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If you’re desperate for quality sleep, you’re not alone: About 70 million U.S. adults suffer from chronic sleep problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While vast resources are available to help improve sleep—from supplements and medications to sleep coaches and high-tech gadgets—researchers are considering cannabidiol (CBD) as an alternative.

Keep reading to learn what science has to say about CBD and the potential benefits and risks of using CBD for sleep.

Understanding the endocannabinoid system (ECS) is essential to understanding the effect CBD may have on sleep. The word “cannabinoid,” contained within the name of the system, refers to the active constituents of the cannabis sativa plant that impact the ECS.

“The endocannabinoid system is a complex neurochemical network in the body that regulates various bodily functions, including emotions, pain and sleep,” says Chantel Strachan, M.D., a board-certified internal medicine physician and headache specialist at Columbia Doctors and Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York. While the body naturally releases endocannabinoid molecules, external sources of cannabinoids, such as CBD, can affect the body via the ECS, she adds.

The hypothalamus—which plays a significant role in the ECS—impacts sleep regulation, says Daniel Whitelocke, M.D., owner and CEO of Ozark MMJ Cards, an Arkansas service that helps qualified patients obtain medical marijuana cards. “The hypothalamus, a peanut-sized structure buried deep in the brain, is enriched with cannabinoid receptors and governs the circadian rhythm of our sleep-wake cycle,” he says. Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that, among other functions, help our bodies fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning, and research suggests the ECS factors into that cycle.

CBD is the second most abundant compound in the cannabis sativa plant, and many studies suggest it may indirectly benefit sleep. In fact, CBD—which doesn’t cause the intoxicatingly psychoactive “high” associated with delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—might help people with different sleep disorders, including insomnia and restless leg syndrome, as well as other conditions known to negatively impact sleep, according to research.

For instance, CBD may help people relax by easing anxiety and pain, two factors that may make it difficult for someone to fall or stay asleep, says Dr. Strachan.

Potential Risks of Using CBD for Sleep

While Dr. Whitelocke and Dr. Strachen both say CBD is a low-risk intervention and drug interactions with CBD products are rare, it’s important to talk to your doctor before starting a CBD regimen, as it may increase liver enzymes in people who take medications metabolized by the liver.

Such medications include:

  • Statins
  • Anti-inflammatories (including ibuprofen and naproxen)
  • Certain anti-hypertensive medications
  • Blood thinners

Also, some research suggests that THC may cause sleep disturbances. Because many CBD products do contain THC, even at low levels, this is something to consider when speaking with your doctor.

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