It was a Tuesday in the middle of spring, 2011. I’d been sleeping in two-hour increments for four years at this point.
It was a trend that began in the hospital in 2007 when the nursing staff check on me every 15 minutes and took my vitals every hour. There hadn’t been a good night’s sleep since then.
But now I was back at work, rebuilding a struggling medical practice with a staff full of recent hires. In the middle of our busiest patient day, I noticed dark water rising out of the floor.
Within an hour, it was flooding the office with sewage. And after coordinating insurance agents, and water reclamation, canceling patient appointments and arguing with the absent landlord, I drove home and stared at the ceiling in my bedroom for another 12 hours.
“I can’t keep doing this,” I said aloud to the ceiling. I wasn’t healing, despite multiple surgeries my Endometriosis symptoms were raging and seemed worse than before eight surgeries. I felt dead, removed from everyone and deeply resentful that they seemed to be alive.
I wanted to sleep, but I couldn’t. My anxiety was through the roof. My pain was 20/10. My mind began slipping towards despair and before morning I was making a plan to kill myself.
It would be another five years before I could achieve a good night’s rest — all thanks to cannabis’ super components of THC and CBD.
It’s the biggest conundrum in chronic illness and chronic pain: Lack of sleep causes more pain which makes restful sleep even more difficult to achieve.
It doesn’t matter if it’s numbness in your limbs, body aches, migraines, humming anxiety, or all of the above — not getting enough sleep erodes your health overall and your ability to manage inflammation, in specific.
But what can you do? OTC sleep medications aren’t supposed to be used for prolonged periods, and prescribed sleep medications have some gnarly side-effects — or am I the only one who has had Ambien Sex with an Ex?
For those who are in recovery, opposed to drugs, or working in environments where drug testing is both random and a reality, THC Cannabis products are a no-go. It doesn’t matter how many glowing reports you hear: they just aren’t an option for you.
Bestie, I feel you. I come from a family freckled with high-functioning alcoholics and grew up not only hearing about the family predilection for addiction, but also in the go-go 80s as drugs exploded like confetti bombs across the US.
One of the epicenters of all this illegal activity was my home state of Florida. I watched small towns — and the teen boys I had crushes on — get eviscerated by the drug trade and its accompanying violence.
I had no interest in anything illegal, having to do with any form of drugs. But, I also didn’t want to repeat my early-20s parlor trick of trying to get to sleep by drinking two bottles of red, a few shots of tequila and then having to be taken to the ER for alcohol poisoning in my desperation to get more than 2 hours of sleep.
And, after having my left kidney removed, I also no longer wanted to stay on a schedule of opiates and sleep meds. After 15 years of numbing, I needed to give my liver a break.
How to achieve both of these holy grail states of improved sleep and health?
Well, my ex-fiancée was a surgeon and medical researcher who was focusing on cannabis and the treatment of head and neck cancer. He suggested, off-handedly, that I consider micro-dosing cannabis for pain and to help me negotiate withdrawals from opiates. Of course, I’d have to find it, but he sent me a few articles — at least two were written by him — about why cannabis was more effective than opiates for soothing my long-taxed nervous system and helping me sleep.
I was intrigued, but also a complete n00b when it came to buying illegal substances.
Have you been thinking about trying CBD oil, cream, or vape? Maybe you’re noticing more and more people in the CI community talking about CBD. No one really tells you what it is, but you’re pretty sure it has something to do with marijuana.
If you’re bold, you may have asked your doctor or specialist about it. And, more than likely, your doctor wouldn’t even broach the subject with you — leaving you to figure it out on your own and do your own experimenting. The lucky ones have doctors who say, “It can’t hurt,” but still no concrete information is available.
Just so we’re all talking in the same conversation, let’s define THC and CBD.
Cannabis is a plant that has been used medicinally and recreationally for about a millennia of human history. Hemp is a plant that has been used medicinally for ***just as long.
Cannabis alone contains THC and CBD. THC is Tetrahydrocannabinol and CBD stands for Cannabidiol, both are superstar components of Cannabis Sativa plants. Cannabidiol (CBD) isn’t psychoactive – so no euphoria, no high, and as of late 2018 there are strains that are legal in all 50 states thanks to the Farm Bill.
THC is the main psychoactive component of the cannabis plant. THC is the primary source of the ‘high’ associated with cannabis use, whether medical or recreational. It’s still not legal in many states, though there is growing adoption of medical use.
