Not much beats a good night’s sleep, but for the 50 million plus Americans that suffer from sleep-related disorders getting some quality rest isn’t always something that can be relied on. But that doesn’t mean getting better sleep is impossible – And in fact, instead of counting sheep, maybe you should be counting cannabidiol molecules instead.
Today we’ll be talking about how CBD may effect sleep. Using CBD as a way to help people fall asleep is just one of the many benefits claimed by this unique cannabinoid, but what does the science have to say? What’s the best way to take it? And are there any side effects that should be watched out for? We’ll go over all of these and more in our article below.
What is CBD?
“CBD” is the shortened form of “cannabidiol”, a chemical compound found in Cannabis sativa, most commonly associated with the hemp plant. Much like it’s arguably more well-known cousin THC, cannabidiol is what is known as a “cannabinoid”, one of many natural molecular compounds capable of interacting with the human metabolic system.
As we take in cannabinoids from outside sources, either from smoking or ingestion, our body essentially assumes they’re the same molecules as produced by our own endocannabinoid system (the metabolic process that helps regulate functions such as anxiety, pain, sleepiness, and a host of other physical responses). And though these alien cannabinoids may be similar to molecules produced by our own bodies, their effects are noticeably different.
In the case of THC the effects are fairly well documented: Smoke weed, get high. But not all cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant are psychoactive like THC, CBD being one of them. This lack of psychoactivity is largely why CBD products can be sold over the counter legally in most states, as the US Food and Drug Administration has not classified CBD as a scheduled (IE: illegal) narcotic. Instead, CBD is being used to help people with a wide variety of medical ailments, and CBD may have a number of general health benefits as well.
Studies have found that CBD might help with serious medical conditions ranging from seizures to chronic pain to post traumatic stress disorder. And for those suffering from issues with insomnia, using CBD may help them fall asleep faster, reduce daytime sleepiness, and improve sleep quality overall.
Does CBD Help You Sleep?
As with most information about how CBD may effect the human body studies and trials are still ongoing and not universally conclusive. Quite a bit of research has been done on taking CBD for sleep disorders, however, and the results of CBD’s effects on anxiety and sleep have been very promising.
A 2019 study showed marked improvement in anxiety and sleep complaints in a test grouping of over 70 adult patients (1). In charting both their anxiety levels and overall sleep quality over half of all patients showed a marked – and continual – improvement to their symptoms over placebo.
Though this test is inconclusive on it’s own other, smaller-scale tests have shown similar results. A 2016 study done by the same researcher showed steady and persistent improvements to the anxiety-derived sleep issues of a younger patient (2), and an unrelated 2014 case series of four patients being treated for Parkinson’s disease showed substantial reduction in their associated REM sleep behavior disorders (3).
While clinical trials focusing purely on using CBD oil and other products as sleep aids is still a bit slim, more research has been done on the combination of both CBD and THC to improve sleep quality. In a 2018 paper titled “Effectiveness of Raw, Natural Medical Cannabis Flower for Treating Insomnia under Naturalistic Conditions” (4) a research team from the University of New Mexico used a specially-designed phone app to track the self-perceived ratings of insomnia from a subject group of over 400 individuals. On a 0-10 point scale users displayed an average reduction of sleep-related issues by -4.5 points, meaning if a patient initially rated their insomnia as an 8 out of 10 on the scale, their end rating after medicating with cannabis became a 3.5 instead. A notable, if not entirely scientific, decrease.
Interestingly, CBD’s effectiveness on the symptoms of poor sleep may depend heavily on dose. A 2014 study, done by a team of researchers based out of several universities in Mexico, showed that taking doses of less than 160 mg of CBD at a time can actually promote wakefulness (5). In other case studies CBD was often given at much higher doses, meaning it can potentially helpful in reducing the negative symptoms of sleep disorders in vastly different fashions.
Does CBD Use Have Side Effects?
Side effects for CBD oil and other products are thankfully few and typically not very harmful, though worth it is worth noting that CBD use can interact with medication such as blood thinners and other blood pressure medications. Bear in mind that articles such as ours are not designed to replace medical advice; diagnosis or treatment involving CBD should always be done under the supervision of your healthcare professional.
How Do You Take CBD as a Sleep Aid?
CBD is available in a wide variety of formats, from the familiar CBD oil-based products often found for sale over the counter to simple buds of THC-free hemp. We’ll go over some of the most common ways to dose CBD as a sleep aid below, with a list of pros & cons for each.
The most classic method of consuming cannabis, before sleep or otherwise, it is entirely possible to smoke hemp to gain the benefits of CBD. Though we often blanketly refer to THC-“free” cannabis as hemp not all such plants are made alike – While you can smoke industrial hemp, bred purely for it’s fibers, the odds of noticing any significant benefits are fairly slim. This type of hemp usually contains very little CBD, particularly compared to CBD-focused hemp farms who raise specific varieties of cannabis bred for their high CBD percentages.
The act of smoking hemp is the same as smoking any other form of cannabis: The flowering buds of the plant are harvested, cured, and then may be ground up before being placed inside of a wrap or smoking device. Many farms that raise CBD hemp will sell their flower as-is or in the form of pre-rolled joints and blunts. These same farms will also often sell hemp-derived isolate powders of CBD that may be sprinkled onto a self-rolled joint or pipe load prior to smoking.
