Edibles might seem like the ideal replacement for a nightcap (or even prescription medication) for inducing sleep, but it helps to know what you're getting into first. Here's the real deal on ingestible cannabis for sleep.
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Been having trouble falling and staying asleep this past year and a half? You're not alone.

A U.K.-based study reported that the number of people experiencing insomnia rose from 1 in 6 in 2018 to 1 in 4 in April 2020. The Sleep Foundation even coined a term for it — coronasomnia — to describe the sleep-related problems that have stemmed from pandemic stress.

And while grogginess, fatigue, and under-eye bags are some of the more prominent symptoms stemming from a poor night's sleep, continual sleep problems can have major negative impacts on your overall health: Consistent poor sleep can increase your risk for cardiovascular issues, weight gain, and depression, as well as deplete your body's natural defenses and potentially even detract from the effectiveness of certain vaccines, according to The Sleep Foundation.

If you're like many folks during this pandemic, you might reach for a glass of wine or even melatonin to spur sleep. But neither are perfect: Leaning toward alcohol dependency could have dangerous, lasting effects (younger women are dying of liver disease at alarmingly increasing rates), and experts note that melatonin isn't necessarily for everyone.

So, is there an alternative sleep supplement that might be more optimal? Well, possibly.

Enter: edibles.

What Are Edibles?

While the term "edible" might draw up an image of a college party with kids sharing a pan of pot brownies, an edible is simply any ingested item (be it a gummy, capsule, tincture, or other food product) containing one or more cannabinoids with the intent of providing a therapeutic dose to help whatever's ailing you — i.e. stress, pain, or insomnia. Those cannabinoids (compounds found in cannabis plants) include CBD, THC, or CBN.

Here's a quick breakdown of each:

  • CBD (short for cannabidiol) is a compound known for alleviating anxiety and inflammation — without getting you high.
  • THC (short for tetrahydrocannabinol) is notoriously known as the intoxicating, psychoactive compound (the one that gets you high), and has been shown to reduce chronic pain.
  • CBN (short for cannabinol), the lesser-studied compound of the three, stems from THC (making it somewhat psychoactive, but not as potent as THC). "CBN is generally accepted to be one of the more sedating compounds, but consumers also find THC and CBD helpful for sleep, depending primarily on the ultimate cause of the insomnia," says Benjamin Caplan, M.D., a board-certified family medicine physician, cannabis physician, and founder of CED Clinic in Massachusetts. "CBN is felt to be much less euphoric than THC. For this reason, it often appeals more broadly to people that like THC as well as those who don't."

There are varying strains of each marijuana plant, too: indica and sativa. Historically, indica has been known as the more sedating variety, while sativa has a reputation for being more energizing. That said, when it comes to edibles, the two strains don't really factor much into effectiveness, says Stacy Woodcock, Pharm.D., a dispensary manager with Curaleaf. What's more predictive of your experience is which cannabinoid (THC, CBD, or CBN) is in what you're consuming. (Related: A Definitive List of the Proven Health Benefits of CBD Oil)

Can Edibles Really Improve My Sleep? one woman in bed sleeping lying on back silhouette with galaxy and cannabis background
Credit: Getty Images

So, Can Edibles Help Me Sleep?

The short answer: It depends on who you're asking.

Dr. Caplan, for one, is a major fan of cannabis when it comes to addressing his patient's sleeping ailments: "I have watched low-dose edibles help tens of thousands of patients discover restful sleep that most of our common prescriptions couldn't achieve, and without unpleasant side effects."

Smita Patel, D.O., a physician in neurology, sleep medicine, and integrative medicine, echoes that sentiment. "[Research] on cannabis and sleep disorders suggests that CBD may have therapeutic potential for insomnia and that THC may decrease the time it takes to fall asleep when you first go to bed." (Related: These CBD Gummies Are the Only Thing Helping Me Sleep During Quarantine)

In one 2019 study, for example, participants with anxiety or sleep disorders were administered 25 to 175mg of CBD per day. Roughly a month later, nearly 70 percent of participants reported improved sleep quality while 80 percent said their anxiety had decreased overall. (See: What Happened When I Tried CBD for My Anxiety)

ICYDK, your body actually has a built-in system in place to receive cannabinoids called the endocannabinoid system. This system is basically part of your nervous system that contains (whether you ingest cannabis or not) molecules called endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes. These three components work together to aid your body in a trove of processes, from stress relief to pain reduction to, conveniently, improved sleep. "The human body has an endocannabinoid system which works to provide an overall sense of well-being, including quality sleep," says Elizabeth Ardillo, Pharm.D., director of medical education at Green Thumb Industries. "We have found that [ingesting cannabis] can help with sleep by working with receptors in the endocannabinoid system to provide a reduced sensation of pain, provide stress support, and ease restlessness."

Of course, not all data on cannabis and sleep is positive. A literature review from 2017 suggested that repeated THC use might hinder sleep in the long-term — and that CBD could even act as a stimulant and keep you awake in some cases. (Related: A Definitive List of the Proven Health Benefits of CBD Oil)

Dr. Caplan notes that it's important to take these types of studies with a grain of salt. "The data on cannabis and its effects on sleep, like much of the existing data about cannabis, must be read with a critical eye," warns Dr. Caplan. "It comes with the baggage of a decades-long systematic anti-cannabis agenda and a historical heap of studies that were biased against positive effects." (More on that here: Drug, Medicine, or Something In Between? Here's What You Should Really Know About Weed)

How to Use Edibles for Better Sleep

So, should you consider popping an edible prior to bedtime? Well, first off, if you have a liver condition, it's best to stay away. "Anyone consuming cannabis with liver concerns should consult an expert, as all cannabinoids are processed in the liver," says Dr. Caplan.

