Cannabinoids Other Than CBD for Sleep

Ryan Fiorenzi, BS, Certified Sleep Science Coach - Updated on May 19th, 2023

The CBD Alternatives You've Never Heard Of

The most famous cannabinoid is THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the compound responsible for making cannabis users high. CBD (cannabidiol) is the other most famous cannabinoid. It has received a lot of attention in the last few years because of its health benefits and because laws regarding cannabis have changed in many states. But CBD is one of over 110 cannabinoids; some of these compounds include CBDA, CBN, CBG, CBC, and CBDV. One of the benefits of CBD and several others is that they don't have psychoactive properties, so users don't experience a high (though some cannabinoids are psychoactive). First, we'll discuss what cannabinoids are, what some of the more popular cannabinoids do, and then discuss which ones may benefit sleep.

Are There Cannabinoids Other Than CBD for Sleep?

As of now, there's not enough research to confidently recommend alternative cannabinoids for sleep. However, there are a few cannabinoids that show a lot of promise for people who have a hard time getting to sleep, staying asleep, or waking up feeling refreshed. According to research published by the National Institutes of Health, "It is becoming increasingly evident that endocannabinoids play a prominent role in sleep and sleep neurophysiology, and cannabinoid drugs alter these processes."

A study from 1975 showed that CBG might inhibit GABA uptake - GABA uptake inhibitors are currently used to treat anxiety. Bonni Goldstein, M.D., who has a specialty in cannabis medicine, explains that CBG inhibiting GABA uptake can relax the body and mind. As CBG is the precursor to CBD and has several similar characteristics to CBD, it wouldn't be a surprise to see research supporting the use of CBG and other cannabinoids to help people suffering from insomnia. Both are non-psychoactive, and CBG may counteract the high from THC, similar to CBD. Both seem to activate the CB1 receptor, which reduces psycho-activation. Many of these popular cannabinoids have similar benefits (anti-seizure, anti-fungal, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory), so it would come as no surprise if many other compounds had similar benefits for insomniacs similar to CBD.

CBN is another cannabinoid that shows promise for people with insomnia as preliminary research in mice found prolonged sleep and enhanced sleep quality. Leafly quotes Steep Hill laboratory, “The consumption of 2.5 mg to 5 mg of CBN has the same level of sedation as a mild pharmaceutical sedative, with a relaxed body sensation similar to 5 mg to 10 mg of diazepam.”

Dr. Ethan Russo, Director of Research and Development at the International Cannabis and Cannabinoid Institute, believes that the best way to improve sleep with cannabis is to combine THC with other sedating compounds like myrcene and linalool (both are terpenes, not cannabinoids, which are naturally-occurring aromatic oils that add flavor to CBD). He said that cannabis is effective for sleep because it treats underlying causes of insomnia, not because it's a sedative.

Right now, it's much easier to buy CBD products than CBG, CBN, and other lesser-known cannabinoids. But as cannabis legislation in the U.S. and around the world becomes more relaxed, research on these compounds will be much more common.

What are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are naturally occurring compounds found in the resinous glands of the cannabis plant that were first discovered in Israel in the 1950s. These cannabinoids interact with our endocannabinoid system (ECS). "Endo" means within, and "cannabinoid" refers to a cannabis-like system. The ECS has three parts: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes that help break down endocannabinoids and cannabinoids. Your ECS maintains homeostasis or balance in your body via 2 types of receptors:

  • CB1 - in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord)
  • CB2 - in the peripheral nervous system (nerves in your arms, legs, digestive system, and immune system)

According to Very Well Health, we may even have a third endocannabinoid system. Our cannabinoid receptors play a role in maintaining balance in many systems, including digestion, mood, sleep, inflammation, sex, coordination, pain, temperature, memory, and appetite. When our ECS isn't functioning optimally, we can have problems with one or more of these systems. There's research into a condition called clinical endocannabinoid deficiency (CECD), which may cause migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, and other treatment-resistant syndromes. Using cannabinoids such as CBD can stimulate the ECS and has been the focus of a lot of research in the last 10 years.

