THC vs CBD for Sleep Problems

Which cannabinoid is better for a good night's sleep?
Nicole Richter Nicole Richter / Updated on January 21, 2019

CBD vs. THC for Sleep Issues

Among the assortment of therapeutic benefits that cannabis extracts have been known to possess, their role as an insomnia treatment and sleep aid is surely one of their most common and popular uses.

With the rise of legal hemp-based CBD products storming the cannabis marketplace in recent years, however, many insomnia victims have been asking themselves the question: “Should I use CBD or THC for sleep issues?”

Indeed, it is a legitimate question and is one that is worth looking into with an appropriate level of care and consideration. After all, given the fact that each compound can have dramatically different effects on the body, it stands to reason that THC and CBD for sleep would offer varying levels of effectiveness in terms of the acquisition of healthy, natural rest.

In this article, we delve into the topic of CBD vs THC for treating sleep issues so that you, the consumer, can make the wisest and most appropriate decisions possible in terms of what product to take.

CBD vs. THC for Sleep: Understanding the Physiology

In order to accurately discuss the topic of CBD versus THC for sleep issues and insomnia, it would be relevant to consider each compound’s specific effects on the human body, as well as what sorts of effects each has been shown to have on the normative sleep-wake cycle.

For starters, THC of course is the compound in cannabis that gets users high; its ability to bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and central nervous system is what produces the iconic psychoactive response.

CBD, on the other hand, is not known to directly interact with receptors in the brain (hence the reason why it does not produce a high), but rather indirectly interacts with receptors throughout the body and the immune response system.

With these broad physiological actions in mind, we must then consider the specific chemical mechanisms that are associated with sleep disorders, as well as what effects (if any) the presence of cannabinoids have on the mechanism in question.

Fortunately, there has been a decent amount of scientific literature published on the topic of CBD vs THC for sleep aids. In one of these publications, titled Cannabis, Cannabinoids, and Sleep: a Review of the Literature, researchers discovered that both CBD and THC have beneficial molecular actions when it comes to obtaining a healthy, natural sleep pattern.

However, while researchers claimed that CBD expressed a “therapeutic potential for the treatment of insomnia,” THC could potentially “impair sleep quality [over the] long-term.” It was, however, observed that THC could decrease sleep latency (the amount of time it takes to fall asleep) over the short term.

Furthermore, the same study showed that CBD possesses “promise for REM sleep behavior disorder, [as well as] excessive daytime sleepiness.” All in all, the study pointed out that while THC and CBD for sleep likely possess advantageous properties, the end result of cannabis for sleep therapy will likely produce “mixed results.”

On a more anecdotal level, it has long since been understood that heavy indica-dominant strains (such as Northern Lights, Granddaddy Purple, and OG Kush) produce deeply sedative effects that can work wonders for insomnia relief and general sleep therapy.

However, recent investigations have shown that the presence of CBD – more so than THC – may be the active “culprit” in these strains that helps to produce the relaxing, sleep-inducing effects.

For example, a 2013 study that examined the influence of CBD on sleep-wake cycles in rats showed that the “total percentage of sleep significantly increased in [groups that were treated] with 10 and 40 mg/kg [doses] of CBD.”

Furthermore, the study concluded with the rather definitive statement that “systemic acute administration of CBD appears to increase total sleep time.” In other words, this is pretty sound evidence that points to cannabidiol (rather than THC) as the active marijuana component capable of inhibiting insomnia and promoting sleep.

That said, it’s important to point out that this study was not a clinical trial, but rather a controlled laboratory study on rats. In other words, the results and conclusion should by no means be taken as the ‘be-all-end-all’ to the age-old CBD vs THC for sleep debate.

THC or CBD for Sleep? It Might Depend on Where you Live…

Even if someone were to establish a clear “winner” in the THC vs CBD for sleep argument, consumers must realize that depending on where they live, they may not have access to high-quality THC products.

Case in point, recreational cannabis is only legal in 10 U.S. states; if you are not a resident of one of these states, your only real option in using cannabis for sleep therapy is to acquire a hemp-based CBD oil (more on that later).

Medical cannabis is of course an option given that it is now legal in 30 out of 50 U.S. states, but acquiring a valid medical marijuana card is no walk in the park; it often involves face-to-face doctor’s visits, cumbersome amounts of paperwork, and hefty application/consultation fees.

All in all, if you live in an area where marijuana dispensaries are an option (either recreationally or medically), then we simply advise trying out a couple of different products to see whether CBD or THC works better for sleep in your particular circumstances.

If you don’t enjoy the prospect of getting high, we would recommend trying out a high-CBD strain of cannabis that has almost zero THC in it. These products mostly come in the form of oral tinctures (oil droplets that you place under the tongue), but if smoking is your preferred method of consumption, there are several high-CBD strains that possess the sedative properties of cannabis without producing any psychoactive high.

If you do not live in an area where “testing out” various forms of cannabis products is an option, then perhaps your only real option is to order a high-quality CBD hemp oil from one of the USA’s select manufacturers that have an operational pilot hemp research agreement.

