Humans spend roughly one third of our lives sleeping. The Sleep Foundation* recommends that adults get roughly 8 hours of sleep per night, but so many people fail to achieve this.
Whether through diagnosed chronic insomnia or simply due to late night disturbances, good sleep is something everyone strives for.
In the modern world, you are not as likely to be exhausted once nighttime approaches, as our forefathers would be back in the times of back-breaking physical labour or hunting and gathering.
Whereas people 4000 years ago likely fell straight to sleep the moment their head hit the pillow, the modern man or woman has to struggle to catch those Z’s.
Marijuana has been demonstrated to help people fall into a peaceful sleep a lot easier. However, which of the two most prolific cannabinoids in Cannabis Sativa (THC and CBD) is the part that actually helps you sleep?
Which is better to help you sleep, THC or CBD?
THC & Sleep
THC is widely known as a tool to help you get to sleep, but what is it about the compound that actually aids slumber?
THC has been established as a strong sedative for a long time. A study* conducted by Block et al. for the Journal of Pharmacology, Biochemistry, and Behavior, found that the stronger a strain of marijuana is and the more high it gets you – and thus, the higher the quantity of THC – the better it is at putting you to sleep.
The chemical reasons for this are to due to the way in which THC interacts with the CB1 receptor, as well as triggering the melatonin producers in the brain. This all combines to create an effect that helps you get to sleep.
However, before you can begin to enter a sleepy state, you must first get through the high that THC gives you. For this reason, it is generally better to have a middle-range amount of THC in your marijuana strain if you’re looking to have better sleep, so as to not get too protracted and powerful a high. It’s rather difficult to fall asleep when you’re flying high in the sky.
Another issue with THC, sadly quite an important one, is about long-term sleep quality.
Generally speaking, a healthy person begins to feel sleepy based on their circadian rhythm, the internal clock within every person that helps them figure out when to eat, sleep and work.
When it’s time to sleep, the human body produces a number of different hormones and chemicals, melatonin being the most well known, that help settle the body into the state necessary for sleep.
Your limbs get heavy, higher brain functions begin to shut off, and you just generally start to drift off.
When you imbibe THC, however, the melatonin and other similar chemicals and hormones are triggered despite your circadian rhythm. This means it’s very easy to start to feel sleepy in the middle of the day.
However, this is a problem for your long term sleep quality, as your body can begin to expect this dosage of THC to help it sleep.
This is the key problem with THC as a sleep aid, as any kind of reliance on something to help you get to sleep is simply creating a new problem.
This isn’t quite the same as an addiction, of course – it’s more like the dependency one gets for caffeine in the morning to wake up properly. You get used to taking it, and then suddenly find yourself struggling to complete this normal task without it.
Researchers Babson et al.* found that, while THC is remarkably useful for decreasing sleep latency, and thus making it easier to fall asleep from a wakeful state, it worsens the long term ability to fall asleep naturally without THC. This is, again, due to the body’s dependency, but also because the balance of carefully evolved hormones that allow you to transition to a peaceful slumber are disturbed by the inclusion of THC.
If you’re having trouble getting to sleep for a few nights, THC can be a godsend. However, if you use it to get to sleep every night, you will only create problems for yourself.
CBD & Sleep
CBD acts differently to THC when using it as a sleeping aid. Though its effects might seem similar to THC at the onset, CBD affects the body completely differently.
CBD is remarkable because it triggers both the CB1 and CB2 receptors much more significantly than just THC. This means that CBD is able to interact with the endocannabinoid system far more sufficiently than with THC. This is due to the fact that CBD encourages both receptors, encouraging them to be triggered the same as if the body has begun healing itself from an injury.
THC, however, binds itself primarily to the CB1 receptors, creating an over-stimulant effect that causes the famous high.
Due to this difference, CBD does help put you to sleep, it just does it differently. In a study* published by Rodriguez et al., researchers found that CBD affects sleep incredibly significantly. By testing different levels of CBD – and at different times of sleepiness – on rats, the researchers were able to find out that CBD helps modulate sleep.
They found, surprisingly enough, that if CBD were administered in times of sleep wakefulness, the rats displayed increased wakefulness and decreased rapid eye movement sleep.
This means that taking CBD during the day makes you less likely to get to sleep.
However, when administered whilst attempting to sleep, it does something very different. By encouraging the CB1 receptors – which are primarily located in the brain and central nervous system – CBD is able to help relax the body and lull it into a peaceful sleep.
CBD has also been widely demonstrated to possess a number of healing effects. For example, CBD is well known to help reduce inflammation and pain, as in this study* by Hill et al., which established that pain is able to be mitigated thanks to the triggering of CB1 receptors.
Thanks to this, if you’re suffering from any kind of pain or irritation that might stop you from sleeping, CBD will enable you to get to sleep without those worries.
This means that, while CBD doesn’t actually directly send you to sleep, it will instead allow you to more easily deal with any problems that would normally impair your healthy sleep.
In the previously mentioned study by Babson et al. for the Journal of Current Psychiatry Reports, researchers demonstrated CBD as a potential solution for REM sleep behavior disorder, as well as being used for combating excessive daytime sleepiness.
So, Which is Better?
Marijuana has been used for millennia as a convenient sleep aid, but it’s only recently that THC and CBD were understood to be different things that affect the body in different ways.
Thanks to a plethora of research conducted over the last few decades, we finally know how marijuana works with regard to our sleeping patterns, and how best to use it.
THC and CBD both help our sleep, but in extremely different ways. To recommend the right one for a bad night’s sleep requires understanding of what makes a person’s sleep so bad.
If a person sleeps poorly due to insomnia, stress or anxiety issues, or even just that there’s too much disturbance around them, then THC is likely the best option. It helps lull you into a sleep thanks to its soporific qualities, but you will first have to get through the high that your particular strain of THC gives you.
If the reason you sleep poorly is linked to pain, inflammation, or other injuries, then CBD may be something you want to try, as it can help alleviate your pain and make it easier than ever to get to sleep.
Regardless of your choice, however, it’s important to remember the long term effects of taking either of them.
Taking THC for a long period of time has been linked to physical dependency on the substance, as your brain becomes accustomed to using it to help fall asleep. Alongside that, you have to deal with the high every single time – even regular stoners will tell you that constantly being high every night can get quite dull.
However, CBD has yet to be linked to any significant long term effects, nor does it drastically alter your sleep cycle or circadian rhythm in any meaningful way.
As Babson et al. discovered, taking too much THC over a long period of time might cause you to lose sleep in the long run.
For short term solutions, THC is certainly the best option; if it’s chronic pain that’s keeping you up at night, consider regular CBD use.
Hopefully, whatever you use will end up helping you get those ever your necessary Z’s.