Does CBD make you sleepy? It seems like an easy question to answer — everyone knows that CBD is derived from the cannabis plant, which has a reputation for its sedative properties. However, this may be a case where the “obvious” answer isn’t necessarily the correct one.
The growing number of states that allow cannabis to be used for medical or recreational purposes, along with the federal legalization of hemp as part of the 2018 Farm Bill, has made cannabis research easier in recent years. However, decades of prohibition have left the scientific community scrambling to catch up on this suddenly hot topic.
“As the political fog that has surrounded the true hazards and benefits of cannabis is lifted, medical science hopes to discover what dangers it poses to users and what symptoms and illnesses it can either cure or at the very least mitigate,” said Dr. Samoon Ahmad of the Integrative Center for Wellness in New York City.
He’s one of a growing number of medical professionals who are hoping to do away with many of the misconceptions surrounding cannabis and the various compounds found in the plant (known as cannabinoids). The two most well-known cannabinoids are THC and CBD—the former being the primary psychoactive component of cannabis, the latter being one of the plant’s many non-intoxicating compounds.
“As CBD has only recently become popular, many consumers do not know what if any medicinal qualities it possesses,” Dr. Ahmad said. Consequently, some dubiously reputable companies have begun marketing products that contain CBD as a cure for everything from cancer to the common cold. “It is like the Wild West,” he concluded.
For example, some have proposed that CBD oil (which can be consumed in 6 ways) can be used as a sedative or a sleep aid. While it is true that CBD has been shown to reduce anxiety and to calm one’s nerves, the full story is more complicated than it seems at first glance.
Studies have shown that low to moderate doses of pure CBD do not produce a sedative effect in users. Similarly, no sedative effects were observed in subjects when they were given larger doses of CBD. A study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry in 2008 found that even 600 mg oral doses of CBD failed to produce sedative effects in the subjects who participated in the study. In fact, CBD does the opposite; it counteracts the sedative qualities associated with THC.
Meanwhile, to suggest that CBD induces sleep seems tenuous at best. A study published in the journal Neuropharmacology in 2012 found that CBD could reduce anxiety levels in subjects suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and that alleviated anxiety-induced REM sleep suppression. However, the study’s authors remained skeptical about CBD’s ability to improve patients’ sleep.
Other studies produced reports that found, rather than being a potential sleep aid, CBD may actually be a stimulant. In a study that monitored the effects of CBD in rats, researchers found that “it might be of therapeutic value in sleep disorders such as excessive somnolence.” Writing in Current Psychiatry Reports in 2017, another team of researchers found that CBD shows promise for those suffering from “excessive daytime sleepiness.” Finally, a study published in Behavioral Neuroscience characterized CBD is a “wake-inducing agent.”
In other words, the claim that pure CBD will help patients with sleep issues is true … but only if the issue is sleeping too much or struggling to stay awake.
Not exactly. Very few products on the market contain nothing but pure CBD oil. This is not to say that they contain additives; rather, they contain cannabinoids and other compounds found in the cannabis plant. Some of these naturally-occurring compounds are known as terpenes. Terpenes are the largest group of plant chemicals, and the roles they play in plants’ biochemistry range from growth and development to defense. They also give plants their unique flavors or aromas. Limonene, for example, has a citrus flavor; a-pinene tastes of pine; and myrcene has an herbal, mildly citrusy character.
On top of providing different flavors and aromas to plants, some of these compounds have medicinal properties. Research has found that myrcene, for example, has a strong narcotic effect. Dr. Ethan Russo of the International Cannabis and Cannabinoids Institute in Prague recently wrote in Trends in Pharmacological Sciences that myrcene “displays a prominent narcotic-like profile that is seemingly responsible for the ‘couch lock’ phenomenon frequently associated with modern cannabis phenomenology.” Dr. Russo also observes that CBD products with high levels of myrcene have been shown to produce sedating effects. Products that contain low levels of myrcene, on the other hand, have been characterized as non-sedating.
So does that mean CBD with lots of myrcene will put you to sleep, but CBD without much myrcene won’t? It seems that way, but no formal studies have confirmed this yet. As Dr. Ahmad said, CBD is still in the Wild West, and we have much to learn about what it is — and isn’t — capable of doing.