If you are like any of the millions of Americans who have struggled to fall asleep, whether it be nightly or just on occasion, you have probably tried a dozen tricks and techniques to successfully catch those Z’s. Some people count sheep, some exercise, some meditate, others self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs, and many turn to prescription or over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. Now one of the most frequently asked questions regarding sleep is, "Does CBD help you sleep?".
Ambien, for example, works by enhancing the effects of a neurotransmitter in your brain. This neurotransmitter’s (GABA) main role is to reduce the excitability of neurons. So by enhancing GABA effects, Ambien can help you fall asleep. But, as many of us are aware, pharmaceuticals such as these can have some undesirable side-effects. Extreme drowsiness upon waking up is one of the most common side-effects, along with upset stomach irritability, and a few more. These types of drugs can even be habit forming.
Cannabinoids and the ECS
Cannabinoids are a compound made up of the active parts of cannabis. There are over 100 currently discovered types of cannabinoids, but the two most abundant and well-known are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). CBD, unlike THC, does not have psychoactive effects and will not produce the feeling of being ‘high’ when ingested.
Interestingly enough, using cannabinoids in combination with each other can have beneficial effects as a result of the entourage effect which states that the benefits of one cannabinoid may be enhanced by the presence of other cannabinoids. The entourage effect can also help deal with some of the downsides some cannabinoids may have.
For example, THC can have very positive benefits on a variety of conditions but using too much THC can cause anxiety. CBD can help to quell that anxiety, so using them together can be very beneficial. Products with full-spectrum CBD oil contain the full-spectrum of cannabinoids found in the plant, allowing for the entourage effect to enhance benefits.
Cannabinoids interact with your body through a system called the Endocannabinoid System (ECS). The ECS is responsible for many of the physiological functions and processes that keep your body in a balanced, functional state called homeostasis. Sleep, hunger, pain, emotions, and more are all regulated, in some way, by the ECS.
Cannabinoids such as CBD and THC interact with cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) found in the body to perform physiological tasks. Manipulation of the ECS by using CBD products has become a very popular method in which people try to sleep better. Some CBD users even stopped using prescription drugs in favor of CBD oil drops before bed. So now let’s look further into how does CBD help you sleep...
Of the numerous conditions and diseases that drive people to choose CBD, about 42% do so because of sleep and/or insomnia related issues (SingleCare). Many are drawn to CBD as a sleep alternative because of how well our bodies tolerate CBD, especially when compared to the side effects you may experience from prescription or over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. Studies on the safety of CBD at increasing doses found that “CBD was generally well tolerated” (Taylor, et al). Any adverse effects, such as headaches, were reported by participants to be moderate or mild, nothing was reported as severe (Taylor, et al).
The studies available concerning the use of cannabis to regulate sleep have some similarities, some differences, and some questions that remain to be answered. One such study that compared doses of THC to doses of CBD, found that the THC dose acted more as a sedative by itself, but the combination of CBD provided alertness once awake (Nicholson, et al). Referring back to the entourage effect, we can see how the benefits of one cannabinoid are enhanced by the presence of other cannabinoids.
Another study on the effects cannabis has on insomnia found that “Cannabidiol (CBD) was associated with greater statistically significant symptom relief than tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)” (Vigil, et al). This study also mentioned that they believe other cannabinoids could have effects on sleep regulation. Looking at a study specifically about CBD and sleep, 67% of patients improved their sleep experience with consistent CBD use.
After two months, still 56% of patients had improved sleep. On the other side of the coin, about 25% of patients reported worsening conditions (Shannon, et al). As you can see, there is still a long way to go in fully understanding how CBD, by itself or together with other cannabinoids, can regulate sleep. In fact, one study came to the conclusion that CBD may improve sleep quality not by regulating sleep, but through its anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties (Hsiao, et al). Researchers discovered “CBD efficiently blocked anxiety-induced ... sleep suppression” (Hsiao, et al). More research is needed to uncover the exact mechanisms by which CBD may improve sleep.
If you decide to take CBD for any reason, dosing becomes important and can even be a little bit tricky. There is no exact formula you can follow to calculate a specific CBD dose that will work best for you. There are many, many factors that come into play including age, weight, gender, severity of condition, how the CBD was ingested, when you last ate, and more.
The best way to find your perfect dose is by starting with a low dose, and build up slowly. Doses of CBD are measured in milligrams (mg). When you take a dose of CBD, say 10mg, rank how you feel in terms of anxiety, pain, tiredness, etc., on a scale of 1-10. If you feel that you can benefit from a higher dosage, take more and still rank how you feel.
Doing this will help you develop a better understanding of how a particular dose will affect you. A typical dose of CBD lasts about 6 hours so wait about that long before taking more. Many people take two doses of CBD each day, morning and evening. With a little experimentation, you too can find your perfect dose and get the maximum benefits CBD can offer you.
When beginning a new wellness routine it is best to speak with your physician beforehand. If you are currently taking medications, speak with your doctor about the addition of CBD products and how they might interact. Do not stop any current medications to take CBD unless your doctor says it is safe to do.
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