Cannabis, the ancient medicinal plant, is winning over supporters in the field of contemporary medicine as well. Now legal for medical use in several US states, cannabis is also undergoing thorough study for its purported health benefits – including for our sleep.
Those who suffer from sleep disorders usually seek out conventional models of treatment, such as behavioral therapy or prescription drugs like benzodiazepine, temazepam, and zolpidem. But modern science is also opening up the space for newer remedies, such as cannabidiol (CBD) oil in the form of capsules, gummies, sprays, inhalers, and tinctures.
What properties does CBD possess that make it a viable alternative for sleep improvement? What reputable evidence is there about how CBD oil can address sleep problems? And lastly, if you yourself are thinking about using CBD as a sleeping aid, what should you do in order to maximize the effects? Here’s a briefer on CBD, the science behind it, a survey of its efficacy in improving sleep, and some tips for a first-time CBD oil consumer.
What is CBD, and How Does it Work?
The cannabis plant contains hundreds of chemical compounds, called cannabinoids, which were first identified by scientists in the 1960s. These interact within a separate biological system within humans called the endocannabinoid system, which regulates physiological and cognitive processes such as memory, appetite, pain sensation, and mood among others.
The most widely known among these cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The former is what gives cannabis its reputation for inducing a high, hence its use as a recreational drug. But unlike THC, CBD is a non-psychoactive compound and has been verified by the World Health Organization to be free of significant abuse potential.
CBD can be harvested from a grown cannabis plant or produced synthetically. Regardless, several supplements and medications showcase the compound’s imminent therapeutic properties. CBD engages many receptors, proteins, and other chemicals in the human brain, thus instigating notable cellular, hormonal, and neurotransmitter activity. These myriad interactions are what scientists are piecing together in order to uncover relationships with stress, anxiety, pain relief, and our sleep-wake cycles.
What more can be said about CBD’s relationship to sleep? Here is where science endeavors to put these matters “to rest.”
What Science Has Uncovered About CBD and Sleep
Dr. Sarah Brewer, a medical director of Healthspan, explains why CBD is a point of interest in treating insomnia: it interacts favorably with the body’s endocannabinoid system and may contribute to better rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. “[CBD] promotes refreshing REM sleep to reduced excessive daytime sleepiness,” Dr. Brewer posits, adding, “CBD is proven to be particularly helpful for sleep disorders in people with neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.”
As far as scientific resources on cannabis go, there are many to be had, including O’Shaughnessy’s: The Journal of Cannabis in Clinical Practice. One such study published in the journal’s 2011 autumn issue, Dr. Rolando Tringale and Dr. Claudia Jensen’s “Cannabis and Insomnia,” involved a survey of 166 subjects done in two cannabis clinics in Southern California. The study measured outcomes in sleep latency time with or without the use of cannabis. The most significant finding was a considerable decrease in the time it took to fall asleep, among subjects who did and did not report sleep difficulties prior to the experiment.
In another study published by The Permanente Journal earlier this 2019, titled “Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series,” Dr. Scott Shannon, Nicole Lewis, Heather Lee, and Shannon Hughes explored whether CBD improved either sleep or anxiety in a clinical population. This study recorded both anxiety scores and sleep scores among 72 adults after a month of clinical trials. 57 patients recorded a decreased anxiety score and 48 patients cited an improved sleep score, although the said improvement fluctuated over time.
Kimberly A. Babson, James Sottile, and Danielle Morabito’s “Cannabis, Cannabinoids, and Sleep: A Review of the Literature,” published in Current Psychiatry Reports in 2017, is perhaps the best summary we have of this issue. The authors state in their summary: “Research on cannabis and sleep is in its infancy and has yielded mixed results. Additional controlled and longitudinal research is critical to advance our understanding of research and clinical implications” (1).
More research is needed to make hard conclusions about long-term use of CBD, and like any newly-studied substance, it shouldn’t be treated as a cure-all. But the relationship between anxiety relief and sleep improvement is one of the most compelling findings we have here. It’s not simply a matter of CBD oil making the consumer drowsy, as some variants can actually inspire feelings of alertness. Rather, CBD oil can help address symptoms of stress and anxiety, and better sleep quality definitely follows after that.
Last Rejoinders: Using CBD Oil to Improve Overall Sleep Hygiene
Again, there’s no such thing as a “magic potion,” and would-be consumers of CBD oil should not treat it as the be-all, end-all to their sleep disorders. If you are thinking of incorporating CBD oil into your routine, you should seek your doctor’s recommendation – especially if you are taking any additional medication on the side. Take note as well about how your recommended CBD oil dosage affects your body, and schedule a checkup if you are experiencing any unpleasant side effects.
And finally, don’t think of CBD oil as the only thing you need to do in order to improve your sleep hygiene, or your set of best practices for a good night’s sleep—i.e., laying off the caffeine and alcohol, eating right, freeing yourself of unnecessary distractions, and actually getting into the mindset to relax. Consume wisely, and sweet dreams!