It’s almost like you see it labeled on every medication in the world – “Do not take while operating heavy machinery or driving.” The reason this often repeated warning exists is because some drugs are known to cause drowsiness, or evenfull-onn exhaustion. Sometimes that’s their intended purpose, but other times it’s just an unfortunate site effect, like in the case of antihistamines taken to reduce the pain from insect bites.
But what about CBD, though? Maybe you’ve been recommended to take it by your doctor, or you just want to try it and help treat your condition; what happens when you take it? Is it going to make you tired?
Well, to understand whether or not CBD will make you tired, we need to look at what CBD is, and how it affects your body.
What is CBD & How Does it Interact with Your Body?
CBD, or cannabidiol as it is more properly known, is one of the principle cannabinoids within Cannabis sativa plants, with the other being the infamous THC.
Cannabinoids are an interesting class of chemical compounds within the cannabis plant, because they interact with a unique health system in the body called the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
When you imbibe CBD, it metabolizes in your liver and eventually finds its way to this system, which is dispersed throughout the body by two primary receptors, the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
These receptors are located in different parts of the body and are thus responsible for different bodily functions. For example, the CB2 receptors exist throughout the body and have the ability to influence both the rate of cellular regeneration (in other words, how fast certain cells in your body to grow back after being damaged or destroyed) and also the body’s inflammation response.
However, the CB1 receptors exist mostly within the brain and central nervous system, allowing them to affect the brain’s release of certain neurochemicals, as well as impact the sensation of pain. These receptors are actually triggered by all Cannabinoids, including the ones we make within the body ourselves. However, CBD is unique in the way it interacts with the ECS.
Firstly, it has a significant effect on the ECS, triggering it to higher levels than our body would normally do and allowing it to work its healing magic at a much faster rate. Secondly, in comparison with other cannabinoids’ interaction with the ECS, CBD triggers the receptors slowly and gently.
This is in significant contrast to THC, which clings to the CB receptors and over-stimulates them, which is what results in the signature sensation of the psychoactive high. CBD simply sets up nearby the receptors and triggers them gradually and calmly, allowing for the medicinal effect to take place without the unnecessary side effects of psychoactive highs.
Now that we understand more about what CBD actually is and what it does to the body, let’s take a look at the frequently seen side effect of drowsiness in some medicines, and whether or not CBD causes it.
Why Do Some Medicines Cause Drowsiness?
No one likes the feeling of being tired when they’re not supposed to. Of course, once its bedtime you very much hope to be tired enough to fall asleep easily; no one likes laying awake in bed wanting and needing to sleep but not being able to.
However, there are just some times when you need to take a medicine that causes an uncontrollable feeling of drowsiness and a desire to find the nearest bed. While annoying, this could also be extremely dangerous if you’re driving, or if you need to operate any kind of reflex sensitive machinery. Why is this? What is it about certain medicines that make you sleepy?
Well, that sensation of drowsiness is caused by two primary things: the brain’s release of a neurochemicals called melatonin, and the role played by a hormone called histamines. Melatonin, commonly now sold as a supplement to aid sleeping, is a hormone made by the pineal gland that essentially controls your body’s sleep cycle. When your brain expects you to be asleep, either because it is approaching the time of day you usually sleep or just because it is physically or mentally drained, it will trigger the release of melatonin, which will interact with your body to create that well-known feeling of drowsiness.
Certain medicines can kick start the brain’s release of melatonin as a result of their effects, causing an unwanted sensation of drowsiness. Think of it like the medicine flipping the switch on your tiredness setting in your brain almost by accident while it goes about its business.
The other common cause for medicines causing drowsiness is due to histamines. Histamines are a nitrogenous compound that is responsible for acting as a neurotransmitter to the brain, alerting the body whenever there’s an infection or irritation.
In the case of a mosquito bite or an allergy (two of the most common reasons for taking an antihistamine), the histamines in your body freak out and cause a variety of different interactions in your body, all aimed at directing your body’s white blood cells to tackle the issue and heal you. When the irritation gets too much, people take an antihistamine and tell the body to calm down and stop being so annoying.
However, histamines also play an important role in the sleep-wake cycle, in that they are an additional tool in the brain to create the sensation of drowsiness through the stimulation of neural pathways in your brain. The brain expects a dose of histamines at the right time to coincide with the feeling of sleepiness and the need for rest.
When you take an antihistamine, your body’s cycle falls out of sync with itself and can, in essence, freak out and incorrectly cause the sensation of drowsiness, as evidenced in a study by Brown et al. for the Journal of Progressive Neurobiology.
In these two ways, medicine can negatively affect your sleep cycle and cause you to feel drowsiness when you don’t want to. So, what about CBD? How does it affect your sleep cycle? Does it cause the same things as antihistamines?
CBD & Its Effects on Drowsiness
Drowsiness with CBD isn’t as clear-cut as with other medicines that have easily observable, significant effects – like antihistamines. As we now know, CBD interacts with your endocannabinoid system (ECS), triggering the CB1 and CB2 receptors and causing a variety of different effects. The CB1 receptor, located primarily within the brain and affected by CBD, is one of the main parts of the brain responsible for the release of important neurochemicals and hormones like melatonin. It might stand to reason that CBD causes you to feel sleepy, but it’s actually a lot more complicated than that.
One study by Rodriguez et al. found that the effects of CBD on your sleep cycle were actually dependant on when you took the CBD. The study found that, if you take CBD when you are already in a regular period of wakefulness, like in the middle of the day, and if you’re not suffering from mental or physical exhaustion, CBD actually causes you to feel more awake, aware and alert.
However, if you take CBD in the evening when you’re already tired, or even just when it’s late and your brain expects you to be sleepy, then CBD actually does cause you to feel drowsy. This means that the effect CBD has on your drowsiness is variable, depending on when in the day you actually take it.
The primary reason is because CBD’s triggering of the CB1 receptor isn’t aggressive or intense; it encourages the CB1 receptor to act normally, causing it to release a small amount of melatonin. However, it also promotes wakefulness and alertness through the general triggering of your body’s central nervous system.
This response is mitigated in the evening, as your body has begun to somewhat shutdown at this time.
This means that CBD works with your body depending on what it actually wants – if it wants you to be asleep, whether through it just being used to going to sleep at that time or from actual exhaustion, then CBD helps you get to sleep and be in sync with your body. However, if you take it during the day and when you are normally wakeful, then CBD helps you remain awake.
Now you see why the answer is a bit more complicated than you might have first expected.
Final Thoughts on CBD and Drowsiness
CBD’s effect on your wakefulness is something quite difficult to explain – it works differently depending on the time of day you take it, as well as the quantity you take. This makes the question “will CBD make me tired?” a difficult one because… well, yes. However, it won’t make you tired unless you are already tired to begin with.
If you’re awake and just going about your day, CBD has been reported to actually encourage attention and focus, as well as helping you fight off that bad night’s sleep you had last night. This means you don’t need to worry about taking CBD during the day if you’re driving or operating machinery, though it does mean you need to be careful if you’re already tired and administering CBD.
However, if you’re just trying to get to sleep, it could be exactly what you need.
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