Sleep apnea causes you to wake up frequently throughout the night, which can get in the way of restful, restorative sleep. Could CBD help improve your rest?
If you have sleep apnea, you’ll briefly stop breathing in your sleep, multiple times throughout the night. This can happen anywhere from
While it might go without saying, this pattern of fractured sleep can leave you feeling sleepy and foggy during the day. Not getting enough sleep on a regular basis can also begin to affect your mental and physical health.
A doctor or sleep specialist may prescribe a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine or an oral appliance to treat your sleep apnea, but you might also consider various home remedies, like using a humidifier or changing your sleep position.
Various sources around the internet — including the subreddit r/sleepapnea — also rave about cannabidiol (CBD) oil as a helpful remedy.
If you’re already familiar with CBD’s potential to help promote better sleep, it may not seem like a huge leap to imagine CBD might improve your sleep apnea, too. Anecdotally, some people with sleep apnea do say CBD makes a difference. To date, however, no scientific studies have studied the benefits of CBD for sleep apnea.
Below, get the details on CBD’s benefits and limits for addressing sleep apnea, and what to know before trying it.
Is CBD legal? The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the legal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This made some hemp-derived CBD products with less than 0.3% THC legal at the federal level. However, CBD products containing more than 0.3% THC still fall under the legal definition of marijuana, making them illegal at the federal level. Some states have legalized CBD, so be sure to check state laws, especially when traveling. Also, keep in mind that the FDA has not approved nonprescription CBD products, and some products may be inaccurately labeled.
CBD is one of the many chemical compounds, or cannabinoids, in cannabis and hemp plants.
Unlike another cannabinoid you may recognize, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD doesn’t have an intoxicating effect. In other words, it won’t give you the “high” you might associate with THC.
Both CBD and THC work by interacting with your endocannabinoid system (ECS). Everyone has this system — it doesn’t matter whether you use CBD or not.
The ECS regulates functions such as sleep, mood, and appetite. It also works to keep your body healthy. It’s made up of endocannabinoids, or cannabinoids produced by your own body, as well as receptors and enzymes. Endocannabinoids and cannabinoids such as THC and CBD can all bind to the same receptors.
Experts have identified two kinds of receptors in the ECS:
- CB1 receptors, mostly found in the central nervous system
- CB2 receptors, mostly found in your peripheral nervous system
THC binds with the CB1 and CB2 receptors, while CBD binds very weakly, if at all, to CB1 receptors.
Because the ECS plays a part in sleep, some people believe cannabinoids may help with sleep disorders.
As far as research goes, results remain inconclusive. According to a 2022 review, some studies do suggest cannabinoids might improve sleep, but far more research is needed to shed more light on CBD’s potential benefits.
CBD vs. THC
Many people opt for CBD products over THC products because CBD:
- tends to be more easily available
- is legal when it contains less than 0.3% THC
- won’t make you feel “high”
- typically causes fewer side effects than THC
CBD oil, as the name suggests, contains CBD suspended in carrier oil, such as hemp seed oil or coconut oil. It’s usually sold in a small bottle with a dropper, which allows you to measure the oil and squeeze it directly into your mouth.
To date, no research suggests CBD oil, or any other type of CBD, can help relieve or treat sleep apnea specifically. That said, CBD may help address some of the effects sleep apnea can have on your body.
Because it interrupts your sleep, sleep apnea can have a negative impact on your mood, memory, and physical health.
CBD may help ease some of these effects. For example, it helps with:
- Reduced depression and anxiety:
Evidencelinks sleep apnea to feelings of depression and anxiety, and emerging research suggests CBD may help ease both depression and anxiety.
- Lower blood pressure: Sleep apnea could contribute to the development of high blood pressure, and many people living with obstructive sleep apnea
have high blood pressure. One 2020 study suggests CBD may help lower stress-related high blood pressure, but more research may help add more support for this potential benefit.
