According to the National Sleep Foundation, 50 to 70 million U.S. adults experience symptoms of a sleep disorder. About 30 to 40 percent of the population will experience insomnia at some point in their lives, and about 10 to 15 percent of adults will deal with chronic insomnia.
With so many people experiencing sleeping disorders, there’s been a rise of interest in one controversial cure: cannabis. Many in the medical marijuana community refer to cannabis as an effective treatment, with little to no side effects, for a range of sleeping disorders. In one study, approximately one fourth of recreational users reported using cannabis to help them relax and achieve sleep.
Despite its widespread use and lengthy history of human consumption, the biochemical properties and pharmacological effects of cannabis are still being fully elucidated. At the moment, the cannabis plant is thought to be made up of more than 500 chemical compounds, 104 of them being defined phytocannabinoids.
The two phytocannabinoids that have been the best characterized in regard to their pharmacological effects and potential uses in treating sleep disorders are: _9-tetrahydrocannabinol (_9-THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). The effects of these two phytocannabinoids are modulated through CB1 and CB2 receptors; found through-out the body.
As the human endocannabinoid system has been characterized, several human and animal studies have also identified an association between this system and the sleep wake cycle. This association includes the observation that levels of multiple endocannabinoids and CB1 vary throughout the sleep wake cycle and are under circadian control (Prospéro-García, Amancio-Belmont, Becerril Meléndez, Ruiz-Contreras, & Méndez-Diaz, 2016). In addition, multiple endocannabinoids have been shown to promote both REM and NREM sleep through various pathways and brain structures (Prospéro-García et al., 2016).
A total of 18 studies (since 2007) have investigated the effects of THC treatments on sleep, these studies used the synthetic equivalents of THC, nabilone, and dronabinol, to treat patients with various ailments. Of note, sleep was primarily observed as a secondary outcome. Despite this limitation, the majority of the studies reported that THC analogue use improved subjective sleep quality. Seven of these studies also reported subjective decreases in sleep disturbances and in nightmare frequency
With that being said, CBD and THC affect sleep in different ways. Both are components found in marijuana, but THC is psychoactive meaning you get high from it, while CBD doesn’t make you feel high. Strains of marijuana that are high in CBD versus THC may actually have the opposite effect from what you want to achieve if you have insomnia. High CBD marijuana strains tend to have no effect on how sleepy you are at night, but they can help you stay up during the day if you’re feeling tired.
Work examining CBD, a non-intoxicating cannabinoid with a low addiction profile, has demonstrated differential effects on sleep based on dose. Specifically, low doses of CBD have been shown to be stimulating; In comparison, medium- and high-dose CBD is sedating and has been examined in the context of a number of sleep disorders including insomnia. Here, initial basic research has suggested that medium-/high-dose CBD is associated with an increase in the percentage of total sleep. This is supported by a pilot study in humans showing that high-dose CBD was associated with improved sleep, however, when combined with THC may result in a decrease in slow wave sleep. A preliminary study has also suggested that CBD may suppress REM behavior disorder in individuals with Parkinson’s disease.
Cannabinoids have gotten a lot of attention for their potential benefits for sleep, mood and pain, as well as other health issues. But terpenes also appear to play a pretty significant role in the effects of cannabis, including its ability to affect sleep. We’re still learning about how terpenes affect the body and mind. But scientists think they may work to enhance the effects of different cannabinoids, as well as affecting the body directly in a range of ways. Terpenes are tiny, aromatic molecules in cannabis that create its smell and taste.
There are more than 150 different terpenes that have been identified. Different combinations of terpenes in different strains of cannabis create distinctive tastes and smells. They also contribute to different strains having different effects when we consume them. Science shows terpenes have effects on energy, mood, sleepiness and alertness. As an example, Myrcene, which is commonly occurring in cannabis, this terpene is also found in a lot of fruits and herbs, including mangoes, basil, thyme, and lemongrass, as well as in the sleep-promoting plants hops and ylang ylang. Myrcene has been shown to have sedative effects. It also functions as an anti-inflammatory agent.
In conclusion, available evidence suggests that administration of THC and THC-derivatives, alone or in combination with CBD and terpenes, may improve self-reported sleep. However, randomized, placebo controlled trials designed to specifically investigate the potential benefits or harms (e.g., side effects) of the use of cannabinoids for sleep disorders are required before any firm conclusion can be made.
But how do you know the proper THC:CBD combination that will be effective for you? That would depend on many factors, including how your body metabolizes THC and CBD (and to a certain degree, caffeine). The answer to these questions, and more, lies within the CannabisDNA Report. Learn more about the science of our newest test, or order your $129 CannabisDNA at-home kit today!
- Cannabis, Cannabinoids, and Sleep: a Review of the Literature Kimberly A. Babson1 & James Sottile2 & Danielle Morabito1 Curr Psychiatry Rep (2017) 19: 23
- Farabi SS, Prasad B, Quinn L, Carley DW. Impact of dronabinol on quantitative electroencephalogram (qEEG) measures of sleep in obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. J Clin Sleep Med. 2014;10(1):49–56.
- Murillo-Rodriguez E, Sarro-Ramirez A, Sanchez D, Mijangos-Moreno S, Tejeda-Padron A, Poot-Ake A, et al. Potential effectsof cannabidiol as a wake-promoting agent. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2014;12(3):269–72.
- Dose-dependent cannabis use, depressive symptoms, and FAAH genotype predict sleep quality in emerging adults: a pilot study Kristin E. Maple, MS, Kymberly A. McDaniel, BA, Skyler G. Shollenbarger, MS, and Krista M. Lisdahl, PhD THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF DRUG AND ALCOHOL ABUSE 2016, VOL. 42, NO. 4, 431–440
- The Use of Cannabinoids for Sleep: A Critical Review on Clinical Trials Nirushi Kuhathasan and Alexander Dufort James MacKillop Raymond Gottschalk Luciano Minuzzi and Benicio N. Frey McMaster University and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology 2019, Vol. 27, No. 4, 383–401