Shannon and other experts we spoke with say that before turning to CBD for sleep, you should try more proven therapies. The best evidence is for a form of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBT-I, which focuses on changing habits that disrupt sleep. Research shows it’s more effective and safer than prescription or over-the-counter sleep drugs, which can cause dependence and pose a risk of overdose and death.
Although CBD’s benefits for sleep are still unclear, Shannon notes that CBD poses few side effects. The most common one in his study was fatigue. Other common side effects can include diarrhea and changes in appetite and weight.
If other remedies haven’t helped and you want to give CBD for sleep a try, experts we spoke with said here are some things to consider:
CBD may work better for anxiety than sleep. There’s more evidence for CBD’s ability to ease your anxiety than to help you fall asleep, though helping you relax could help you sleep, too.
Short-term use might be best. CBD’s ability to improve sleep may diminish the longer you use it, so you may not want to use it daily or long-term. In Shannon’s study, people whose main complaint was sleeplessness improved in the first month, but then faded during months two and three. And Michael Backes, an expert in cannabis science and policy and author of “Cannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana” (BDL/Hachette, 2014), says his research and interviews with users suggest that once a person is no longer chronically sleepy, CBD might, paradoxically, keep people awake.
Higher doses could work better. There’s not much research on dosing, but what there is suggests low doses might not be very effective. A 2004 study found that low doses (15 mg in this case) didn’t help people fall asleep and might actually have made people more wakeful. And an even earlier study found that a relatively large dose—160 mg—worked better than a lower one. In Shannon’s study, patients were given a 25 mg dose.
Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University at Albany, State University of New York, and on the advisory board the marijuana advocacy group NORML, suggests starting with a modest dose of 30 mg and slowly working up if that doesn’t work. And he cautions that a dose of 160 mg “is going to be incredibly expensive.”
Consider the form. Vaping CBD might work faster, because that quickly gets the compound into your system, says Earleywine, who is also the author of “Understanding Marijuana” (Oxford University Press, 2005). But pills, oils, and edibles such as gummy bears might help you sleep longer, because they release the CBD more slowly. If you opt for one of those forms, Earlywine suggests taking it about an hour before bedtime. (Read more about the different forms CBD comes in and how they affect the body differently.)
Look for quality products. Some studies suggest that many CBD products don’t have what they claim or are contaminated with pesticides or other harmful substances. (Read more about how to shop for CBD products.)
Use it safely. Last, talk with your doctor—especially if you take other meds—because CBD may interact with medications. (Read more about how to use CBD safely.)