Understanding the Endocannabinoid System and Sleep

Cannabis might address the root of insomnia by aiding the body's natural cycles and rhythms.

A Brief Intro to the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)

Cannabis has emerged as a potential remedy for insomnia. At the heart of this relationship lies the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a network of cell signalling pathways spread throughout the body, responsible for vital functions like homeostasis. Its primary role is to regulate essential functions like mood, appetite, pain, and notably, sleep. When this equilibrium falters, the body steps in, producing its own natural cannabinoids, also known as endocannabinoids, to interact with specialized receptors—CB1 and CB2—scattered across cell surfaces found in the brain, lungs, liver, colon, reproductive organs, immune system, bones, muscles, pancreas, spleen and vascular system. These interactions help regulate physiological processes, including the all-important circadian rhythm, the body's internal clock governing the sleep-wake cycle. 


Endocannabinoid System

How Cannabis Influences Insomnia

Disruptions in normal sleep patterns often result in a dysregulated ECS, contributing to the onset or exacerbation of insomnia. This is where cannabis, with its array of cannabinoids like THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), steps into the spotlight. The compounds in cannabis, particularly CBD, have garnered attention for their potential to interact with the ECS, restoring balance and aiding in the regulation of sleep. By influencing the ECS and its effects on your sleep cycle, cannabis holds promise as a tool to recalibrate the body's natural rhythms, offering a potential pathway to a more restful night. 

The Entourage Effect & Sleep Architecture

Cannabis offers a unique cascade of effects that collaboratively enhance various aspects of sleep. These compounds work in chorus, exhibiting what is termed the 'entourage effect'. Cannabinoids have shown promise not just in facilitating the onset of sleep but also in enriching the quality of rest by improving REM sleep, a crucial phase for cognitive restoration and emotional balance. Beyond simply inducing sleep, these phytocannabinoids emulate the actions of the body's endocannabinoids, playing a role in refining the overall 'sleep architecture,' the intricate pattern of sleep stages that define a restorative night's rest. 

The Effect of THC, CBD and CBN on Sleep

Let’s look a little deeper into a few well-researched cannabinoids. THC showcases a range of potential sleep benefits. Its sedative properties offer a potential aid for individuals struggling to drift into sleep, facilitating a quicker onset of sleep. Moreover, its resemblance in structure to anandamide, a natural endocannabinoid, hints at its potential to influence sleep patterns, positively assisting those dealing with sleep disturbances. Interestingly, THC's ability to reduce REM sleep may hold promise for patients coping with PTSD, alleviating the intensity of nightmares and fostering more peaceful nights. 

Renowned for its calming influence on the nervous system, CBD acts as an anxiolytic, effectively reducing anxiety and stress levels—common culprits behind sleep disturbances. Additionally, its potent anti-inflammatory properties contribute to a more relaxed state, potentially easing physical discomfort that might interfere with sleep. By addressing both psychological and physiological factors, CBD emerges as a gentle yet impactful aid in promoting a more restful and rejuvenating night's sleep.

CBN, a lesser-known cannabinoid on the other hand, showcases notable potential in aiding sleep with its sedative properties. CBN has demonstrated an ability to reduce sleep latency—the time it takes to fall asleep—offering a potential solution for those struggling to drift into sleep. This compound's calming influence on the body presents a promising avenue for addressing sleep-related concerns, potentially providing individuals with a quicker and more efficient transition into a restful night's slumber.

Cannabinoids exert their influence on sleep by engaging with the body's intricate sleep-wake mechanisms. Through their interaction with receptors in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a crucial centre for circadian rhythm regulation, cannabinoids impact the release of neurotransmitters vital for governing the sleep cycle. By modulating these neurotransmitters involved in sleep regulation, cannabinoids wield the power to fine-tune the body's internal clock, facilitating the onset and maintenance of a healthy sleep schedule.

THC and Neurotransmitters

THC showcases its sleep-inducing properties by mimicking the actions of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that promotes sedation and relaxation when it binds to its receptors. By interacting with adenosine receptors, THC contributes to its sleep-enhancing properties, aiding in falling asleep. Furthermore, THC's inhibitory effect on the release of excitatory neurotransmitters like glutamate—known for promoting wakefulness—adds another layer to its sleep-promoting abilities. This suppression of glutamate release by THC potentially contributes to the calming and sedative effects that pave the way for a more tranquil sleep experience.



The 4 Stages of Sleep

Sleep is a complex journey composed of distinct phases, each with its unique characteristics and roles in our restorative process. Phase 1 marks the entry point, a light slumber where the body begins to unwind, and brain activity gradually slows down while eye movement decreases. As we progress into Phase 2, the relaxation deepens, eye movements halt, and our body temperature dips while heart rate and breathing slow further. Phase 3, the deepest stage, witnesses the slowest breathing as the brain enters delta wave activity, a crucial period for bodily repair and restoration. Finally, Phase 4 is the rapid eye movement (REM) stage, characterised by heightened brain activity and vivid dreaming, while the body enters a state of paralysis.

The Ayurvedic Perspective

From an Ayurvedic viewpoint, cannabis, or Vijaya, operates by fostering equilibrium within the body's internal environment, aligning with its hot nature to restore balance, particularly in pacifying Vata, the dosha associated with the movement. Once the aggravated Vayu, or air element, finds pacification, the body seeks a harmonious state. Cannabis contributes to this by alleviating pain and enhancing sleep quality, employing its properties to calm an anxious mind. 


The interplay between cannabinoids and sleep mechanisms, whether through neurotransmitter modulation or the restoration of the body's natural rhythms, paints an intriguing picture of potential solutions. As research continues to unveil the intricacies of the relationship between cannabinoid medication and sleep, the relationship between cannabis and sleep is evident enough already. Discover more restful and rejuvenating sleep for yourself with Shunyata Calm.