Hemp-derived CBD oil is one of those topics that represents sort of a double-edged sword: On the one hand, it’s great that “CBD” has become so widely available to residents all over the U.S. (you’ve likely seen it advertised for sale in health food shops, grocery stores, etc).

However, what few people realize is there’s a massive discrepancy between CBD oils that are sourced from actual U.S. pilot hemp research farms, and “CBD oils” that are sourced from low-grade Asian hemp fiber. Or even worse, “CBD oils” that are sourced from hemp seed (seeds of the hemp plant do not contain CBD).

CBD hemp oils are in fact available in all 50 states (either in-store or via online ordering), but the kicker is that few of these products offer much effectiveness in terms of therapeutic potential. In other words, few of the “hemp-derived CBD oils” that you see out there in health food stores and vape shops will have much (if any) effect on sleep therapy.

That said, companies that operate under legal pilot hemp research farms have been known to produce genuinely medicinal-grade CBD products, and many of these products are available to U.S. consumers in all 50 states. It just takes a fair amount of research to be able to distinguish a “legitimate” CBD hemp oil from a low-quality one.

CBD or THC for Sleep: What if You Didn’t Have to Choose?

With all this talk of CBD vs THC for treating sleep issues, it is relevant to point out that you don’t always have to pick one or the other; in other words, there are products out there that have been genetically-engineered to contain equal amounts of both THC and CBD.

And indeed, these 1:1 cannabis products have been grabbing the attention of some of the world’s most prolific marijuana researchers, as they are appearing to maximize the full-spectrum therapeutic properties of cannabis without over-emphasizing the psychoactive effects to the point of anxiety or paranoia.

Again, however, 1:1 CBD to THC strains for sleep are likely only going to be available in licensed medical or recreational dispensaries, so keep that in mind when assessing your options.

CBD vs THC for Insomnia: What About THC-Induced Paranoia and Anxiety?

If you’ve ever smoked (or otherwise consumed) a genuine, high-potency indica cannabis strain like Northern Lights or OG Kush, you’ll know full-well the type of full body/mind sedation that it produces. Unless you’re an experienced marijuana user that’s built up an incredible tolerance, indica strains typically work very well for the treatment of insomnia and other sleep issues.

However, as many chronic cannabis users will tell you, the onset of anxiety and/or full-blown paranoia is a realistic possibility when consuming large amounts of marijuana over the long-term. While first-time or infrequent users are likely to experience excellent sleep-inducing results when consuming Indica-dominant marijuana, it appears that this body/mind relaxation has a tendency to morph into THC-induced anxiety over the long term.

And if you remember the study we had mentioned earlier in regard to the effects of THC for sleep, this anecdote would make perfect sense as the report observed a potential for THC to impair sleep quality over time.

Again, it would appear that in the ongoing debate of THC vs CBD for sleep therapy, CBD (or at least a 1:1 THC-to-CBD product) would be preferable over other high-THC/low-CBD options.

Final Thoughts on THC vs. CBD for Treating Sleep Issues

All in all, it is important to realize that there is no real clinical data out there suggesting that one cannabinoid (or even one particular strain of cannabis) is “better” than another in terms of their ability to treat sleep and insomnia.

Many individuals experience excellent results for sleep aid when consuming high-THC Indica strains, but others have found that over the long-term, excessive amounts of THC can morph into onset anxiety and even paranoia, which is of course the exact opposite effects that you’re trying to achieve if sleep is your goal.

If we had to make one recommendation in terms of THC vs. CBD for sleep therapy, we would suggest trying either a 1:1 THC-to-CBD strain, or a high-CBD/low-THC oral cannabis oil – if you have legal access to them at a licensed dispensary.

If you do not have convenient access to a large selection of cannabis strains and products, then we would suggest doing some research on legal hemp-derived CBD oils that are available for online ordering and shipment to all 50 states. While there are a lot of low-quality products out there, there are also many high-quality manufacturers that are producing CBD hemp oils with many of the same medicinal benefits as full-spectrum cannabis.

While these suggestions may not outwardly solve the ongoing argument of CBD vs THC for sleep and insomnia, hopefully they will at least set you in the right direction for achieving healthy, natural rest.

1 comment
  1. Michael Flair
    Long Term Benefit is Inflamation!

    I have smoked marijuana for 45 years, have not gone THC anxiety crazy haha, although the help with sleep ability has diminished, maybe ~50% but is still works…the BEST thing for me, is it has a long term reduction in internal body inflamation, I take no medications, only smoke marijuana daily and exercise moderately intense 3 hours per week…my weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, erc all the important signs all normal and my doctors want to know ‘my secret’ haha! Another ‘biggie’ for me is dementia, it has taken most of my father’s side…it is my hope that thc, cbd, or some other marijuana molecule is jamming up amyloid protein in the early stages like right now for me…so I don’t want to go their way…it is my only hope.

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