Evidence has shown CBD to be an effective natural treatment for insomnia.
Insomnia—poor sleep quality and duration—has many causes; historical evidence suggests using CBD for insomnia may be the answer.
A sleep disorder, insomnia is typically defined as difficulty falling or staying asleep. Symptoms include:
- Trouble falling asleep
- Waking often or difficulty going back to sleep
- Not sleeping long enough; awake too early
- Daytime grogginess
Insomnia’s many causes have their roots in mental health disorders, caffeine, and environmental or physical conditions. Among them are:
- Anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression
- Pain, either chronic or acute; restless leg syndrome
- Caffeine and certain prescription medications
People have been relying on cannabis for its therapeutic properties since ancient times. The Atharvaveda, a Hindu text dating to circa 1500 BC, mentions cannabis for its known health properties. In addition, a Chinese medical text from 1200 AD describes the use of cannabis for insomnia.
Today, more and more people are turning to CBD for its anecdotal therapeutic properties.
How CBD works for insomnia
The limited research into CBD and sleep mean that the effects of CBD aren’t well understood. Early research indicates CBD impacts the brain’s proteins and cells.
Cannabidiol (CBD) is extracted from Cannabis sativa, either from the hemp or cannabis plants. One of the most common forms of CBD is a mixture of CBD and a carrier oil, such as MCT oil and other extracts. Non-psychoactive, CBD oil contains less than 0.3% THC (the cannabinoid that is responsible for the intoxicating effects of cannabis).
CBD does not bind with CB1 and CB2, the body’s two cannabinoid receptors. Research seems to show that instead, CBD works with the endocannabinoid system for a positive effect on pain and anxiety, two major contributors to insomnia.
Given that every person reacts differently, experimenting with dosage is an essential factor in determining individual dosage levels. Tinctures and sublingual sprays offer immediate effect; edibles and oil release more slowly.
Research findings on CBD for the treatment of insomnia
Chronic, or even acute pain, can affect sleep quality and patterns. In 2018, a review in Frontiers in Pharmacology found there’s a good deal of evidence to support claims that CBD relieves pain that may cause insomnia.
In 2019, researchers examined whether CBD could improve sleep and anxiety. Of the study’s 72 subjects, 47 reported experiencing anxiety, and the remaining 25 reported poor sleep. Each of the study’s subjects received 25 mg of CBD daily. After the first month, 79.2% experienced less anxiety, and 66.7% reported improved sleep.
One longitudinal study, published in Medicines, collected data from 490 people from June 2019 to May 2018. The subjects initially rated their insomnia symptoms on a scale of 1 – 10, 10 being severe. On average, for all participants, initial symptoms were 6.6.
The participants used cannabis bud, with THC potency averaged at 20%, with an upper limit of 30%. CBD potency was 5.7% on average and capped at 30%. The cannabis was administered by vaporizer, pipe, or joint. During the course of the study, the average insomnia symptom rating decreased to 2.2, an overall rating decrease of 4.5.
The study’s delivery method (smoking the cannabis flower) leaves it inconclusive as to whether the insomnia relief was due to CBD or a combination of cannabinoids.
Consumer Reports conducted a survey of Americans reporting CBD use for insomnia. A majority of those surveyed said that CBD was effective for insomnia.
In conjunction with another Consumer Reports survey of 1,267 American adults, 80% reported poor sleep at least once a week. Prescription medications and traditional over-the-counter remedies not only have risks, but they are also often ineffective.
A 2017 Current Psychiatry Reports review of other research suggests that CBD may directly affect sleep through interaction with receptors in the brain that modulate circadian rhythms.
Using CBD for insomnia
CBD has several forms: oils/tinctures, pills/capsules, and edibles, such as gummies. Bodyweight, body chemistry, and the type of sleep disorder will affect the dosage and how CBD works for each individual.
In clinical trials, dosages ranged from 25 – 1500 mg per day. It’s best to start with a low dosage and gradually increase it until the dosage that works is reached. Don’t expect immediate results; it may take as much as a month to realize the benefits of CBD for insomnia.
Author Gabriel Aly uses the following CBD bedtime drink, a mix of tart cherry and white grape juices with ½ a dropper of valerian root tincture, and the preferred dosage of CBD oil.
Tart cherries are high in melatonin and valerian is a traditional homeopathic sleep aid. That means it’s difficult to say which of the valerian, cherries, or CBD is the most active ingredient for insomnia. At the very least, the cocktail is a refreshing change from OTC and prescription sleep aids. An added benefit is that most physicians do not recommend such sleep aids for more than 2 weeks.
Cooking with CBD can be another way to take CBD. Often it’s possible to do a straight substitution of CBD oil for olive or vegetable oil. It’s also possible to infuse butter with CBD and cook with that in recipes that call for butter. It’s important to remember that CBD edibles are slower to show results.
The outlook for CBD and insomnia
Author Gretchen Lidicker attributes CBD’s impact on insomnia to “its anti-anxiety properties and its ability to promote relaxation.” In part, CBD helps to raise melatonin levels to signal the body’s circadian rhythms directly.
Researchers’ progress into how CBD produces its effects has been slow, given cannabis’ legal status. There’s still a need for more research into how it works in the body. Results so far indicate that CBD interacts with the brain’s receptors, neurotransmitters, hormones, and other neurochemicals. The end result appears to be that those interactions can affect sleep quality and duration patterns.
The body of scientific research appears to give some support to the use of CBD as a sleep aid. A recent study supports CBD as a short-term solution for intermittent sleep problems, as well as long-term insomnia, primarily because of its effect on reducing anxiety.