The following is a guest post from the experts at Bioloop Sleep, a service that pairs professional sleep coaches with individuals to provide personalized sleep coaching and programs.
People have recreationally used cannabis for centuries for its calming effects. Nowadays, its recreational use is also channeled toward sleep health, and people consume cannabis to fall asleep since it's affordable, accessible, and legal in some parts of the US.
Cannabis is a plant made up of hundreds of different compounds called cannabinoids, two of which are well known: Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
THC gives you the high associated with cannabis with its own distinct effect on sleeping. CBD, on the other hand, is not psychoactive (meaning it doesn't get you high) and has a range of health benefits that people use for treating anxiety, sleep, and to optimize physical and mental performance. Because of these effects, people have started to turn to CBD as a treatment for sleep disorders or poor sleep in general.
But how does CBD affect sleep, and is there evidence for using CBD oil for sleep? Let's dip into the science.
The endocannabinoid system
We synthesize internal cannabinoids, and so our nervous system and bodies are equipped to receive cannabinoid molecules and respond to them in a profound way.
The system that is able to receive and interact with cannabinoids is called the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is made up of cells throughout the brain and body.
Both THC and CBD interact with different parts of the endocannabinoid system because they have different molecular partners, or receptors. Once they're matched with their receptors, they kick off a variety of cellular processes that have different effects on sleep. THC binds to its CB1 receptor, whereas CBD mostly binds to CB2 receptors.
Generally, CB1 receptors are found in brain regions involved in reward, hormone regulation, circadian cycling, and emotional processing. CB2 receptors, however, are predominantly found in the brainstem, immune cells, liver, and lung cells.
The different distributions of CB receptors account for the difference in effects that both THC and CBD have on the body and our behavior.
The two cannabinoids also interact with each other. CBD works against THC and limits its effects. CBD is also an antagonist to CB1 receptors, which actually blunts the high induced by consuming THC, since THC cannot bind to its favorite CB1 partner.
Effects of CBD on sleep
CBD isolate has anti-inflammatory, antianxiety, and antidepressant effects. CBD is used as a supplement in a variety of health conditions. CBD interacts with serotonin receptors as well, suggesting a possible role in mood and sleep regulation.
In insomnia patients, CBD lessened nighttime awakenings and increased total sleep time, which instills optimism in those using CBD as a sleep aid. A recent study, however, shows that in healthy individuals, 300 mg of CBD did not change sleep architecture. This suggests a more indirect pathway from CBD to sleep improvement.
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Anxiety often co-occurs with poor sleep quality, fragmented sleep, and sometimes insomnia. Sleep disturbance ranks second as the most common complaint in people with anxiety disorders. It is possible that taking CBD helps calm these anxiety symptoms, and then help you sleep, instead of directly impacting sleep systems in your brain.
In terms of mood, CBD also interacts with serotonin receptors, further balancing mood and indirectly helping people fall asleep.
CBD and circadian rhythms
As with most substances that affect sleep and wake systems, taking CBD may also have different effects when you take it throughout the day.
Our internal cannabinoids (made by us) are in tune with our daily 24-hour biological rhythm. Cannabinoids can even act as a way of entraining our systems as a zeitgeber, or "time-giver." These are cues that let our bodies know where we are in our biological cycle. Light is a potent zeitgeber, and we can become accustomed to new time zones and seasons because the light helps us signal to our brains that we are either existing in the day time or night time.
Similarly, external cannabinoids such as CBD (and THC) do the same thing.
Depending on the time of day that you take CBD, it'll have different effects on your sleep/wake cycle. This may partly explain the mixed results of research about whether CBD and sleep are intertwined.
Understanding the different forms of CBD
There are multiple forms of CBD to supplement sleep. As we mentioned earlier, the cannabis plant is made up of multiple compounds. CBD is extracted from hemp that has less than 0.3% THC content.
Inside hemp are cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. Terpenes provide the aroma of the cannabis plant, whereas flavonoids are more complex and have nutritional benefits. Full-spectrum CBD includes all components of the cannabis plant. Broad-spectrum CBD contains most of these compounds, whereas CBD isolate is CBD on its lonesome. CBD products are available in a variety of forms and use different extraction methods, which vary by brand.
How much CBD should I take for sleep?
Using CBD oil for sleep is common since it's a stress-reliever with a calming effect, and low stress is essential for a good night's rest. When using CBD for sleep, the doses of CBD that you take are crucial. Taking lower doses (25 mg of CBD or less) before sleeping provides a mild calming effect, whereas doses higher than 300 mg of CBD could provide a sedative effect. CBD oil is sometimes combined with another sleep aid to specifically target sleep systems; for instance, House of Wise's CBD sleep gummies and drops are formulated with 5 mg melatonin and 25 mg of hemp-derived, full-spectrum CBD oil to help bring on a good night's rest.
Disclaimer: for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of sleep-related disorders, please consult a medical professional.