Cannabis has become an extremely popular component in the natural medicine community. It is advertised as a remedy for a long list of ailments, from arthritis to Alzheimer’s. While cannabis, CBD specifically, can do many things for you mentally and physically, it can be broken down to a handful of basic effects, one of the most popular being sleep.
We all know that cannabis has been used to relax, unwind, and get to bed for decades, and with over 60 million Americans experiencing some type of sleep disorder, it comes as no surprise that consumers are willing to try just about anything to get a good night’s sleep and restore a normal sleep schedule! But how does it work? And how do we determine if it is getting us to sleep in a healthy, natural way?
One of the biggest things that gets in the way of sleep is stress. When the body is experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety, it produces Cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone that increases levels of sugar in the bloodstream. It also shuts off physical and mental functions that would be non-essential in a fight or flight situation. This is a major contributing factor to the numb, shaky feeling one experiences when stressed, and the inability to think rationally in high tension situations. The average person has a peak of Cortisol in the body within the first hour of waking up, but when someone is experiencing insomnia, levels of Cortisol spike at night. This attributes to the inability to get to sleep, and in some cases can be the cause for waking up suddenly during the night with an unusual amount of energy. A recent study found that when patients were dosed with 300-600mg strength CBD oil, their levels of Cortisol remained low throughout the night, meaning that CBD can hinder the release of Cortisol when taken before bed. This is where things become slightly less certain from a scientific standpoint. What we do know is that Cortisol is released because of something called the circadian rhythm.
Circadian rhythm is basically our instinctual clock. It is endogenous, meaning every human is born with it. It is based off of the 24-hour rotation cycle of the earth. This is why we are naturally tired at night, and feel the need to be awake and active during the day. At night, the circadian rhythm in your body will stimulate the release of melatonin, which comes from the pineal gland, located almost exactly in the middle of your brain! This is also the main factor in your Cortisol levels raising and lowering, as I mentioned earlier. The pineal gland also happens to be directly rooted to our endocannabinoid system. While we are not able to determine whether or not cannabis could be helping to release melatonin via the pineal gland, we do know that it assists and regulates the release of Cortisol. It is the belief of many cannabis experts that ingesting high doses of CBD during the evening could help maintain our circadian rhythm, thereby keeping us on a normal sleep schedule.
And last, but certainly not least, is our REM sleep cycle. REM sleep has 5 cycles, beginning with light sleep that is easy to be woken up from, and ends at “REM” sleep. REM sleep is largely characterized by dreaming. The breathing becomes more erratic, which increases heart rate. However, skeletal and muscular movements are almost entirely non-existent. Scientists think that this is our brain’s way of keeping us from harming ourselves when dreaming. This stage of REM is both adored and feared by most of the world’s population. Many see dreaming as a way to explore one’s emotions and fears, defining classic dream scenes as a metaphor for current-day problems. However, for those with sleep paralysis disorders or PTSD, this stage of sleep is avoided at all costs. There are thousands of accounts of what happens when sleep paralysis or PTSD triggered dreams occur, none of which are pleasant. In recent years, people with PTSD have reported that when they ingest cannabis before bed, they simply do not dream. So why is that? While we cannot pinpoint exactly why this happens, the consumption of THC and CBD have major effects on our REM sleep cycle. When ingesting psychoactive THC products, the brain shows almost no REM sleep. Our brains seem to remain at the earlier stages of the sleep cycle. This is why regular THC smokers experience almost no dreams. When CBD (which has very small amounts of THC) is ingested before bed, consumers actually report more vivid and more positive dreams, often sexually based. They also report the ability to recall their dreams long after waking up! While these effects may not necessarily get you to sleep, they are crucial to the quality and length of sleep you get.
We have only scratched the surface of Cannabis medicine. We have the tools to extract specific cannabinoids and produce medicine for specific ailments, all from one plant. Unfortunately, while it is still illegal in so many places, we are not able to put our best scientific studies into play. Thanks to pioneers in the natural medicine field, we are able to know at least this much about how cannabis gets us to sleep and keeps us asleep. This may not be crystal clear proof, it is a massive step to learning exactly how our brains function when we sleep, and what we can do to maintain a healthy pattern. As always, I wish you the best of luck on your natural medicine journey and encourage you to step into the world of cannabis healing!