Cannabinoids And The Body: Pain, Sleep, Stress
It’s well-known that cannabinoids affect the way our bodies work and feel. Similar to THC, CBD and other non-intoxicating cannabinoids can relieve pain, promote sleep, and reduce stress. Let’s take a look at how cannabinoids actually work inside the body, and which cannabinoids have shown promise helping with issues related to pain, sleep, and stress.
THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM
Cannabinoids, whether sourced from plants or found naturally in the body [EK1], work by fitting into receptors on cells throughout your body that are specifically designed to bind to cannabinoids. Each cannabinoid has a distinct way it interacts with cannabinoid receptors. When cannabinoids bind to receptors, the binding triggers a cascade of signals resulting in changes in the body that affect both your physical and mental states. How a product makes you feel—sleepy or alert, giggly or social, sedated or active—depends on the balance of different cannabinoids in the chosen product, and the contribution of any terpenes [EK2] that are also present.
There are two known types of cannabinoid receptors in the human body, CB1 and CB2 (short for cannabinoid receptor types 1 and 2). CB1 receptors are found throughout the body, with most of them in the nervous system. The majority of CB2 receptors are found in the immune system.
When the endocannabinoid system is activated, a chain of therapeutic effects is triggered. When you take in cannnabinoids, you are directly harnessing your endocannabinoid system. By this mechanism, you can achieve pain relief and relaxation at a systemic level—which in turn could improve your overall health. Emotional benefits include: anxiety reduction, relaxation, and bliss (an actual feeling described in clinical studies). Physical benefits include: pain relief and reduction in inflammation.
Changes in the endocannabinoid system have been observed in several disorders, including those that affect pain, sleep, and anxiety—so influencing the endocannabinoid system could result in symptom improvement. Let’s take a closer look at some of these conditions.
CBD, CBC & CBG have all been reported as medically useful for several types of pain including chronic pain, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic gastrointestinal pain, headaches, autoimmune inflammation, and muscle cramps from neurological disorders like ALS or Parkinson’s. While scientists note there are limitations to the CBD-specific studies on pain in people (e.g., small sample sizes), the results support other THC/CBD combination studies displaying cannabinoid treatment is promising for pain relief.
Topicals (such as balms, lotions, and gels) can provide localized relief to specific areas on an as-needed basis; whereas capsules, edibles, and tinctures can be incorporated as part of a regimen for more systemic relief to target chronic pain.
Cannabinoids could represent a new therapeutic approach to treating pain that avoids some of the safety issues related to various classes of pain medications (e.g., addiction or respiratory depression with opiates). Because there’s no risk of “overdose” with cannabinoids, they could also be useful as add-on treatments for the more vulnerable populations (such as children and/or older adults), as well as those who don’t want to add another prescription medication.
Sleep issues can involve everything from restlessness—where you toss and turn all night, or wake up periodically—to the complete inability to fall asleep in the first place. Cannabinoids can help support healthy sleep in a few different ways. Whether it’s by calming your mind (having a hypnotic or drowsy effect), or by reducing other symptoms (such as anxiety) in order to allow better rest, cannabinoids can be used as effective sleep promoters.
Cannabinoids such as CBN and CBD have shown sedating effects that could help shift you into a more relaxed and sleepy state; while CBG has demonstrated muscle-relaxing properties, and thus could help your body unwind. An effective serving size of a tincture or softgel is an easy add to your bedtime routine to improve your sleep quality.
In a study that looked different oral servings of CBD and their effect on people’s sleep, all of the participants reported higher quality of sleep. Some participants said their sleep improved for one week, while others felt improvement for the entire month the study took place. Another study compared CBD with nitrazepam—a benzodiazepine—and reported that 160mg of CBD both extended sleep and reduced the number of times participants woke up during the night. A common problem experienced with sleep medication and benzodiazepines is next-day drowsiness or “hangover” symptoms, none of which were reported with CBD.
There are many studies that have reported on the effects of CBD on anxiety. Studies in rat models of post-traumatic stress (PTSD) have shown CBD can interrupt the traumatic memory recall associated with PTSD. CBD has been shown to significantly reduce the amount of anxiety, discomfort, and cognitive impairment that occurs before, during, and after individuals are asked to do something anxiety-inducing (e.g., giving a speech). While researchers have found that a benzodiazepine such as clonazepam relieves anxiety better than CBD does, they’ve also found that it makes participants significantly drowsier. CBD’s ability to relieve anxiety without making one sleepy is a significant advantage—especially for situations where people want/need to remain alert and focused.
CBD has also been found to fight anxiety in people with social anxiety disorder. Imaging studies of brain activity after administration of 600mg of CBD have shown decreased activity in areas of the brain associated with anxiety. While more research still needs to be done, the findings so far indicate that CBD reduces anxiety in both short-term and long-term situations.
If you are thinking of trying CBD for stress and anxiety, we recommend starting with a THC-Free product, or with lower serving sizes of a full spectrum product, as THC causes anxiety for some people. However, CBD does notably lessen the tendency of THC to produce anxiety—so full spectrum products could still be a great option to try.
Different formulations of CBD and cannabinoids may be better suited for certain conditions than others. For instance, a topical is best for sore muscles—while an ingestible product is more effective for sleep issues. What’s clear is that incorporating cannabinoids into your regimen can have a real impact on issues such as pain, sleep, and stress. Find the products and serving sizes that are right for you, and start feeling the relief you’ve been waiting for (and deserve).