What’s dope about THC is that it works, in part, by mimicking the effects of neurotransmitters that are produced naturally by the human body and help to modulate sleeping and eating habits, the perception of pain, and countless other bodily functions.
THC is destiny-changing for many people with terminal and chronic illness/pain who are stuck suffering not just sickness, but also insomnia, anxiety, lack of appetite, and impotent rage.
The effects of THC include:
Altered senses of sight, smell, and hearing
Getting started with THC & CBD can feel like a tricky learning curve. There are lots of strains of flower, and then there are headache-inducing ratios and formats. Shit gets confusing real fast.
Now that we are clear on the distinctions and primary actions of each component, we can break down the best applications for sleep.
My first interaction with THC and CBD was with a homemade tincture I bought from a friend. I was determined to stop using codeine 6-8x per day, and a surgeon friend suggested I might dull the withdrawal symptoms of anxiety, skin crawling, nausea, constipation, diarrhea if I used a few drops under my tongue.
Turned out there was a lot of research on pain and Cannabinoids with veterans in Israel and cancer patients. The research around pain, PTSD, anxiety, and even phantom limb syndrome was well documented in the medical literature. I also watched this Vice documentary on Cannabis oil and pediatric cancer. I cried the entire time.
So, I gave it a try. The anxiety never showed up nor did the other withdrawal symptoms. Even more important was the way I began to sleep. I hadn’t slept longer than four hours in a row in 10 years. Suddenly, I was clocking in 5-6 hours of sleep per night, which changed my entire life.
But how did THC & CBD do that? And what is it good for? Is it a miracle healing plant? Can it cure cancer? Will it make your MS, Endo, Fibro, or Lupus go away? All valid questions and there is a lot of noise on the internet as answers. Let’s stick with facts.
THC & CBD works by interacting with the endocannabinoid receptor system (ECS) in our bodies. The ECS has receptors from our skin to our brains to our “second brain,” the gut. When you smoke, ingest, or rub in a THC and/or CBD product, it begins interaction with your nervous system. Our nervous system, including the brain, controls our perception of pain.
Research suggests CBD may be better for inflammation and neuropathic pain, while THC may excel with spasticity and cramp-related pain.
Sometimes high doses of THC can exacerbate pain, so we will focus our THC section on micro-dosing techniques.
Additionally, some people have a hard time managing the side effects associated with THC, which can complicate finding the benefits. It might be helpful to understand that CBD modulates the effects of THC on the human body, amplifying the good and regulating the more uncomfortable aspects.
It’s like when you plan a road trip with friends, you need both the planner and the wild child in the car, otherwise you’re either bored to tears or in jail. You want the planner to track your course and make sure you don’t run out of money. You want the wild child to talk you into country line dancing and the rodeo in some small town. Both are better.
While some experts suggest that a combination of THC and CBD is the ideal way to approach sleep issues, citing the entourage effect, at the time of this writing THC products aren’t legal everywhere. So we have to work with what we have and explore each of these components separately.
You Know Nothing About Sleep, Jon Snow
Okay, so no wildling said that ever on GOT, but most of us have only the muddiest of ideas about what happens when we put ourselves to bed — or why we fall asleep in class, at the wheel, or at our kid’s recital.
The phases of sleep:
Stage 1 – Regular breathing, some muscle tensing, lightest, easiest to wake
Stage 2 – Harder to wake, breathing relaxes
Stage 3 & 4 – ‘Delta or Deep Sleep,’ hard to wake up and progressively deepens. Grogginess upon waking and takes about 30 minutes for the brain to come ‘on’. Where we take the hardest hit when sleep deprived — compromising creativity, wakefulness, attention, focus, and reasoning ability. Human growth hormone (HGH) is released to heal your body and muscles.
Stage 5 – REM sleep, where we dream, erratic or irregular breathing, heart rate increase also happens, and our muscles don’t move.
We don’t just go through these stages, we cycle through them repeatedly — ideally spending the most time in Delta Sleep. Anxiety, pain, and illness can keep us from entering Delta sleep, or truncate the amount of time we spend there.
Let’s start with CBD since source material and products are legal, widely available and accessible.
Because of the ECS, CBD products are excellent for sleeplessness, anxiety, joint and muscular pain, and calming digestive issues. CBD can soothe our nervous system, slowing pain messaging and allowing us to sleep more and better.
