One of the most common reasons people use cannabis or hemp products is to help them sleep. Those seeking sleep aid but wanting to avoid feeling high generally assume that CBD will help them sleep without any intoxication, but in fact, depending on the dose of CBD they take, it could make it even more difficult to fall asleep.
The discovery and history of CBD
Although cannabinol (CBN) has the honor of being the first cannabinoid ever discovered, CBD was a close second. In 1940, Roger Adams and his colleagues at the University of Illinois first isolated CBN, and later that same year isolated CBD. At that point, little was known about the effects or chemical structure.
It took until 1963, when Raphael Mechoulam elucidated the chemical structure of CBD, a year before he elucidated THC. Once the intoxicating effects of THC were discovered by Raphael Mechulam in 1964, CBD was largely ignored, even by the research community. Then, in 2008, with the arrival of the world’s first cannabis testing laboratory, CBD was rediscovered and has been the subject of considerable study ever since.
CBD for sleep
In 1981, one of the earliest studies investigating the relationship of CBD to sleep found that subjects who received 160 mg of cannabidiol reported sleeping significantly more than those who received a placebo. While some of the study volunteers used doses lower than 160 mg, those lower doses were not reported to have as strong a sedative effect. A 2012 literature review summarized the extent of research over the previous three decades on CBD and sedation, clinical trials suggest that high doses of oral CBD (150600 mg/d) may have a therapeutic effect for social anxiety disorder, insomnia and epilepsy, but also so it can cause mental sedation. The following year, a study done on rats found that those sedative effects applied to rodents as well as humans, with rodents experiencing increased total sleep time in addition to an increase in sleep latency.
More recently, a 2019 study using humans instead of rodents found sleep benefits for some patients, but their data is limited because dosing was inconsistent. However, they noted that sleep scores improved within the first month in 48 patients (66.7%) but fluctuated over time, with that fluctuation largely occurring after patients received outpatient care and consistent dosing became even more difficult. . The researchers didn’t do a good job of reporting what dose of CBD matched the sleep benefits, but they noted past research that higher doses resulted in longer sleep duration.
CBD for alertness
Astute readers may now be wondering, if the research is pretty consistent that a high dose of CBD, generally above 160mg of CBD, produces a sense of sedation, what about a lower dose? That’s where the science of CBD and sleep gets really complicated, and is a perfect illustration of the biphasic properties of many cannabinoids (where low doses produce one effect and higher doses produce a radically different response).
In 1977, four years before Carlini and Cunha published their study showing that high doses of CBD could improve sleep, Monti showed that CBD could cause rats to sleep less. In 2006, Eric Rodriguez led a team of researchers, including Rafael Mechoulam, on a study that expanded on Montis’ research and showed that low doses of CBD induced alertness and suggested that it may have therapeutic value in sleep disorders such as is excessive sleepiness. Rodriguez followed up his study two years later, which found CBD to be a wake-inducing compound at low doses. In 2014, Rodriguez conducted a review of the literature on CBD’s effects on sleep, which noted conflicting results on CBD’s effect on sleep, going back to the earliest days of CBD research. Rodríguez’s review of the literature indicated differences in the route of administration, vehicle used, doses, subjects, etc. as the reason for the paradoxically different effects of CBD on sleep and wakefulness. In a 2019 study on narcolepsy, Rodriguez and his team suggested that CBD may prevent sleepiness in narcolepsy.
What do consumers really want?
Now that we’ve covered the research on CBD’s effects on sleep, let’s take a moment to discuss what consumers are actually looking for when looking for a CBD product to help them sleep. It is important for individuals to ask themselves, what is keeping me from sleeping? Is their core issue a lack of sedation, i.e. they can’t get tired? Or is it racing thoughts, pain, or something else that keeps them from sleeping? The Budtenders Guide is a wonderful handbook for aspiring youngsters and consumers to have a deeper understanding of the various cannabis products and the medicinal effects of cannabis.
If one’s core problem is not getting sleepy, in other words, not feeling tired, then they will probably need a much higher dose of CBD to achieve the desired outcome. If their main problem is pain, racing thoughts, or one of the countless other things that CBD can help with, they may be able to use a lower dose to achieve the desired sleep results, but they should take their CBD a few hours before bed , so the warning effects have some time to wear off.
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