You and many more people just like you may use cannabis as a sleep aid. It’s safe, natural (non-pharmaceutical) and best of all, it works…well as long as you know the strain you use works best for you. This can be a tough under our current prohibition driven legal circumstances, but have no fear we are here to help rest easy. Shortcomings of the hypocritical policy aside, when one delves deeper into genetics and cannabinoid and terpenoid concentrations, it can come as a surprise that some strains do the exact opposite of the “sleepy stoner” sterotype (i.e. keep one awake). Then, there are some strains that can have an “alert” effect followed by a sleepy effect, or vice-versa. To make things even more confusing, one strain can have different phenotypes with a variety of effects.
To make sense of all of this, we shall explain why cannabis can help a person get to sleep, and a little something about the strains that might help you do so. Some of this may seem elementary to the seasoned user, but the deeper we go the more mysteries we will unlock.
Indicas, Sativas and Hybrids
Ask a person what one of the effects of using cannabis are, and one of the answers will be “sleepy” and “relaxed” . Whether this is through personal experience, seeing its effects on others or through media depictions. You will also read or hear of cannabis enthusiasts from the 60s or 70s writing or talking about the strains of yesteryear – ones that made a person more energetic or focussed.
There is one good reason for this change from “awake” to “asleep”: more and more people started to grow cannabis in their own homes, and more and more indica strains or sativas bred with indicas started to be released in order to accommodate this trend. Growing small plants indoors and out-of-public-view became a possibility. Indicas also have a shorter flowering time, making the whole cultivation process a lot quicker. Add to this the fact that pure, landrace sativas can be difficult to grow when out of their native environment, and you have several good reasons why people started to grow indica more and more often.
However, many people still enjoyed the sativas of their youth, and many people who weren’t around in the 60s/70s were curious about these old sativas. Growing these at home is no easy task, so breeders around the world tried to perfect the art of hybridizing, adding indica genetics to sativas in order to get the shorter flowering time, improve yield and benefit from hybrid vigor, yet still retain the sativa effects. The 80s were a cornerstone decade in the development of many of today’s strains, and it is arguable that these experiments may have also helped us understand how to start breeding for specific cannabinoids like CBD as well.
There have arguably been some successful hybrids that do just this, with Jack Herer and Super Silver Haze (SSH) being two of the most prominent examples. Yet, these two strains are still hybrids, meaning that there will still be phenotypes that lean towards indica effects. Also, the indica will exert its influence on phenotypes that lean more towards the sativa side (and vice-versa), meaning that using Jack Herer or SSH might make you feel awake for an hour or two, then sleepy!
People also started to find that hybridizing strains could also alter and even improve on a particular strain’s effects. The effects of a sativa tend to elongate when crossed with an indica, and vice-versa (more on this later). This allowed for breeders to start “tailoring” strains to the particular flavor and effect profiles people were looking for. People also liked hybrids for the choice in effect it gave them. People could pick a few phenotypes of a strain that treats them particularly well, and then use the different effects for different times of day! For example, a person might have three SSH plants, one indica-leaning for night time, one sativa-leaning for day time and one hybrid for other times.
This variation in cannabis leads nicely onto the next two sections …
What Makes an Indica “Sleepy”?
This is an interesting question. Sativas, with their tendency to be high in THC and low in CBD, are said to keep one awake. Indicas are usually high in both THC and CBD, and are said to keep one asleep. Many postulated that this was because CBD inhibited the actions of the enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), which breaks down THC and the natural endocannabinoid anandamide, thus providing a less “high” feel and a more “couchlock” one. This was also one of the reasons given as to why indicas tend to prolong the effects of a sativa when hybridized.
However, this is not entirely accurate, as fatty acid-binding proteins (FABPs) are the intracellular carriers for THC and CBD in humans. Rather, it seems that CBD “competes” with THC, and the THC:CBD ratio determines to what extent these two cannabinoids compete for FABPs. However, CBD does inhibit THC, but the system of modulation may be competitive rather than cooperative! This may also explain why indicas increase the duration of a sativa’s effects when the two are crossed – the THC essentially stays in the system for longer! CBD inhibits FAAH in mice, not humans! There is also the fact that CBD can also increase anandamide levels, meaning the whole CBD = sleepy formula pretty inaccurate.
However, one of the main reasons why people might associate CBD with sleep is because it can and does help many people feel relaxed and less anxious. So, whilst the CBD isn’t necessarily making you feel sleepy in and of itself due to some inherent property of the phytocannabinoid, the fact that you are getting relaxed and feeling less anxious does.
Should we look at the top 10 CBD-rich strains on Leafly, we can see this inaccuracy in play. There are plenty of sativa-leaning, CBD-rich strains that make one feel alert, and indicas even with a 1:1 ratio still retain their sleepy effects. There must be something else going on that we’re missing out on …
More than just the taste and smell, terpenes have their own effects in and of themselves, and it is these terpenes that might be helping induce sleep, as opposed to just the cannabinoids in and of themselves. Moreover, terpenes also help contribute to the entourage effect, and have powerful effects all of their own. There are three particular terpenes in cannabis that can aide sleep. They are: