Although the evidence is still not conclusive, studies suggest that CBD (also known as cannabidiol) can help ease symptoms of anxiety and pain. While CBD oil doesn’t cause drowsiness—as is the case for many sleep aids such as melatonin or Benadryl—it might help you fall asleep if you experience regular symptoms of anxiety and pain.
How CBD interacts with the body
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the dozens of cannabinoid compounds found in the cannabis plant. CBD oil can be made from both marijuana or hemp cannabis plant, and can be extracted in a number of ways. However, in order for CBD products to be considered legal, they must come from a hemp plant with extremely low (0.03%) or no THC levels. For this reason, CBD doesn’t produce a ‘high’, but research nevertheless shows that it can have some positive effects on the body.
CBD’s effects all come down to the body’s endocannabinoid system, which is a network of 5-HT receptors that are activated and play a role in maintaining homeostasis in the body. Homeostasis affects pain, mood, and appetite among others other factors. It’s a complex mechanism with far-reaching effects, and oftentimes, it’s difficult to separate the influence of individual factors. While the body already has its own set of cannabinoids, introducing CBD to the body enhances the efficacy of the endocannabinoid system.
Until not long ago, scientists used to think that CBD oil acts solely on CB1 and CB2 receptors, but new research showed that’s not really the case. Instead, the cannabinoid affects the mechanism that binds specific receptors involved in anxiety (serotonin 5-HT1A) and pain (vanilloid TRPV1).
A survey by Consumer Research suggests that 10% of Americans who tried CBD reported sleeping better. However, this is rather anecdotal evidence and could be explained by a psychological effect rather than a biological one.
In 2019, researchers studied the clinical application of CBD of anxiety and sleep complaints in 103 adult patients at a psychiatric clinic. The researchers found that 80% of the patients had decreased anxiety scores and 66% of patients improved their sleep.
“The results of our clinical report support the existing scientific evidence. In our study, we saw no evidence of a safety issue that would limit future studies. In this evaluation, CBD appears to be better tolerated than routine psychiatric medications. Furthermore, CBD displays promise as a tool for reducing anxiety in clinical populations, but given the open-label and nonrandomized nature of this large case series, all results must be interpreted very cautiously. Randomized and controlled trials are needed to provide definitive clinical guidance, the authors of the study wrote in The Permanente Journal.
In 2017, researchers at the National Center for PTSD-Dissemination & Training Division in Palo Alto, California investigated the association between cannabis and sleep, finding that “cannabidiol (CBD) may have therapeutic potential for the treatment of insomnia,” while “THC may decrease sleep latency but could impair sleep quality long-term.”
Specifically, this new study found that CBD could be especially helpful for people with REM sleep behavior disorder. It has been suggested that CBD could relax the airways during sleep, but this is not yet proven.
Several studies also hint at the benefits of CBD in ways that could improve sleep quality indirectly. For instance, CBD has been linked with reducing pain and tackling anxiety, with CBD behaving better than a placebo in preliminary studies. CBD has also been shown to have an antidepressant effect in animal studies, though this has not yet been confirmed on humans. However, as it’s so often the case, the studies aren’t conclusive yet, and sometimes, they can be even contradictory. The claims often go far ahead of the actual demonstrated benefits, and CBD is being promoted for many things it hasn’t even been studied for.
CBD doesn’t appear to be harmful, and there are clear, demonstrated benefits. For instance, CBD has been shown to ease the symptoms associated with some cases of epilepsy, Parkinson’s, and a few other rare disorders. When it comes to sleep, the evidence is encouraging, but more research is needed before any clear conclusions can be drawn.
These studies suggest that CBD might work as a sleep aid for people who are struggling with sleep-related problems. However, CBD oil shouldn’t make you sleepy as over-counter sleep aids do. This means that people ought to be able to take CBD during the daytime and not feel drowsy. However, the studies are few and far between and are limited in the scope. The link between CBD and improved sleep remains far from settled, however, studies so far suggest no safety issues.
The being said, the FDA says that they have “only limited data about CBD safety and these data point to real risks that need to be considered before taking CBD for any reason.” They also state on their website that CBD can cause liver injury, affect the metabolism of other drugs, and that the use of CBD with alcohol or other depressants increases the risk of sedation and drowsiness. You should always consult with a health professional. Don’t self-medicate and follow scientific and medical advice.
Tibi is a science journalist and co-founder of ZME Science. He writes mainly about emerging tech, physics, climate, and space. In his spare time, Tibi likes to make weird music on his computer and groom felines.