Can CBD Help You Sleep?
Some research suggests it might be worth a try
People have been turning to cannabis for its possible health benefits for a long, long time. Its ability to help people, for example, is mentioned in the Atharvaveda, a Hindu text that dates back to around 1500 B.C., and its use for inducing sleep is described in a 1200 A.D. Chinese medical text.
Today, people are still using cannabis to help them sleep, particularly one form of it: CBD, or cannabidiol. That’s a compound found in marijuana and hemp that doesn’t get you high, and that has recently exploded in popularity because of its potential to treat other health problems, including pain and anxiety.
In a recent nationally representative Consumer Reports survey, about 10 percent of Americans who reported trying CBD said they used it to help them sleep, and a majority of those people said it worked.
It’s easy to understand why people are turning to CBD to help with sleep: Almost 80 percent of Americans say they have trouble sleeping at least once a week, according to another recent nationally representative CR survey of 1,267 U.S. adults. And many existing treatments, particularly prescription and over-the-counter drugs, are often not very effective—and are risky, too.
A small but growing body of scientific research provides some support for CBD as a sleep aid. A study out this month, for example, suggests CBD might help people with short-term sleep problems.
And Joseph Maroon, M.D., a clinical professor and neurosurgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who has researched the effect of cannabis on the brain, says that CBD has properties that could help some people sleep better. Most notably, he says, it appears to ease anxiety and pain, both of which can make it harder to fall asleep or stay asleep.
Some other research hints that CBD may also affect sleep directly, by interacting with receptors in the brain that govern the body’s daily sleep/wake cycles, according to a 2017 review of sleep and cannabis in the journal Current Psychiatry Reports.
But “many questions still remain as to timing, the amount to take, and route of dosing CBD for sleep,” Maroon says. All of that could affect who CBD helps for sleep, and who it doesn’t.
And how it affects people does seem to be hit or miss. For example, Melissa Giovanni, age 32, a licensed dietitian in Nashville, Tenn., takes CBD regularly for sleep and says it often helps. But Liz Fuller, age 47, a makeup artist in Boston, says she tried two different CBD brands—spending about $135—to treat her insomnia, and neither worked.
Maroon says he doesn’t see CBD as a treatment for insomnia, but instead as an “alternative natural method to help calm anxious thoughts that often delay or interrupt natural sleep.” He points out that next to nothing is known about the safety or effectiveness of CBD in children, pregnant women, or older people when used for sleep or anxiety. Maroon urges those with insomnia to see their doctor before using any treatment.
Still, he notes that if you occasionally have difficulty sleeping, CBD is considered a safe, non-habit-forming, natural alternative.
For those looking to try CBD to see whether it helps improve sleep, here’s what you need to know.
How CBD Might Help With Sleep
One way CBD may help with sleep is by easing anxiety. In a study in the January issue of The Permanente Journal, published by the Kaiser-Permanente health insurance company, Colorado researchers looked at the health records of 72 patients who were treated with CBD for either anxiety or poor sleep.
During the three-month study, anxiety levels did decline, even in people whose main complaint was poor sleep. For those with sleep problems, the results weren’t as clear cut, though people did report some improvement in the first month.
Those benefits might be due to the placebo effect, says Scott Shannon, M.D., the study’s main author and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado-Children’s Hospital in Denver. But Shannon, who is also founder of the Wholeness Center, an integrative medicine clinic in Ft. Collins, Colo., also thinks that some people may have slept better because they “worried less about their sleep issue.”
Scientists have some biological explanations for how CBD may affect both sleep and anxiety. Recent studies have shown that cannabis compounds interact with receptors throughout the body—the so-called endocannabinoid system—including in the brain. At least one of those type of receptors is thought to affect the body’s sleep/wake cycle, offering one explanation for how CBD could affect sleep directly. And CBD also interacts with another receptor in the brain that researchers have linked to anxiety.
Should You Try It?
Shannon and other experts we spoke with say that before turning to CBD for sleep, you should try more proven therapies. The best evidence is for a form of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBT-I, which focuses on changing habits that disrupt sleep. Research shows it’s more effective and safer than prescription or over-the-counter sleep drugs, which can cause dependence and pose a risk of overdose and death.
Although CBD’s benefits for sleep are still unclear, Shannon notes that CBD poses few side effects. The most common one in his study was fatigue. Other common side effects can include diarrhea and changes in appetite and weight.
If other remedies haven’t helped and you want to give CBD for sleep a try, experts we spoke with said here are some things to consider:
CBD may work better for anxiety than sleep. There’s more evidence for CBD’s ability to ease your anxiety than to help you fall asleep, though helping you relax could help you sleep, too.
Short-term use might be best. CBD’s ability to improve sleep may diminish the longer you use it, so you may not want to use it daily or long-term. In Shannon’s study, people whose main complaint was sleeplessness improved in the first month, but then faded during months two and three. And Michael Backes, an expert in cannabis science and policy and author of “Cannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana” (BDL/Hachette, 2014), says his research and interviews with users suggest that once a person is no longer chronically sleepy, CBD might, paradoxically, keep people awake.
Higher doses could work better. There’s not much research on dosing, but what there is suggests low doses might not be very effective. A 2004 study found that low doses (15 mg in this case) didn’t help people fall asleep and might actually have made people more wakeful. And an even earlier study found that a relatively large dose—160 mg—worked better than a lower one. In Shannon’s study, patients were given a 25 mg dose.
Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University at Albany, State University of New York, and on the advisory board the marijuana advocacy group NORML, suggests starting with a modest dose of 30 mg and slowly working up if that doesn’t work. And he cautions that a dose of 160 mg “is going to be incredibly expensive.”
Consider the form. Vaping CBD might work faster, because that quickly gets the compound into your system, says Earleywine, who is also the author of “Understanding Marijuana” (Oxford University Press, 2005). But pills, oils, and edibles such as gummy bears might help you sleep longer, because they release the CBD more slowly. If you opt for one of those forms, Earlywine suggests taking it about an hour before bedtime. (Read more about the different forms CBD comes in and how they affect the body differently.)
Look for quality products. Some studies suggest that many CBD products don’t have what they claim or are contaminated with pesticides or other harmful substances. (Read more about how to shop for CBD products.)
Use it safely. Last, talk with your doctor—especially if you take other meds—because CBD may interact with medications. (Read more about how to use CBD safely.)
Consumer Reports looks into whether CBD can help you sleep better, and what to look for in a product.
Will CBD help you sleep?
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- What is CBD and how does it work?
- How does CBD make you feel?
- Does CBD oil make you tired?
- CBD vs. THC for sleep
- What effect does CBD oil have on sleep disorders?
- What are the other potential benefits of CBD?
- Bottom line
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 easily, according to a national poll by the Sleep Foundation. 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. It 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 and 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.”
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. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Endocannabinoid receptors affect 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.”
Evidence from a study published in Translational Psychiatry also suggests that CBD inhibits the uptake of anandamide, which is an endocannabinoid that is often referred to as the “bliss molecule.” Anandamide binds to CB1 receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system, just like CBD. When CBD occupies those receptors instead, anandamide’s pleasant effects may last longer.
How does CBD make you feel?
When it comes to how CBD products will make you feel, 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, and whether the product is an isolate or a spectrum oil.”
Vo 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.
CBD may diminish the anxiety that can render it challenging to fall asleep. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Per a study published in the Brazilian Journal of Psychiatry, when administered at different doses, CBD may provoke distinctive responses. Low doses may cause someone to feel energized and alert, while higher doses may be relaxing and encourage drowsiness. CBD is frequently anecdotally 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 is 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 inhibit sleep 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 trigger tiredness or a sleep response through its reported effects on the 5-HT1a serotonin receptors. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
CBD may also trigger tiredness or a sleep response through its reported effects on the 5-HT1a serotonin receptors, as observed in a study published in the medical journal Pain. “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, some individuals may feel a sensation of sleepiness.
CBD vs. THC for sleep
THC, the cannabis plant’s most abundant and intoxicating cannabinoid, is reputed 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 less than 10 milligrams of THC along with 20 milligrams or more of CBD could be a great combination.”
CBN, the cannabinoid into which THC transforms when exposed to heat and light, may have more sedative effects. One analysis by Steep Hill Labs found that five milligrams of CBN was as effective as a 10-milligram dose of diazepam, a member of the “benzo” family used to treat muscle spasms, seizures, and anxiety. Thus, it’s likely that consuming older cannabis will have more sedative, sleep-inducing effects than fresher flower with less CBN present.
What effect does CBD oil have on sleep disorders?
Although more studies on CBD and sleep disorders need to be conducted, Vo pointed to the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine, which returns more than 100 results for a search of CBD and sleep. The articles include studies and reviews of previous research, mostly conducted on animal models, which may overlap. A 2019 review of the use of CBD and THC for sleep indicates that cannabinoids may improve sleep quality, decrease sleep disturbances, and reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.
Cannabinoids may improve sleep quality, decrease sleep disturbances, or reduce the time it takes to fall asleep. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Many of the studies reviewing CBD, however, examined sleep as a secondary outcome in the context of another illness. Frye highlighted a 2019 study published in Frontiers in Pharmacology that investigated the use of CBD oil for children with autism spectrum disorder to treat related conditions such as sleep disturbances. “Patients with autism typically have sleep disturbances,” she explained. “The study showed that CBD improved sleep in 71.4% of patients.”
What are the other potential benefits of CBD?
As CBD interacts with the nervous, immune, and circulatory systems, it may also offer benefits for a gamut of conditions. An in-vitro study published in the European Journal of Pain suggests that CBD reduced evidence of pain and inflammation behaviors in rats, while another study published in Ingenta Connect found that CBD exhibited anti-anxiety and anti-depression effects in animal models. Too, CBD shows promise in reducing epilepsy-induced seizures and some types of muscle spasms, as shown in this in-vivo study published in The Lancet Neurology and this pilot patient study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience.
Per an in-vitro study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, there is also evidence that CBD may potentially improve heart health and, as seen in this scientific review published by CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics, may offer protective benefits for neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.
There is some evidence that CBD may reduce anxiety and promote feelings of calm and relaxation, which could lead to better sleep in some people.
However, there is presently little clinical research on human subjects 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.
Will CBD help you sleep? Copy article link to clipboard. Link copied to clipboard. Contents What is CBD and how does it work? How does CBD make you feel? Does CBD oil make