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CBD and Sleep

The popularity of cannabidiol, or CBD, has exploded over the last few years. CBD seems to be everywhere, in everything from capsules to coffee. Sales of the compound are expected to increase by forty times in the next three years. CBD is now legal in all fifty states, and can be purchased online and in shops across the country.

CBD has been heralded as a remedy for a wide range of health concerns, including insomnia. Though the science is limited and conflicting, there is increasing evidence that CBD may indeed impact sleep. What does the latest research say about CBD for sleep? Does it make sleep easier or more difficult? And is it safe to take?

Note: The content on Sleepopolis is meant to be informative in nature, but it shouldn’t take the place of medical advice and supervision from a trained professional. If you feel you may be suffering from any sleep disorder or medical condition, please see your healthcare provider immediately.

What is CBD?

Cannabidiol, commonly referred to as CBD, is a natural compound found in the flower of the cannabis plant.Cannabis contains more than a hundred phytocannabinoids, or natural chemical compounds. Most of these are found in the resinous substance produced by the plant’s fine, crystal-like trichomes, or hairs.

CBD is typically derived from industrial  hemp, which contains less resin than cannabis. The term “hemp” is used to describe types of cannabis that contain 0.3% THC or less. Marijuana-derived CBD is available only in states where growing psychoactive cannabis is legal, such as Colorado.

Though CBD is closely related to perhaps the most famous phytocannabinoid,  tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the two compounds act in different ways and target different receptors in the brain and body. CBD is not psychoactive, and does not cause the intoxication that THC is known for. CBD is consumed in such forms as oils, capsules, gummies, sublingual sprays, and tinctures. It may also be inhaled in vaporized form, or “vaped."

The CBD Extraction Process

CBD is extracted from hemp or cannabis using one of the following extraction methods:

  • CO2, or pressurized carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide behaves like a solvent at certain temperatures and pressures, making it possible to extract CBD and other phytocannabinoids without the dangers of chemical solvents. CO2 also removes chlorophyll, which may taste bitter and cause unwanted effects when included in CBD products

  • Ethanol and other solvents. High-grade grain alcohol can be used to extract CBD, but may degrade or destroy the plant’s natural waxes along with their potential health benefits. Other solvents such as butane may damage plant waxes, as well, and do little to remove impurities such as chlorophyll. They may also leave behind residues that are toxic to the body

  • Olive oil. Olive oil of any kind can be used to extract oil from cannabis or hemp plants. Olive oil that contains cannabidiol is perishable and must be stored in a cool, dark place

CBD’s Effects on the Body

The human body contains a biological system made up of endocannabinoids, specific neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors. The endocannabinoid system helps to regulate such essential functions as appetite, mood, fertility, memory, and pain. This system is also associated with the feeling of euphoria that may result from intense exercise.

The two primary endocannabinoid receptors are referred to as CB1 and CB2, and are found in the brain, peripheral organs, and nervous system. CBD influences various receptors both inside and outside the endocannabinoid system, changing how hormones and neurotransmitters behave. These interactions with CBD may have a beneficial effect on such physiological processes as:

Other CBD benefits include a positive effect on seizures, particularly pediatric forms that are otherwise difficult to treat. The CBD-based drug Epidolex was recently approved by the FDA for treating two rare and severe forms of childhood convulsive epilepsy for which there is no other treatment.

CBD Safety and Side Effects

CBD has a very different side effect profile from the other well-known phytocannabinoid, THC. While THC can cause side effects such as hallucinations, anxiety, and hunger due to its psychoactive properties, CBD contains no psychoactive compounds.

Though studies on the side effects of CBD are still scarce, the research that does exist supports CBD as a safe and well-tolerated compound. (2) According to current studies, CBD appears to be non-toxic, and safe in doses up to 1500 milligrams each day. Chronic, long-term use appears safe, as well. (3)

CBD does not seem to impact appetite, blood pressure, heart rate, or body temperature. The movement of food through the GI tract appears unaffected. Though CBD has an impressive safety profile according to existing studies, it is not without certain side effects. Possible side effects of CBD products include:

  • The metabolism of certain kidney medications

  • Effects on fertility and in vitro cell development

  • The activity of proteins in cell membranes that help to transport drugs and other substances

Studies of certain CBD-based drugs showed a higher incidence of certain side effects in people who took the drug than in those who didn’t. (4) The side effects noted during research included:

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Dry mouth

  • Sleepiness

  • Loss of appetite

Some of these effects may be dosage dependent, meaning they are more likely to occur at higher doses. Anti-seizure drugs are made from a particularly potent strain of CBD, and might be more likely to cause reactions than non-pharmaceutical grade CBD products. The full side effect profile of CBD will become clearer as further studies are conducted and anecdotal reports from users are collected.

CBD and Sleep: The Evidence

Research on CBD as a treatment for sleep difficulties as well as other medical conditions is in its infancy. Between 2002 and 2012, there were just nine studies published on the use of CBD to treat pain. The pace of research has picked up in recent years, with over 30 studies published since 2