
When administered at different doses, CBD may provoke distinctive responses. Low doses can cause the individual to feel energized and alert, while higher doses are relaxing and encourage drowsiness. In general, CBD is most commonly reported to alleviate anxiety.
“CBD is an anxiolytic, which means that it reduces anxiety and is calming,” explains Dr. Elaine Burns, a naturopathic doctor who is CEO and founder of Dr. Burns’ ReLeaf. “In addition, it helps to relax the muscles. These two properties both contribute to a feeling of relaxation in the mind and body.”
Does CBD Oil Make You Tired?
As to whether CBD oil can cause tiredness, expert opinions appear to be mixed. “There no true clinical evidence to support CBD as a sleep aid. CBD oil itself should not make a person drowsy,” Ford said.
That being said, Ford also acknowledges that CBD may diminish the anxiety that can render it challenging to fall asleep and “could be effective as a sleep aid for people who need to calm down and relax their mind.”
Dr. Patricia Frye, a board-certified cannabis clinician and Chief Medical Officer at HelloMD, pointed out that there is evidence that high doses of CBD can modulate adenosine pathways in the brain. “Adenosine is the substance that accumulates during the day and deactivates the sensory neurons in the area of the brain that keeps us awake.”
CBD may also trigger tiredness or a sleep response through its effects on the 5-HT1a serotonin receptors. “When binding to the 5-HT1a receptors, CBD essentially blocks those receptors from other agonists binding to them,” Ford explained. “Depending on the individual’s body chemistry, when CBD binds to these receptors it can essentially block the anxiety or depression-causing molecules, leading to immediate relief.” As a result, many individuals often feel a sensation of sleepiness.
CBD vs. THC for Sleep
THC, the cannabis plant’s most abundant and intoxicating cannabinoid, is recognized to induce sleepiness. Ford believes any feelings of drowsiness associated with CBD oil can most likely be attributed to THC. “If CBD oil is making you feel drowsy, it’s probably due to a fraction of THC being left in the product,” he said.
THC isn’t necessarily more effective than CBD as a sleep aid. An individual’s body chemistry affects how he or she responds to THC, and for some, it may be counterproductive if they’re looking for deep slumber. Ford explained that while the “psychoactivity of THC” can lead to drowsiness, it can also cause the mind to race, ultimately concluding that “it really depends on what symptoms you are trying to overcome and what works best for your own body.”
Burns agrees, adding that THC can also cause anxiety and restlessness at doses higher than 10 milligrams. “Because of this, I would say that CBD is a better sleep aid for most people; however, dosing THC less than 10 milligrams of THC along with 20 milligrams or more of CBD could be a great combination.”
What Effect Does CBD Oil Have on Sleeping Disorders?
Although more studies on CBD and sleeping disorders need to be conducted, Vo pointed to the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, which has more than 100 articles covering studies of CBD use in sleep disorder. A 2019 review of the use of CBD and THC for sleep indicates that cannabinoids may improve sleep quality, decrease sleep disturbances, or reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.
Many of the studies reviewing CBD, however, examined sleep as a secondary outcome in the context of another illness. Frye highlighted a 2019 study that investigated the use of CBD oil for children with autism spectrum disorder to treat comorbidities such as sleep disturbances. “Patients with autism typically have sleep disturbances,” she explained. “The study showed that CBD improved sleep in 71.4 percent of patients.”
What Are the Other Potential Benefits of CBD?
There is also evidence that CBD can reduce acne, improve heart health, and offer protective benefits for neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.
The Bottom Line
There is promising evidence that CBD may support sleep by reducing anxiety and promoting feelings of calm and relaxation.
However, there is presently little clinical research specifically investigating the effects of CBD on sleep disorders. Possibly, future studies will enhance our understanding of CBD, its mechanisms, and its role in sleep regulation.
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