Beyond that caveat, however, the experts interviewed say that there's generally no harm in giving edibles a try for a night or two to see how they affect your snooze. However, it's always best to chat with your doctor prior to trying any new supplement and, of course, refrain from operating any heavy machinery (like driving a car) after consuming it. (While there's no official medical database of doctors prescribing cannabis, you can use online tools like Leafly's find a doctor tool.)

Here are five tips for selecting (and using) edibles for sleep in the right way.

1. Pick the Right Product

There are tons of edible options available with a range of ingredients, but Dr. Caplan says he's a particular fan of oil-based products, as they tend to be digested slower in the body, so they last longer and have a calming effect. So, what's an example of an oil-based edible? Simple: The food the marijuana is paired with has an fat or oil base (like chocolate or coconut oil) instead of sugar (like gummies).

As for the type of THC, CBD, or CBN contained within the edible, Ardillo recommends trying products that contains a combo of THC and CBN, specifically. "While each person is different, edibles with THC and CBN can help offer an uninterrupted night sleep without the groggy feeling produced by many medications."

Of course, it's worth noting that not all states allow you to legally purchase cannabis without a medical card. But you can acquire CBD most anywhere, say Dr. Caplan. "There are only two states left, Idaho and Nebraska, that don't have some form of state-sponsored access to cannabis, and throughout the United States, CBD is legal and accessible by postal mail," he says. As for recreational use of cannabis (i.e. if you don't have a prescription or medical card), this varies from state to state and is rapidly changing, so be sure to check your state's laws. (More here: How to Buy the Best Safe and Effective CBD Products)

2. Prep Yourself to Take It

How do you make the most of your edible and ensure things go smoothly for sleep? Dr. Caplan says it's a pretty simple two-step process: 1) Pick an oil-based food to pair it with, even if your edible itself is oil-based (again, because fats are digested slowly) and 2) set a timer. "The best preparation for an edible is a timer," he explains. "The delayed onset is the most common trap for novice consumers." Why? That's because edibles can take upwards of 60 minutes, or longer, to take effect (as opposed to cannabis that's inhaled, which kicks in within a few minutes), says Dr. Caplan.

The other foods you eat along with or just before eating an edible can affect that timeline, too, says Dr. Caplan. If you have a carb-heavy meal with little fat, expect the edible to take longer to sink in and have a shorter effect. With a fat- and oil-rich meal, the edible will likely kick in sooner and you'll have a longer-lasting effect in the body, he explains.

Regardless of what type of meal you have, just allot a solid 30 to 60 minutes prior to bed before popping yours in.

As for hydration: "Cannabis, in general, can be somewhat dehydrating, so it's always wise for the cannabis consumer to be mindful of adequate hydration — but no extra special hydration plan is necessary," says Dr. Caplan.

3. Watch the Dose

When it comes to edibles, little goes a long way, says Dr. Caplan. "Many newcomers to edibles make the mistake of taking a larger amount than the body may need, and the extra THC can feel like an unwelcome, and long-lasting roller-coaster ride," he warns. His advice: be patient. "All too often, consumers forget that there is a long delay before edibles kick in," he says, noting that impatience — and the choice to take more — can leave you with these undesired effects.

And while cannabis won't give you the same type of hangover as alcohol would (even if you take too much), Woodcock says you should try to allot 6 to 10 hours for the edible to stay in your system. Since everyone's experience is different, she recommends trying your first edible for sleep before a morning where you don't have anything pressing to do.

If you're opting for an edible with THC, try 2 to 3 mg of THC to start. "This lower dose range is often mildly euphoric without being too overwhelming or surprising," says Dr. Caplan. (FYI: Depending on how the edible is packaged, you may need to split whatever food the THC is contained in in halves or quarters.) If you still had trouble falling (and staying) asleep, even with an edible as an aid, it's okay to up the dose on subsequent nights to 5 to 10 mg, says Dr. Caplan.

And if you truly don't feel anything, no matter how much you take? Well, "oddly, there exists a cohort of people who, no matter what dose they consume, seem to not ever feel the effects of edibles, even though they may easily feel effects of lower-dosed inhalation choices," says Dr. Caplan. In that case, edibles might not be the cannabis product for you.

4. Scan the Label

"There are countless options [for edibles] that are accessible online and can be shipped to [a person's] home," says Dr. Caplan. When choosing a product, he recommends looking for something called a Certificate of Analysis (or COA) on the label, which essentially means the product has been lab-tested and and won't contain harmful toxins.

To purchase edibles with THC, know your state's laws. Cannabis is federally illegal, and some states have different rules about what you can and cannot order online.

5. Don't Rely on Edibles Nightly

Just like you don't want to be taking melatonin every single night (you don't want to become dependent on it), you'll want to use edibles for sleep as a short-term supplement, says Dr. Patel. "To sleep restfully, you'll want to practice good sleep hygiene and incorporate other behaviors that support a lifestyle that promotes good sleep."

If you have more than just a little bit of restlessness (and believe you have insomnia), talk to your doctor about it immediately — don't simply rely on edible cannabis (or another supplement) night after night, she says. "Numerous studies have shown that long term use could have a negative impact on sleep due to habituating effects of marijuana," she says. In other words, you will develop a tolerance — and the effects will stop working on you.