CBN (cannabinol)

CBN is produced by exposing THC to heat, oxygen, or by aging a cannabis plant (it's often found in higher amounts in older plants). There's debate on whether it produces a high, with some research concluding it's mildly psychoactive and other research saying that it's non-psychoactive. If it does produce a high, it's not nearly as much as what one would get from THC. According to Royal CBD, CBN is less versatile than many other cannabinoids, and there aren't a lot of CBN supplements right now, but there are several possible benefits:

  • It may be a powerful sedative, or it may address some of the causes of insomnia.
  • Research from the University of Edinburgh shows that it may stimulate the growth of bone tissue by affecting the skeletal endocannabinoid system.
  • A study published in the National Institutes of Health showed promise as an antibacterial compound - it was effective against MRSA bacteria, which are resistant to traditional bacteria.
  • It has shown to be a neuroprotectant, as demonstrated in a study on mice to delay the onset of ALS (Lou Gehrig's Syndrome).
  • It also has shown to be anesthetic, anti-inflammatory, and anticonvulsant (prevents seizures or convulsions).

CBG (cannabigerol)

CBG is a precursor to CBD and THC (though it's non-psychoactive) and is often referred to as "the mother of all cannabinoids" or the stem cell. CBG is transformed into CBD and THC via light and heat, similar to CBN. CBG helps create the entourage effect, which means compounds working together to produce a greater benefit than when taken separately. It's not found in large quantities within the hemp plant and is, therefore, more difficult to research and test.

CBG was discovered in the 1960s and is generating a lot of excitement among researchers and CBD users. It has a long list of potential benefits:

  • Increases dopamine levels (the "happy hormone" that's associated with pleasure and reward).
  • Supports sleep and mood.
  • Potential digestive benefits.
  • Reduces anxiety and depression.
  • Has the potential to block receptors that are responsible for the growth of cancer cells.
  • Has been shown to help glaucoma patients.
  • Has antibiotic properties, helping patients affected with MRSA, which is usually resistant to antibiotics.

CBG may also counteract the high of THC, just like CBD, because it activates the CB1 receptor, which decreases psycho-activation.

CBC (cannabichromene)

CBC is similar to CBD and THC in that it comes from CBDA being exposed to light or heat. It's non-psychoactive and shows promise in the following ways:

  • As a painkiller (though not as strong as THC).
  • Reduces inflammation.
  • Has strong antibacterial effects, as well as being mild to moderately effective against fungi.
  • It is an anti-viral.
  • An anti-cancer agent, especially breast cancer.
  • An anti-depressant.
  • Through neurogenesis (stimulates the growth of brain cells).
  • It may reduce and prevent acne.

Multicannabinoid Capsules or Oil

CBDV (cannabivarin)

CBDV is non-intoxicating and has a molecular structure similar to CBD, though it has different benefits. It looks to be able to:

  • Relieve nausea from chemotherapy.
  • Suppress appetite.
  • Be used as a treatment for epilepsy, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Crohn's disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and other neurological diseases.

CBDV is found in plants with high levels of CBD and low levels of THC, and similar to CBG, it's hard to find.

According to Way of Leaf, GW Pharmaceuticals, one of the big players in the pharmaceutical space, is studying CBDV for its anti-seizure benefit. The first CBD-based FDA-approved drug, Epidiolex, was approved to treat two rare forms of seizures. GW is also researching use cases for Rett Syndrome, fragile X, autism spectrum disorder, etc.

CBDA (cannabidiolic acid)

CBDA is the precursor to CBD, as the acid is removed with heat from this cannabinoid to produce CBD. CBDA can be extracted by juicing because it exists in unprocessed hemp plants. The juice can be added to food and drinks or infused into raw extracts. It's being investigated as a treatment for inflammation, as it's the primary inhibitor of the COX-2 enzyme, which is involved in producing prostaglandins that mediate pain and support the inflammatory process. By blocking COX-2 enzymes, CBDA can relieve inflammation and pain after an injury or infection.

There's also evidence that it treats nausea and certain types of cancer. According to Leafly, radiation and chemotherapy can cause vomiting and nausea. Vomiting can be controlled by medication, but nausea is harder to control. Patients report that nausea is a continuous sensation to the point that 1 in 5 patients consider stopping their cancer treatment to get rid of nausea.

Though Epidiolex is used for two rare forms of epilepsy (the first CBD-based medication with FDA approval), CBDA has so far been shown to be an even more effective seizure treatment.