everything you need to know about using cannabis for sleep

by Jannise Babbush, PhD
October 10, 2019

In this article, dreamt’s Dr. Jannise Babbush explores the existing scientific literature to explain cannabis for sleep, and how it really works.

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Cannabis is one of America’s favorite natural sleep aids. As many as 74% of cannabis consumers report using it in part to help them sleep [1]. Budtenders in the recreational and medical markets across the country are making a wide variety of recommendations to help those overcome their sleep-related ailments. But there is a lot of confusion, misinformation and hearsay in dispensaries and online about cannabis’ potential as a natural sleep aid.

In the following section, we’ll explain why cannabinoids can induce sleep, breakdown some of the commonly held myths, and explain how dreamt’s proprietary formula works.

the science behind cannabis for sleep

Given cannabis’ federal classification as a schedule-1 drug, there is relatively little scientific research into the plant and its medicinal properties.

There are a handful of studies that have attempted to understand cannabis’ sleep-inducing qualities. These studies found that cannabis flower significantly improved users’ perceived insomnia [2], and that THC generally reduced sleep onset latency and enhanced slow wave sleep (a.k.a deep sleep) [3].  While the exact mechanism is not known, THC is thought to induce sleep through the activation of receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system, a critical system involved in the regulation of sleep–wake cycles [4].

Interestingly, researchers showed that CBD had dose-dependent effects on sleep and at low doses was found to be wake promoting [3]. But the simultaneous administration of THC and CBD reduces the psychoactive effects while increasing the intensity and duration of THC’s natural sedating effects [5,6].

dreamt’s research into cannabis for sleep

dreamt’s Chief Scientific Officer Carolina Vazquez Mitchell, MS, is one of the estimated 100 million people in the United States that have difficulty sleeping. She has suffered from insomnia for most of her adult life, and has been using cannabis to treat her it for years.

Carolina first started using cannabis for sleep during her PhD studies at USC. “I was very resistant to using pharmaceutical sleep aids, though the more research I read about cannabis the more I came to understand its potential as a safe alternative.” 

She found flower unpredictable (more on that below), adding that it also was hard on her lungs and negatively affected athletic performance. Many of the sleep-related claims made by brands on the market at that time weren’t consistent with the scientific research. Nothing was the ‘natural silver bullet’ that she was looking for.

Carolina’s in-depth research led her to develop a beta version of dreamt, which harnessed cannabinoids THC and CBD as two key ingredients in collaboration with other sleep-inducing compounds.

But this early insight into the scant scientific research and often unsubstantiated claims in the cannabis industry set the stage for what Carolina would proudly call her “No B.S.” approach – No Bad Science

So, let’s dispel a few myths!

Indica vs Sativa – “The Myth”

You may be aware that the thousands of known cannabis strains have been largely divided into two categories based on the effects that users can expect to feel when consuming them: Indica and Sativa.

The commonly held theory is that Indicas put you down and Sativas put you up. If you have issues relating to sleep, chronic pain, or anxiety, your budtender might recommend a heavy indica, or an indica-dominant hybrid—a crossbreed between an indica and sativa strain. If you are looking for some creative energy, perhaps a little pep and zazz, your budtender may recommend a sativa, or a sativa-dominant hybrid.

But despite this categorization that largely informs the world’s cannabis consumption habits, their nomenclature has nothing to do with their effects.

The short, broad leaf plant cannabis indica is so called because it is native to the Indian subcontinent, growing in the foothills of the Himalayas, most famously in the rugged Kashmir region. Cannabis sativa on the other hand, is native to North America. It’s physically taller than cannabis indica, and the leaves are long and narrow.

And that’s it. 

Somewhere along the plant’s journey out of the foothills and into the coffee shops of Amsterdam, it picked up an arbitrary categorization that has stuck and isn’t relevant to the effects one can expect.

“There is no factual or scientific basis to making these broad sweeping recommendations, and it needs to stop today,” said Jeffrey Raber, PhD, who founded The Werc Shop, the first testing lab to analyze cannabis terpenes in a commercial capacity. “What we need to seek to understand better is which standardized cannabis composition is causing which effects, when delivered in which fashions, at which specific dosages, to which types of [consumers].”

Now that we have the myth out of the way, let’s talk about the attributes of cannabis that really impact your experience.

THC – “The High”

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis. When consumed, THC directly activates the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system, and is responsible for getting you high!

Research into cannabis and insomnia suggests that THC may have therapeutic potential for sleep particularly in reducing sleep onset latency (the time it takes to get to sleep) and increasing sleep quality [3]. This is particularly true for those with pain or anxiety, as THC tends to alleviate these symptoms which can disturb sleep.