U.S. research estimates approximately 60 million people suffer from insomnia.
Whenever I talk to longtime CI and CP sufferers about their biggest problems with their health, lack of sleep is in the top two complaints. Without sleep, we struggle to show up to work, in our relationships, and to support our health. Every single day is some version of a struggle.
CBD doesn’t work like OTC or prescription sleep medications that tug you under the waves of sleep and refuse let you go, which can be alarming and anxiety inducing. Instead CBD activates some of the same receptors in your brain and body as caffeine. Cool, right?
Our human bodies generate endocannibinoids that influence our mood, depression, anxiety, appetite, pain and inflammation whether we ever try cannabis or hemp products. But we can develop a deficit of endocannibinoids when we endure significant stress, whether chronic or acute.
And what are illness and pain if not stressful, amiright?
When we use CBD —a phytocannibinoid — it interacts with receptors, proteins and other brain chemicals to massage our anxiety and the sleep-wake cycles necessary for a good night’s sleep. It’s a total BOGO.
CBD really works its magic in our third phase of sleep, the Deep Sleep phase. For most people enduring the anxiety and pain of chronic illness, we enter the first phase of sleep repeatedly throughout the night — never quite getting into the restorative somnolence we need to feel refreshed and whole when we wake up.
I”m telling you, it’s a whole new world when you get some good sleep and don’t wake up tired. Your personality is able to shift. Your optimism and joy in life can return. The difficulties of your existence no longer feel overwhelming.
With CBD you can find a path to:
- Increasing your overall length of sleep
- Falling asleep more quickly (no more 3 AM staring into the darkness freaking yourself out)
- Improving your quality of sleep — moving from REM to Deep Sleep instead of dwelling in REM and skirting by Deep Sleep
The best way to use CBD is really personal to you. I began with tinctures, but also grew to love salves and lubricants. Since navigating sex can be mind-bending with pain, CBD lubricants and all-natural salves used internally can be an absolute game-changer. I rely on CBD edibles for consistent sleep and lubricant for pain. I haven’t had much success using CBD to stop a flare in its tracks, which is vexing and a limitation.
It’s also important to understand that unlike opiates, which become less effective over time, because of the ECS, CBD effectiveness can grow over time.
So, now that we understand some of the science around CBD and Sleep, let’s talk about how to make, find, and buy CBD products.
CBD Part 2 – Healing Without The High
Are you asking yourself if your life is always going to be so hard? I’ve been there — and it sucks. But there are more options than ever before to help soothe your nervous system and give you more control.
My first year using cannabis products was a mixed bag. I loved coming off of opiates and avoiding drugs like Gabapentin that made me violently ill. But, I disliked not knowing how much to take, inadvertently overdosing on THC, and – worst of all – not getting the impact I wanted when I spent money and time buying product.
I want to save you some of that trouble. My top 7 suggestions for starting with healing CBD.
- Try your local health food store. Since there are CBD products that are legal in all 50 states, and your local health store is run by passionate people, they will have some low-stakes, high quality products for you to try. Just google the store nearest to you with good reviews.
- Make your own at home. – Crazy right? But this the most affordable way to ensure you have high-quality products at your fingertips. You can control strength, ingredients, all by making a batch of oil once a year.
- For the best results when purchasing, look for products that are tested by a third party lab. Companies I’ve tried: The Lord Jones and Charlotte’s Web CBD. I like what I see from Humbled Healing Company.
- Read. The. Label. You want Full Spectrum/Whole Plant CBD products. Whether you’re buying whole flower in order to make your own or finished products, read up. Make sure nothing is included that will irritate your skin or other sensitive tissues.
- Consider Full Spectrum/Whole Plant CBD products. This is an area of some debate, but our ECS responds best to the “entourage” of elements in the whole plant. Look for products that are 0.3% THC (the “high” making element) or less. CBD isolate is popular for those who are especially nervous about drug testing, but it’s also missing vital compounds that are most effective for pain and sleep.
- If your products contain THC: start with 2-5mg of THC. This is called microdosing, and will help you ease in without ending up — as I did — high for two days living on peanut butter.
- Finally, and this is my favorite product of all time, consider trying a THC or CBD lubricant. Your sex organs can be one of the fastest absorption areas on your body, providing pain, anxiety, and insomnia relief. Since CI and CP can be devastating to your sex life, these products can change your love life. And a nice orgasm will send you to sleepy land. Total Win/Win.