A good night’s sleep is essential to your overall health and wellbeing. Experts recommend adults sleep seven to nine hours1 each night. Proper sleep ensures you feel well-rested and have energy for the next day2. A good night’s rest also contributes to memory formation, helps grow and repair muscle and tissue, and prevents sickness.
Unfortunately, falling asleep or staying asleep can be difficult for certain types of sleepers. As many as 70% of Americans3 report not sleeping the recommended hours, and nearly one-third of American workers sleep less than six hours per night4. Solutions for better sleep and avoiding sleep debt vary. Possible approaches include improved sleep hygiene, prescription sleep aids, and natural sleep aids.
One increasingly popular strategy for sleeping better is taking cannabidiol (CBD), a derivative of cannabis. CBD is commonly used to improve sleep and decrease anxiety. However, the regulation of CBD in the United States is limited, and much more research must be done to determine the exact effects CBD has on sleep and other physical and mental health concerns.
While there are many different slang terms for the green, narrow-leafed plant you may recognize, the plant is scientifically called Cannabis sativa5. The word “cannabis” can be used to describe any products made from the plant. Cannabis plants contain multiple chemical compounds, including a group referred to as “cannabinoids.” Out of more than 100 cannabinoids, researchers have primarily studied two that appear to have the greatest impact on humans: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD.
What Is Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)?
Most commonly known effects of cannabis, such as “getting high,” are caused by the cannabinoid, THC6. The term “marijuana” specifically refers to parts of the Cannabis sativa plant that contain THC.
Cannabis plants and derivatives that contain less than 0.3%7 THC are classified as “hemp.” As of 2018, hemp is no longer defined as a controlled substance by the U.S. federal government. As a result, there has been an influx of hemp-related products in the American market. These products are generally marketed as CBD products.
CBD, the other commonly known cannabinoid, can be legally sold in the U.S. when extracted from hemp8 and marketed according to relevant regulations. CBD does not have psychoactive properties9 and does not bring about the same effects as THC. Also, CBD does not have effects that would lead to potential dependency10 or risk of abuse.
CBD is an increasingly popular substance in the U.S. While many health benefits have been attributed to CBD, in most cases, scientific validity of its effectiveness is still unclear.
What Forms Does CBD Come In?
There are several common forms of CBD:
- Oral sprays that are applied under the tongue
- Oils and tinctures, sometimes described as drops or droplets16
- Vapes and vape juices to use in a vaping pen
- Edible items, such as gummies, chocolates, or cookies, and beverages, such as coffees and teas
- Pills and capsules
- Topical solutions, including lotions, creams, patches, gels, and ointments
What Are Common Doses of CBD?
Outside of Epidiolex, the FDA doesn’t regulate dosing of non-drug CBD products. As a result, the amount of CBD in products varies widely among forms.
Research shows 300-mg oral doses of CBD can be taken safely on a daily basis for up to six months. One scientific review showed that taking up to 1,500 mg daily17 was well-tolerated by participants. A subsequent review confirmed that use of 1,500 mg daily for four weeks18 showed no negative effects.
What Are the Effects of Taking CBD?
Research shows that CBD has a calming effect on the nervous system20. CBD can also alter mood because it affects the serotonin system. Outcomes vary among people and depend on the product type and dose.
Unlike THC, CBD does not induce a feeling of being “high.” Even large doses of CBD do not produce THC-like effects. Additionally, a few studies have demonstrated that CBD reduces the psychoactive effects of THC.
Studies of short-term CBD use show that patients do not experience withdrawal21.
What Health Conditions Can CBD Help With?
So far, CBD’s effectiveness in the treatment of epilepsy is well-supported by research. Other early research suggests that CBD may also help treat schizophrenia and substance use disorders.
Currently, there is insufficient research to determine the effectiveness of CBD in treating other health conditions. However, preliminary research suggests CBD can help with a number of sleep disorders, including insomnia22 REM sleep behavior disorder23, and excessive daytime sleepiness disorder24. Additional preliminary research suggests CBD can also help patients improve sleep and reduce anxiety.
How Can CBD Help With Sleep Disorders?
Research on the effects CBD has on sleep disorders is still preliminary. Some people who use CBD for chronic pain report sleeping better. Currently, it is unclear whether these patients sleep better because of the pain relief or because CBD directly affects their sleep.
Other initial studies of CBD and sleep disorders suggest positive outcomes. However, not everyone experiences the same sleep benefits with CBD use, and different doses might lead to different effects. Research suggests that low doses of CBD are stimulating, while high doses of CBD are sedating. Discrepancies in experience can also be attributed to the method of CBD administration and dose. Additional research is needed to deepen our understanding of CBD as an intervention for sleep disorders.
While not a sleep disorder itself, anxiety can contribute to poor quality sleep, insufficient sleep, and sleep disorders. Because CBD calms the nervous system, early research indicates that CBD can be used to treat anxiety-related disorders. One study showed that nearly 80% of participants who used CBD to treat their anxiety reported lower anxiety levels within a month. Sleep initially improved in more than 65% percent of participants, followed by fluctuating results.
Insomnia and CBD
People who suffer from insomnia experience difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep25 at night. This disorder affects daytime wakefulness, ability to concentrate, and mood. Because of their history of poor sleep, people with insomnia may suffer from anxiety about getting inadequate sleep, which can then increase sleeplessness at night26.
Given the potential positive outcomes of CBD treating anxiety, it is speculated that CBD may also help reduce the anxiety associated with insomnia. Additionally, a new pilot study27 of CBD and THC use in humans with physician-diagnosed insomnia is underway. The results of the study will offer more insight into the effects CBD has on insomnia.
REM Sleep Behavior Disorder and CBD
In REM sleep behavior disorder, patients verbalize and make aggressive movements28 during their rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. The disorder is most common in older patients with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
In a limited study of four patients with Parkinson’s disease, CBD helped manage the REM sleep behavior disorder symptoms. Before taking CBD, the patients experienced disorder symptoms 2–7 times per week. After taking CBD, the symptoms occurred 0–1 times in a week. Further studies are necessary, but these initial results suggest CBD as a possible treatment for REM sleep behavior disorder.
Excessive Daytime Sleepiness Disorder and CBD
Those who have excessive daytime sleepiness disorder struggle to stay awake during typical daytime hours. One solution for waking up on time and staying wake may be CBD. Initial research on animals shows that CBD functions as a wake-inducing drug. However, other studies suggest CBD functions as a sedating drug. Further research is needed to determine what doses and methods of CBD use affect wakefulness and sleepiness.