CBD for Insomnia

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People with insomnia can suffer from various sleep challenges, from difficulty falling or staying asleep to not getting enough rest at night. Insomnia affects 20-30% of adults, and can range from a short-term symptom caused by high stress to a chronic condition affecting up to 15% of the US population.

Several studies have shown below that CBD oil might help improve sleep disorders.

CBD is a botanical extract derived from the cannabis plant, used for conditions including insomnia. Research has found that CBD may improve symptoms linked to REM sleep behavior disorder and shows potential for treating excessive daytime sleepiness.

About Cannabis and Cannabinoids

There are many slang terms for the green, narrow-leafed plant that you may recognize. It is scientifically called Cannabis sativa and can be used in any products made from the plant. The word “cannabis” refers to anything made from the same type of plant containing a group of chemical compounds, including cannabinoids. Out of 100 or more cannabinoids, researchers have mainly studied two: THC and CBD, because they appear to have a greater impact on human beings

Cannabinoids and terpenes are the main medically active components in cannabis (aka marijuana). For more information on these components, and much more about the plant, see our section on the Science of Cannabis.

What’s Your Sleep Disorder?

What we call “primary” insomnia is sleeplessness that has no chemical or environmental causes. Sometimes it is an overactive mind that doesn’t allow rest.  People simply have difficulty in getting to sleep or staying asleep.

Insomnia can occur during times of stress. It can be caused by altered neurochemicals such as the “sleep” neurotransmitters (serotonin or GABA) or come about because of increased stress hormone (cortisol).

Other forms of sleeplessness may occur as a result of substance abuse or drug withdrawal (including from marijuana). It can also be caused by a disruption of the body’s biological clock, such as a shift in time zones, jet lag or working at odd hours.

Poor sleep habits often contribute to the problem as well as medical conditions such as sleep apnea, restless legs, night sweats, and chronic pain.

What Academic Research Institutions Say

In 2019, a research study published in the Journal of Sleep Research looked at whether CBD oil can decrease anxiety and improve sleep. Subjects were each given 25 mg of CBD in capsule form each day. For 79% of people, anxiety decreased after the first month. Sleep scores improved from 66% — indicating  less trouble sleeping.

People with an anxiety disorder who use medical cannabis for anxiety-related disorders routinely reported better sleep. In a survey of people in California, 71% stated that they were using cannabis to improve sleep, with 14% reporting that it was the main symptom for which they were seeking treatment.

In 2014, researchers put four people with Parkinson’s disease on CBD and saw dramatic improvements in their symptoms of RBD: a neurological disorder that causes you to act out your dreams during REM sleep, and can cause insomnia for sufferers (due to chronic nightmares.) A 2017 review also found that CBD may be useful in treating RBD and excessive daytime sleepiness.

Most people have traditionally used THC rich strains for sleep, as THC can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, decrease REM sleep behavior disorder sleep, and increase total sleep time. In studies of Sativex, an extract with approximately 1:1 CBD/THC, it was found that while Sativex had little effect on recorded sleep hours, it “produced marked changes in reported sleep quality.”

Several studies of Sativex in people with pain confirmed improved sleep quality. People with chronic insomnia used strains of mixed CBD and THC content. According to their data, it looks like a 1:2 mix of CBD/THC produced good results for sleep. They noted the strains and found Indica to be better than Sativa. CBD alone is generally not helpful for sleep unless it is used in high doses.

Research suggests that people report improved sleep when using cannabis. Most people who use cannabis for insomnia report restful sleep with less drowsiness the next day as compared with over the counter or prescription medications. In fact, it suggests that CBD can reduce or eliminate their previous sleeping medicines, with fewer side effects.

Many had tried over-the-counter sleep aids,  or prescription sleep medications. They complained that sleeping pills didn’t work very well or had a “hangover” effect the next day. Some were concerned about the side effects or potential habit-forming properties of prescription sleeping aids. 

Ironically, many pharmaceuticals that are used to treat insomnia may actually cause sleeplessness if they are withdrawn or skipped. Cannabis does not appear to create the same sort of dependence so people can use it as needed. In fact, the 2014 study noted above showed that CBD might have the potential to promote wakefulness based on human and relevant animal studies. However, the authors suggest that they aren’t sure how or why CBD encourages clear thinking in some instances.

Additional research is needed to better understand CBD’s overall role in sleep disorders, as well as any long term safety and side effects of cannabidiol. 

A Good Night’s Sleep with CBD

For insomnia, it is important to use CBD products in a long-acting form. This includes capsules, cbd gummies, edibles or tincture, especially if you’re waking up in the middle of the night. Indica strains are considered to be the best as sedatives, especially those containing the terpene myrcene, with its musty aroma.

Preparations containing the cannabinoid CBN, even in small amounts are also effective. Dosage depends upon whether people are weaning off of sleep medications, or have mild or severe insomnia. THC can be taken from 10 mg up to 50 mg, while 1 mg of CBN is all that is needed to be effective. CBD alone is not generally used for insomnia, but at high CBD dosage (50 mg of cbd or more) there may be an increased mental sedation.

If you only need help falling asleep, then inhalation is for you. A few puffs of an Indica before bed is often enough.

Safety and side effects advice: talk to your doctor

It’s important to talk with your doctor before taking other medications, including CBD. Your doctor is in the best position to tell you how CBD can help improve your sleep, given their knowledge of your complete health situation.

FAQ

CBD terms

  • CBD isolate: Pure CBD and does not contain any other cannabinoids.
  • Full-spectrum CBD: High doses of CBD and lower levels of the other cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes.
  • Broad-spectrum CBD: High levels of CBD and other cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes. Certain plant substances should be removed.
  • Flavonoids: Flavors in cannabis vary by strain, with small chemical differences creating variety.
  • Terpenes: The chemicals that give each plant its distinctive smell and provide varying degrees of health benefits.
References
  • Bisogno T, et al. Molecular targets for cannabidiol and its synthetic analogues: effect on vanilloid VR1 receptors and on the cellular uptake and enzymatic hydrolysis of anandamide. Journal of Pharmacology. 2001, 134: 845-852.
  • Nicholson AN, Turner C, Stone BM, Robson PJ. Effect of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol on nocturnal sleep and early-morning behavior in young adults. Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. 2004, 24(3): 305-13. 
  • Nunberg H, et al. An analysis of applicants presenting to a medical marijuana specialty practice in California.  Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. 2011, 4(1): 1-16. 
  • Russo E, et al. Cannabis, pain, and sleep: Lessons from therapeutic clinical trials of sativex, a cannabis-based medicine. Chemistry and Biodiversity. 2007, 4: 1729-1743. 
  • Vigil JM, et al. Effectiveness of raw, natural medical cannabis flower for treating insomnia under naturalistic conditions. Medicines (Basel). 2018, 5(3): 75.