Smoking can have some of the most pronounced, immediate effects, as the CBD travels into the lungs and then quickly into the body’s blood stream. Unfortunately smoking’s effects are short lived, and depending on the person may last anywhere from 2 to 6 hours before redosing is needed.
- Quick onset of effects
- Easy to take right before sleep
- Easy for those already comfortable smoking
- Difficult for non-smokers, requires glassware/papers/etc.
- Noticeable smell
Vaporizing is an attractive option for anyone who has both sleep issues and trouble smoking cannabis, as vaporizing is often seen as much less harsh on the lungs. Vaping CBD can come in two forms, either via a pre-mixed liquid or by using a specially designed vaporizing machine for plant matter & other concentrates.
CBD vape liquid is usually some fashion of CBD oil suspended in a mixture of vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol; often sold in pre-filled carts designed to fit in a variety of popular e-cigarette models CBD vape liquid can also be bought in larger containers, designed for refillable vape units. Vaping CBD from one of these is usually no different from any other e-liquid that can be used in the vaporizer of your choice.
Plant matter & concentrate vaporizers work by heating the material placed within up to a certain temperature, causing it to release it’s cannabinoid content in the form of water vapor. Any model designed to handle regular cannabis or THC concentrates can also be used to vaporize CBD flower or isolates.
Vaporizing typically has an onset time that rivals or outpaces smoking, making it the fastest guaranteed delivery system on our list; good when getting ready to lie down for sleep. Like smoking, though, expect to need to redose routinely, as the effects of cannabinoids taken in via the lungs tends to fade somewhat rapidly.
- Fastest possible onset time
- Easier on non-smokers
- Easy to take before going to sleep
- Can require expensive equipment
It’s easy to think of eating CBD in the same terms as eating THC, where eating cannabis edibles is known for having prolonged, notably different effects from smoking or vaporizing. The same is not true when measuring the effects of CBD, and using edibles may be a poor way to dose CBD for sleep disorders.
As with all molecules that go through our metabolic system CBD can be processed into an inert, unusable state long before it reaches our central nervous system. Eating CBD oil on it’s own, without anything else, can ultimately decrease it’s overall effectiveness, as our metabolism focuses purely on breaking the CBD compound down before it passes fully through our digestive tract.
A 2019 study completed on a group of adults with refactory epilepsy showed that the overall bio-availability of CBD could be increased by taking the substance in capsule form alongside a meal heavy in fats (6). Studies such as these suggest that CBD is “protected” in part from degradation in the body by being accompanied by fatty substances, allowing for greater overall exposure and efficiency in the use of CBD taken orally.
Unfortunately this also means that out of the potential methods of taking CBD, ingestion is potentially both the least efficient method and also has the longest onset of effects; expect a minimum of 45 minutes to 2 hours before relief becomes noticeable. For those looking to use CBD products to aid with sleep problems this means it may not be the best alternative to smoking, unless taken long before getting ready to sleep for the evening.
- Easier than smoking
- Requires no special equipment
- Less efficient
- Longest onset period; should be taken long before going to sleep
Tinctures & Topicals
Tinctures and topical CBD products usually function off the same mechanism: A high-concentrate CBD oil or extract is combined with a medium and then placed in a location where it can reach blood veins within the body.
Tinctures are typically a mixture of CBD extract and alcohol, designed to be held in the mouth along the gum line or underneath the tongue. From here the tincture soaks into the blood veins running just underneath the thin skin membranes of our mouth, making their way to the bloodstream. These tinctures may also further be swallowed, where they will behave similarly to any other edible CBD product.
Topical creams and ointments are formed from CBD infused substances such as oils or beeswax, to make the solution spreadable on the skin. Once rubbed into the body the CBD is then absorbed into the blood stream at the localized area.
Both tinctures and topicals reach the blood stream via absorption, meaning their effectiveness revolves solely on how quickly the absorption can occur. Alcohol in particular works as an effective medium for carrying other chemicals into our blood stream, making tinctures a method of quick uptake suitable for those who may have issues swallowing.
Topical ointments are often best applied either at an area where blood veins are prominent (the feet, neck, or back of the knees are good locations), but will still have noticeably slower onset times than CBD that’s been smoked or vaporized. Overall, if having to choose between the two as a sleep aid, tinctures may be your better option.
- Good for those with swallowing issues
- Allows very localized treatment in painful areas
- Easiest method of intake
- Taste or smell can be displeasing
- External use can have limited effects
Though studies on CBD and sleep-related disorders are still somewhat slim, taking CBD as a method to help people regulate their sleep-wake cycle is already a popular notion. More rigorously tested, scientific data is needed before a definitive statement can be made on CBD’s effectiveness in fighting anxiety and helping people sleep better, but the existing evidence seems promising, and more information is being made available every year.
We hope our article on how CBD effects sleep has been useful, but remember: If you’re having troubles with anxiety or restlessness, make sure to talk to your doctor (and maybe taking a good old-fashioned sleep study) first, before you begin taking any medications. Happy smoking (and sleeping)!
(4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6164964/ – Effectiveness of Raw, Natural Medical Cannabis Flower for Treating Insomnia under Naturalistic Conditions
(5) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4023456/ – Potential Effects of Cannabidiol as a Wake-Promoting Agent
(6) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24851090/ – Potential effects of cannabidiol as a wake-promoting agent
(7) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31247132/ – Food effect on pharmacokinetics of cannabidiol oral capsules in adult patients with refractory epilepsy