How CBD may help with sleep apnea

How CBD may help with sleep apnea


With 5 years of cannabis journalism behind her after graduating from De Montfort University and writing for cannabis publications such as The Cannavist, Lucy is a dedicated journalist passionate about cannabis education and culture.

Sleep apnoea is a disorder that occurs during sleep when breathing involuntarily stops for short periods before restarting again. There are thought to be around one billion adults around the world who suffer from some form of sleep apnoea, although the condition can range from very mild to severe.

Although there are several common treatments for sleep apnoea, in recent years there has been a large amount of research into the potential benefits of medical cannabis, and in particular CBD, for sufferers. Some studies have shown that certain properties of CBD may potentially enhance sleep stability and reduce the symptoms of sleep apnoea by a considerable amount. 

Read on to find out more about how CBD might be able to help.

Understanding sleep apnoea and its causes

There are three main types of sleep apnoea.

  • Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) – where the flow of air into the lungs is blocked through the unintended relaxation of the throat muscles. This is, by far, the most common form of sleep apnoea.
  • Central sleep apnoea (CSA) – occurs when the brain stops sending the correct signals to the groups of muscles that control breathing.
  • Treatment-emergent central sleep apnoea – this is diagnosed when a patient is treated for OSA that then converts to CSA during treatment

All three types of sleep apnoea are chronic conditions that can have severe long-term health consequences if not addressed and treated in the correct way. These include a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disturbances, and liver problems.

Short-term health concerns can include excessive tiredness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, and even falling asleep in situations where this should not be happening (at work, or worse, while driving). Although sleep apnoea sufferers are technically asleep when apnoea occurs, it can interrupt the brain’s sleep patterns and lead them to feel tired even after a “full night’s sleep”.

The main symptoms of sleep apnoea include:

  • Interrupted breathing
  • Gasping, snorting or choking
  • Frequent waking during the night
  • Prolonged snoring
  • Waking up with an extremely dry mouth
  • Morning headaches

When first diagnosed, your doctor will most likely look for you to make changes to your lifestyle and overall health. These may include:

  • Losing weight
  • Regular exercise
  • Drinking alcohol moderately or not at all
  • Smoking cessation
  • Use of nasal decongestant
  • Not sleeping on your back
  • Avoiding sedative medications 

If these steps do not result in improvement, then more physical interventions may be required. 

These include:

  • Positive airway pressure (PAP) devices: fitting a device to ensure all airways are kept open to prevent breathing interruptions. Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines are considered gold standard treatment, but there are many options available.
  • Oral Appliances (mouthpieces): oral devices designed to keep the airways open, usually by bringing the lower jaw forward. Mouthpieces are typically only offered after a patient has found that they cannot sleep well when using one of the PAP machine treatments.
  • Surgery: only considered when all other treatments have been explored, and most often involves the removal of small amounts of tissue from the back of the mouth or top of the throat.

CBD and sleep apnoea: What the research says

The use of CBD to treat sleep apnoea is still in its early stages from a scientific point of view. Unfortunately, there seem to be no research papers we can pull data from at this point in time that specifically looks at the relationship between CBD and sleep apnoea. But, CBD has been shown to help with sleep in a few key ways, as well as potentially reducing the anxiety that sleep apnoea patients may feel when it comes to sleep. 

The study “Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series” found that 79.2% of participants reported anxiety relief, and 66.7% reported improved sleep scores. It concluded that “CBD may have a calming effect on the central nervous system and may be a potential treatment option for anxiety and sleep disorders”. Encouraging data indeed. 

When looking at medical cannabis with a broader view, it is clear to see that the plant may hold at least some potential in reducing the heavy burden that sleep apnoea places on sufferers. 

One study into dronabinol, a synthetic version of THC, has shown particular benefits for helping with sleep apnoea. The study, while focusing on animal subjects, found that dronabinol had the ability to reduce the “apnoea index” by 42% and 58% in non-rapid eye movement (NREM) and REM sleep, respectively.

Another study, again looking at the effectiveness of dronabinol but this time in human subjects, found that while there was no significant difference recorded in oxygenation, daytime sleepiness was greatly reduced with higher doses of the synthetic cannabinoid. 

It should also be noted that at this stage only a handful of studies have been conducted and, to date, the overall results have failed to support the routine clinical use of CBD therapies for sleep apnoea. But it’s also worth pointing out that the clinical trial method always errs on the side of caution, and further research is currently being carried out.

In a report titled “Cannabinoid therapies in the management of sleep disorders: A systematic review of preclinical and clinical studies” published in the National Library of Medicine, it was stated that: ‘Promising preliminary evidence provides the rationale for future randomised controlled trials of cannabinoid therapies in individuals with sleep apnoea, insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder-related nightmares, restless legs' syndrome, rapid eye movement sleep behaviour disorder, and narcolepsy.’

In addition, a 2002 study also revealed “Potent suppression of sleep-related apnoea by both exogenous and endogenous cannabinoids. These findings are of relevance to the pathogenesis and pharmacological treatment of sleep-related breathing disorders”.

How CBD helps to manage sleep apnoea

At this point, there is just not enough scientific research available to make any definitive claims regarding the efficacy of CBD in potentially helping people with sleep apnoea specifically. It may help reduce the anxiety that is sometimes brought on by the condition, and may also help with overall restfulness.

CBD products for managing sleep apnea

Although the jury is still out on whether CBD can help manage sleep apnoea, thanks to sweeping changes made in the past decade or so not only here in the UK, but in many countries, regarding the legality of medicinal cannabis, the range of CBD products available to patients is growing. 

In addition, the regulatory oversight and production standards that come with medical CBD are much more stringent than those placed on over-the-counter options. 

Potential side effects of CBD use for sleep apnea

While the risks and side effects related to the administration of CBD are, for the most part, very slight, you should still be informed before beginning CBD therapy.

The list of potential side effects includes:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Low blood pressure
  • Lightheadedness
  • Nausea or GI discomfort
  • Diarrhoea

CBD can also cause some negative interactions with certain pharmaceutical medications, mostly blood thinners, sedatives, and some painkillers. 

It’s always recommended that you consult a doctor before taking any treatment for sleep apnea and closely monitor the progress of any new treatment.

In conclusion

Although the research is still inconclusive from a clinical point of view, early studies seem to indicate that there is potential for CBD to alleviate the suffering of some of the one billion sleep apnea sufferers around the world. By encouraging respiratory stability during the night, it may be possible to improve the worst symptoms of apnea by as much as a third, which could have long-term benefits for chronic sufferers. CBD effects may also be able to improve overall sleep quality and help to reduce some of the waking-hour symptoms of apnea.

Does CBD help with snoring? Again, there is no confirmed clinical evidence as yet, but ongoing studies are hopeful that it may be part of a successful treatment to help people stop snoring, by alleviating the underlying causes.

CBD will not cure sleep apnoea, but if you would like to learn more about the power that medicinal cannabis may hold for your set of circumstances, we are here to help. 

Releaf understands the importance of medical cannabis in treating various medical conditions. With our tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection, you can access the treatment you need without worrying about the stigma.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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