It seems like CBD is everywhere, doesn’t it? CBD has been an up-and-comer in the health and medical community for a while. But in the last year or so we’ve seen CBD—a natural, non-psychoactive compound of the cannabis plant—used to treat issues ranging from anxiety and sleep problems to chronic pain and lack of mental focus.
I’ve been interested and excited for a long time about the prospective benefits of CBD for sleep, mood, and other aspects of health. I’ve been discussing the potential health benefits of the cannabis plant for several years. In 2017, I wrote about the very promising scientific research showing how CBD can improve sleep, reduce symptoms of anxiety, and help protect brain function.
It’s because of all this research I decided to include hemp-derived CBD in my own sleep formula, Aktive Sleep Booster. (In addition to CBD, Aktive Sleep Booster is made from other natural ingredients that promote sleep, including valerian and hops.) I’m really excited and proud of what we’ve made and its capacity to help people sleep more—and better.
What is CBD?
Before we jump into the latest science on CBD, let’s do a quick refresh on what this natural compound is, and what scientists think it can do for health, sleep, and wellness.
CBD is short for cannabidiol, and it’s one of the most heavily studied natural compounds found in the cannabis plants. CBD is what’s known as a cannabinoid, a variety of compounds found in cannabis that have captured a lot of attention and popularity for their benefits for human health, and the treatment of pain and disease.
Unlike THC, another well-known cannabinoid, CBD does not have any mind-altering effects. To the contrary: CBD appears to counteract the psychotropic effects of THC, which is the chemical compound in cannabis that delivers the “high” associated with marijuana.
(Uncertain about the distinction between CBD and cannabis? I wrote earlier this year about how CBD is not the same thing as pot.)
CBD has been of interest for years to scientists and clinicians for its ability to act as an anti-inflammatory, an analgesic (aka a pain reliever) and an anxiolytic (aka an anxiety reducer). CBD also has anti-seizure abilities and has demonstrated significant neuro-protective effects.
For these reasons, in recent years CBD has become a therapeutic tool to treat sleep issues, depression, anxiety and other psychological issues, pain and substance use disorders. It’s also considered a promising and effective therapy to treat epilepsy, as well as some cancers and neurodegenerative diseases.
With a list like that, it’s little surprise that CBD has become a popular natural supplement.
Let’s take a look at some of the latest science on the benefits of CBD.
CBD improves real-world insomnia symptoms
We’ve seen a growing body of evidence demonstrating CBD’s ability to relieve insomnia symptoms, including in people with chronic pain and people with mood disorders such as depression, anxiety and PTSD. Small doses of CBD also appear to help reduce daytime sleepiness.
A brand-new study investigated the effects of CBD and other cannabis compounds on insomnia. Researchers gathered data from more than 400 volunteers using a digital app, which allowed the scientists to analyze the effects of CBD and other cannabinoids in people’s natural sleep environments.
They found CBD significantly reduced insomnia symptoms, and did so more effectively than another popular cannabinoid, THC.
Another recent CBD-sleep study that caught my eye was one conducted by Brazilian scientists and released earlier this year. Here, sleep scientists investigated whether CBD has disruptive effects on our sleep-wake cycles. They found use of CBD did not lead to changes in the sleep architecture of a group of healthy volunteers. The sleepers in the study moved normally through their distinct stages of sleep—including deep, slow-wave sleep and REM sleep.
This is good news for the regularity of sleep cycles in people who use CBD. It also makes CBD a promising natural alternative for people with anxiety and depression. Why? Many of the drugs used to treat these mood disorders—including benzodiazepines and SSRI medications—can interfere with sleep-wake cycles and disrupt normal sleep architecture, causing problems with sleep regulation, sleep consistency, and daytime sleepiness. This study suggests people with anxiety, depression and other psychological conditions may be able to use CBD without disruptive effects to their sleep cycles.
CBD reduces stress, anxiety and pain
There’s more encouraging news about CBD’s ability to promote feelings of calm and lower anxiety. Cannabis has been used for centuries as a natural remedy for anxiety and stress. In recent decades, scientists have discovered that CBD is one of the most calming and stress reducing of the natural compounds derived from the cannabis plant. There’s also evidence indicating CBD can reduce symptoms of depression, by increasing serotonin levels in the brain.
New research out this year adds more evidence to that understanding of CBD’s anxiolytic effects. Scientists measured the anxiety-reducing effects of CBD in a group of 57 healthy male volunteers by having them undergo one of the most universally stress-provoking activities: public speaking. (The simulated public speaking test is actually one common way scientists investigate anxiety and methods to treat it.)
The study found CBD worked effectively to decrease anxiety. The scientists tested different doses (150, 300, and 600 mg) and found the middle-range dose had the largest effect on lowering stress and anxiety. This study aligns with previous research showing CBD was able to reduce anxiety before public speaking in both people with generalized anxiety and people without this anxiety condition.
Another study released in 2018—this one conducted in rats—found CBD worked to lower both pain and anxiety simultaneously.
Stress, anxiety and physical pain are some of the most common obstacles to healthy, restful, plentiful sleep. CBD’s ability to relieve physical pain and psychological stress and anxiousness likely contribute to its effect as a natural sleep promoter.
New information about CBD dosing
Brand new research has found that regular dosing of CBD may be necessary to get the benefits of this natural compound. Scientists at Canada’s McGill University investigated how CBD works and what doses and durations of use would produce effects.
Like other research, they found CBD relieved pain and reduced anxiety symptoms, and increased serotonin in the brain. When examining frequency of dosing, the scientists found a single, one-time dose of CBD did not improve pain or anxiety. Rather, people needed to use CBD for at least a week to see improvement.
If you start using CBD, whether for anxiety, pain, sleep, or other purposes, give it a little time to take effect, and don’t be discouraged in the meantime. These study results suggest that routine use of CBD may be the way to get the best results from this cannabinoid.
Can CBD protect against age-related damage to the brain?
People today often use CBD to improve their cognitive performance, including their mental clarity, focus and concentration. CBD is showing success as one treatment for neurological disease, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and seizure disorders. The potential neuroprotective effects of CBD are among the most exciting of the natural compound’s benefits. We saw more research this year that added to this accumulating body of evidence.
Scientists found CBD may protect the brain against the negative effects of excessive iron accumulation. Iron collects in the brain as part of the normal aging process. And high levels of iron in the specific areas of the brain—including the hippocampus, cortex, and basal ganglia—have been associated with cognitive dysfunction and linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. New research conducted in animals found CBD may protect brain cells from the damage that’s caused by this build-up of iron.
CBD has well-identified abilities as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant in the human body. Scientists have been studying this cannabinoid closely as a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. A recent review of more than a dozen studies about CBD’s potential impact as an Alzheimer’s treatment show that this natural cannabis compound may improve memory, reduce inflammation in the brain, protect brain cells against damage, and limit the buildup of damaging proteins linked to Alzheimer’s.
CBD as a cancer fighter?
CBD is being intensely investigated for its potential as a treatment for some cancers. Previous studies have shown CBD may inhibit cancer cell growth and metastasis in several different types of cancer, including forms of breast, colon, lung and brain cancers. In 2018, UK scientists released the results of a study in which they examined the effects of CBD on cancerous cells. They found that CBD can reduce growth of some types of cancer cells by limiting the release of tiny structures that protect and aid the growth of cancer cells. CBD, they found, also may make cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy.
We’re learning more all the time about how CBD works, and what it can do to promote sleep and other health benefits. I’ll keep you updated on the scientific news on this powerful natural compound—in the meantime, check out the Aktive Sleep Booster!
Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM
The Sleep Doctor