- Less daytime sleepiness: Sleep apnea can lead to daytime fatigue. Some
researchsuggests CBD may lower excessive daytime sleepiness for people with narcolepsy. Experts haven’t yet studied CBD’s role in relieving daytime fatigue for people with sleep apnea, but it may have a similar benefit.
Research on the use of cannabinoids for sleep apnea remains extremely limited.
CBD for sleep apnea
To date, no clinical studies have explored the benefits of CBD for sleep apnea, so research currently doesn’t support CBD as a potential method of reducing the symptoms of sleep apnea.
In general, very little research has considered whether CBD might have benefit as a remedy for other sleep disorders, such as insomnia.
Dronabinol for sleep apnea
Dronabinol (Marinol, Syndros) is a synthetic version of THC that doesn’t contain CBD. This FDA-approved drug helps treat nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.
According to the 2022 review mentioned earlier, some evidence does suggest dronabinol may help with sleep apnea, but the improvement is so small that it’s not clinically meaningful.
Future clinical studies may help add more support for dronabinol as a potential treatment for sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea and medical cannabis
Some states with medical cannabis programs include obstructive sleep apnea as a qualifying condition.
That said, medical cannabis — which contains THC — may cause some side effects that can worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea. For example, cannabis can worsen daytime sleepiness and affect your ability to concentrate, think or reason clearly, and remember information.
Due to a lack of research demonstrating its safety for people with sleep-related breathing disorders, the
However, the AASM has no official position on using CBD for sleep apnea.
Again, very little research suggests CBD in any form can help with sleep apnea. But anecdotally, some people who live with sleep apnea do say CBD improves their sleep and reduces secondary symptoms, such as daytime fatigue and mood symptoms.
If you’d like to try using CBD for sleep apnea and related issues, you have a variety of options to choose from. Along with CBD oil or tinctures, you can also try:
When it comes to figuring out a CBD dosage, you’ll generally want to start with a low dosage and gradually increase it, if necessary. For example, you could start with 20 mg per day and increase it by 5 mg if you want a stronger effect.
If you’re unsure about the best dose for you, a good first step might involve asking a doctor or other healthcare professional about how much to take.
You can use CBD at any time of the day, but when using it for sleep apnea, you may want to take it an hour or two before bedtime.
If you have sleep apnea or any health condition, it’s important to talk with a doctor before trying supplements and similar products, including CBD.
You’ll want to keep taking any medications a doctor has prescribed unless they tell you it’s OK to stop. If you do try CBD, it’s always a good idea to let your doctor know how often you use it, and how much you take per dose.
Safety and side effects
CBD is considered relatively safe. You may notice some side effects, which many people describe as mild.
- nausea and vomiting
- changes in appetite and weight
Combining CBD with certain medications could lead to additional side effects — another reason why it’s always best to talk with a doctor before trying CBD.
A CPAP machine is a device used to treat sleep apnea. It works by sending pressurized air into your nose and mouth as you sleep. This helps your airways stay open so you can breathe continuously while sleeping.
Have you wondered whether adding CBD oil to your CPAP machine will deliver a steady dose of CBD throughout the night? This probably isn’t the best idea.
CPAP machines aren’t designed to process or vaporize CBD oil, so adding CBD oil to your CPAP machine can break it.
Although many people with sleep apnea use CBD oil to help ease their symptoms, no scientific studies have evaluated the benefits of CBD for sleep apnea symptoms.
At the end of the day, CBD may help promote better sleep, but it can’t treat sleep apnea directly. If sleep apnea persistently disrupts your rest, your best option involves talking with a primary doctor or getting a referral to sleep specialist.
Possible treatments for sleep apnea include using a CPAP machine or similar device, making lifestyle changes like quitting smoking, or trying oral appliances. Finding the right treatment can improve your sleep, not to mention your overall health and well-being.
Sian Ferguson is a freelance health and cannabis writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about empowering readers to take care of their mental and physical health through science-based, empathetically delivered information.