Lorena Cupcake, voted “best budtender in Chicago” in 2019, has answered hundreds of questions from cannabis shoppers and patients during their time as a budtender. And now they're turning that experience into a monthly advice column, Ask a Budtender. Got a question for Cupcake? Submit your questions to email@example.com.
For years, I've struggled with falling asleep when I need to. I spend too many nights scrolling my phone, wide awake in bed. I've smoked pot before, but I've never used it specifically for sleep.
What sort of bedtime products should I look for? Are products with CBN worth it — and does it even work?
The solutions for sleeplessness will vary depending on the individual. I've known some folks who just need a few puffs on a bedside indica pen to sleep soundly. Others, dealing with chronic pain and insomnia, might require heavy doses of super-concentrated cannabis oil to stay asleep until morning.
Depending on what challenges you're facing, and how your body responds to different plant medicines, you may need to experiment with a few different products and dosages to find something that helps you fall asleep quickly, stay asleep soundly, and wake up without groggy after-effects.
As you browse through products available in your local market, you might come across different formulations, each claiming to promote healthy sleep. It's important to have a basic understanding of how each active ingredient interacts with the body so that you can make an informed decision for your specific needs.
Sleep and the entourage effect
Signaling in the endocannabinoid system plays a large role in the circadian rhythm of sleeping and waking, and there's a deep and complex relationship between cannabis and sleep that doctors are still researching. However, current literature suggests that THC decreases sleep latency, or the time it takes you to fall asleep after hitting the sheets. That should help you put down the phone and stick to a healthier schedule, SleepyTime.
The recent, well-controlled sleep study found residual effects on measures like memory when participants woke up in the morning, ten hours after consuming THC. Anyone who's ever woken up disoriented after a powerful edible can likely relate. However, swapping in an equal dose of CBD and THC — commonly known as a 1:1 ratio — seemed to prevent those effects the next morning. “In this context,” researchers concluded, “the coadministration of THC and CBD has advantages beyond the therapeutic benefits that both drugs may bring individually.”
In cannabis pharmacology, that concept is known as the entourage effect, a term coined by neurologist Dr. Ethan Russo, MD in his landmark 2011 study on the efficacy of THC and other cannabinoids and terpenes. I spoke with Russo to learn more about how certain terpenes, as well as cannabinoids like CBD and CBN, modulate the effect of THC on sleep.
“THC can be quite effective in inducing sleep, particularly in conjunction with myrcene and linalool,” Dr. Russo said. “CBD is actually stimulating at low and moderate doses, but this effect is easily overcome by THC and myrcene content. CBD is helpful for its anti-anxiety effects. On balance, some CBD content is more scientifically supportable than CBN as a sleep aid.”
The controversy behind CBN and sleep
While other cannabinoids are biosynthesized by the plant itself, CBN only appears as a by-product of THC when it degrades from exposure to light, oxygen, and heat. Anecdotal experiences with stale buds causing sleepiness led the cannabis community to theorize that CBN is a super-powered soporific. Drawing on that folk wisdom, the cannabis industry began extracting CBN from cannabis, adding relatively large doses to edibles or vaporizers to be used as sleep aids.
After thoroughly reviewing existing research on CBN for a paper published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research earlier this year, Dr. Jamie Corroon found it outdated and limited in scope. With no hard evidence in hand, he ruled that “Individuals seeking cannabis-derived sleep aids should be skeptical of manufacturers' claims of sleep-promoting effects.”
Commenting on Dr. Corroon's findings, Dr. Russo said, “Documentation of the benefits of CBN on sleep have been mixed at best, and it is clear that higher doses are likely necessary to have a significant effect. Combination of CBN with THC might yield better results, but it is largely a matter of combining one effective agent with a less effective one.”
The reason older buds have been observed to cause sleepiness isn't because of the increased CBN content. Instead, Russo said that aged cannabis has “lost most of its monoterpenoid content, leaving behind the more sedating, higher molecular weight, oxygenated sesquiterpenoids.”
If CBN doesn't make you sleepy, what does it do? The answer may be not much. According to Russo, “Many studies of low-doses have demonstrated little psychoactive effect, while others have shown mild responses.”
Other additives in cannabis sleep aids
While misinformation regarding the effectiveness of CBN abounds in the cannabis industry, it appears that manufacturers are already looking for alternatives to increase the sedating effect of edibles.
Melatonin is a hormone naturally released by the pineal gland at night as part of the circadian cycle. You can find melatonin gummies and capsules at any grocery store, where it's often purchased to aid with insomnia or jet lag. A quick search on Weedmaps turns up gummies, chocolates, capsules, honey, and tinctures containing both melatonin and cannabis.
Check with your doctor before trying it, as melatonin can interfere with immunosuppressive therapy and cause interactions with common prescriptions. In addition, experts have warned that inhaling melatonin through a vaporizer has not been properly studied for safety, much less efficacy.
Midnight, a line of sleep-enhancing edibles from 1906, contains corydalis as a sedative. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this tuberous root is combined with herbs and other plant-based materials to invigorate the blood and relieve pain. While no peer-reviewed research exists on the efficacy of corydalis as a sleep aid, Western doctors and TCM practitioners both agree that corydalis should not be used while pregnant or nursing as it may induce uterine contractions.
Which strains support sleep?
When it comes to flower, SleepyTime, the best advice I can give you is to find strains that reduce your anxiety, alleviate pain, and relax your body. While cultivars with those benefits are often classified as indicas or hybrids, marketing terms aren't nearly as important as your unique physiological response.
According to Dr. Russo, “The benefits of a given chemovar for sleep will depend more on its THC, myrcene, and linalool content more than anything else.” Extensive research exists to support the function of linalool and myrcene as sedatives. In response, some growers have moved to classifying any flower with high myrcene content as indica, even if the cross was bred from two sativa-dominant parents.
Once you've found a few strains that work for you, keep one on your nightstand for when insomnia strikes. A few hits — or even a dropperful of tincture — can turn a sleepless night into something dreamy.
Featured image by Gina Coleman/Weedmaps