Health

Sleep On It

Prescription sleeping pills have richly earned their bad reputation. But now, they aren’t the only way to get a good night’s sleep, thank goodness.

Sleep is a natural healer. So why are so many sleep potions straight out of the Frankenstein school of pharmacology? And why do they employ a sledgehammer where a feather might be more helpful?

It’s because sleep-challenged people are desperate. They grab for “strong” remedies because they fear the professional costs of walking zombie-like through the workday, and they worry about the personal costs of not being fully present for loved ones. They also know that restorative sleep is central to a healthy mind and healthy living—including healthy weight. So when their sleep is disturbed or limited, they reach out for the most “powerful” sleep medicines they can find, trying to meet their desperate need with a desperate solution.

But a not-so-funny thing happens on the way to the bedroom. Tales of sleeping-pill zombies cleaning out the fridge, under the influence. Or people building up dependencies on sleep drugs, leading to tussles with health-care providers over prescription renewals. Or drug hangovers that are worse than the initial insomnia, because they linger into what ought to be productive morning hours. And there are even the tragic interactions between sleep drugs, pain pills, and antidepressants, that hit the headlines far too frequently. Even such “natural” cures as melatonin frequently come straight from poorly monitored labs overseas, in cheap synthetic forms that can cause nausea, headaches, anxiety, and irritability.

These “cures” could make you lose sleep.

How fortunate, then, that a whole new class of body-based chill pills have become available in the last several years. We’re speaking of tinctures, supplements, and chews with cannabidiol (CBD), a natural healer that mimics and supports the body’s own calming processes and strategies. CBD is found in the cannabis plant, but unlike its psychoactive cousin tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it won’t make anybody high. But it is a powerful healer. CBD supports the body’s natural endocannabinoid system, which maintains body balance in a world that is constantly knocking people off-kilter. Pollution. Stress. Noise. Bad food. Late nights. Early wakeups. All of them can tip the scales toward chaos, which is why the endocannabinoid system is so important: It produces molecules that make you feel good (that’s where runner’s high comes from) and calms the nervous system.

Related: Is CBD the Cure for Insomnia?

Science has been weighing in on these beneficial effects since 1981, when the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology tested CBD on fifteen sleepless volunteers. The test subjects dozed significantly longer after taking CBD, and aside from a few people who had morning drowsiness, they felt no side effects. More recently, Permanente Journal reported on 72 people who were being treated for anxiety and/or insomnia. After a month of CBD therapy, 79% felt less anxiety, and 66% were sleeping more soundly. CBD was tolerated better than the rogue’s gallery of OTC and prescription sleep drugs, and there were no safety issues.

Positive results like those reported above have led to fuller exploration into all the ways that cannabis medicine can help people get through the night and awake refreshed. Researchers are focusing on all the active compounds in the cannabis plant, as alternatives to dangerous and expensive drugs.

For instance:


Terpenes:
If you’ve ever sniffed a rose in bloom, or caught the tangy fragrance of an orange peel, you know terpenes. They are the fragrant organic compounds that are the calling cards of the plant world, facilitating communication to pollinators (flowers open for business) and predators (stay away, I’m sticky). Research has shown that terpenes can have profound effects on human beings as well, quieting nervous system activity, dulling pain, and reducing inflammation—all three of which can aid sleep. Among the most potent body-quieting terpenes: pinene (pine scent), limonene (lemon scent), myrcene (pepper scent), and linalool (lavender scent). All are found throughout the natural world, but are also prevalent among the 200 terpenes in cannabis plants.

Cannabinoids: The cannabis plant has well over 100 chemicals that produce varying effects in the body. THC is the most famous, for the high it produces. But it’s also an effective sleep medicine, if you choose a strain that sedates (indica) rather than arouses (sativa). CBD is also well known as a sleep promoter, working to reduce anxiety and pain—two profound barriers to a good night’s rest. Not as well known, yet, is cannabinol, or CBN, which appears to have strong sedative properties, as well as a modulating effect on pain and inflammation. Preliminary research on CBN indicates that it may prolong sleep time, as well.

People who are looking for the relaxing effects of CBD, CBN, and terpenes, but without the high produced by THC, often rely on hemp extracts and tinctures. But just as you can run into trouble with cheap, synthetic melatonin, you also have to watch out where your hemp is grown, before the oils are extracted. The hemp plant absorbs toxins from the soil; that’s why scientists planted it in the area surrounding Chernobyl, after the meltdown. With hemp, domestic sources are good, and organic is best. Quality inputs on a growing plant mean safer and more effective products for you.

Just the thing to help you rest easier, in fact.

Products We Love

A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania showed that many—too many—CBD products actually contain zero of the main ingredient. Let the buyer beware. The hemp extracts in Sleep Drops from Healist ($70; healistnaturals.com) use U.S.-grown, organic broad-spectrum hemp extract, so you get all the benefits of CBD and other minor cannabinoids, terpenes, amino acids, vitamins and minerals, but contains 0.0% THC which means no high feeling. They also blend their extract with organic, cold-pressed essential oils from such known sleep-inducers as chamomile, lavender, and lemon balm, along with a sleep-terpene blend that includes hops, pine, orange, and jasmine. Sleep Drops are available in peppermint or citrus flavor, and contain either 20mg or 40mg CBD per serving (1ml). Both can be administered under the tongue for quick absorption, fast action and we didn’t experience any next-day drowsiness.