CBD – “The Calm”

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that has shown tremendous therapeutic promise for ailments such as inflammation, pain, seizures/epilepsy, anxiety and sleep. CBD is known to have an inverse relationship with the body’s CB1 and CB2 receptors when compared to THC and because of this, CBD has been shown to counter some of the effects of THC, such as anxiety [7,8].

When CBD is taken with THC, users experience advantages beyond the therapeutic benefits that both drugs may bring individually. For example, some users report feeling a higher intensity and duration of THC’s sedating effects with less of the THC high [5.6].

As we mentioned above, THC and CBD together have been shown to have soporific qualities, with the CBD curbing THC’s intoxicating effects—which for some may manifest itself as anxiety—and extending its sedative qualities.

Terpenes – “The Vibe”

Terpenes play a huge role in giving cannabis its characteristics. They are the main components of essential oils, and are found naturally in a broad variety of plants. They are volatile aromatic molecules that give the cannabis plant its distinctive fragrance and particular psychoactive character. 

Terpenes such as myrcene (shown above), linalool, and limonene—all of which are present in dreamt’s formula—have been shown to have relaxing and/or sedating properties, whereas terpenes like pinene or geraniol have been shown to boost mood and energy [9].

Terpenes have pharmacological significance and have been used therapeutically throughout history. They are typically added to enhance the health benefits of many products either alone or synergistically. 

CBN – “The Mystery”

One cannabinoid that is getting a lot of hype at the moment for its reported sedative qualities is cannabinol, or CBN. When we explain dreamt to people hip to the hype they often ask, “Does it contain CBN??”.  

CBN is the molecule that is formed when THC is degraded by oxygen over time, or is simply heated and oxidized. Early studies found that CBN induced catalepsy in mice but only at doses that were also lethal and that it had much lower potency than THC as a psychotropic agent [10,11].  Aside from a handful of studies in the 70’s, there is little scientific evidence to support CBN’s effectiveness as a sleep aid.  

The process of synthesizing CBN results in extremely low yields, making incredibly expensive, or incredibly time consuming if done through natural degradation. And given that the jury is still very much out on its reputation as a sedative, CBN doesn’t have a place in dreamt’s formula.

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References

  1. Bachhuber, M., Arnsten, J. H., & Wurm, G. (2019). Use of cannabis to relieve pain and promote sleep by customers at an adult use dispensary. Journal of psychoactive drugs.
  2. Vigil, J., Stith, S., Diviant, J., Brockelman, F., Keeling, K., & Hall, B. (2018). Effectiveness of raw, natural medical Cannabis flower for treating insomnia under naturalistic conditions. Medicines, 5(3), 75.
  3. Babson, K. A., Sottile, J., & Morabito, D. (2017). Cannabis, cannabinoids, and sleep: a review of the literature. Current psychiatry reports, 19(4), 23.
  4. Murillo-Rodríguez, E. (2008). The role of the CB1 receptor in the regulation of sleep. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry, 32(6), 1420-1427.
  5. Nicholson, A. N., Turner, C., Stone, B. M., & Robson, P. J. (2004). Effect of Δ-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol on nocturnal sleep and early-morning behavior in young adults. Journal of clinical psychopharmacology, 24(3), 305-313.
  6. Hollister, L. E., & Gillespie, H. (1975). Interactions in man of delta‐9‐tetrahydrocannabinol; II. Cannabinol and cannabidiol. Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 18(1), 80-83.
  7. Russo, E., & Guy, G. W. (2006). A tale of two cannabinoids: the therapeutic rationale for combining tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol. Medical hypotheses, 66(2), 234-246.
  8. Lucas, C. J., Galettis, P., & Schneider, J. (2018). The pharmacokinetics and the pharmacodynamics of cannabinoids. British journal of clinical pharmacology, 84(11), 2477-2482.
  9. Do Vale, T. G., Furtado, E. C., Santos Jr, J. G., & Viana, G. S. B. (2002). Central effects of citral, myrcene and limonene, constituents of essential oil chemotypes from Lippia alba (Mill.) NE Brown. Phytomedicine, 9(8), 709-714.
  10. Pertwee, R. G. (2006). Cannabinoid pharmacology: the first 66 years. British journal of pharmacology, 147(S1), S163-S171.
  11. Karniol, I. G., Shirakawa, I., Takahashi, R. N., Knobel, E., & Musty, R. E. (1975). Effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabinol in man. Pharmacology, 13(6), 502-512.