Claimed to relax and have no narcotic effect, this active ingredient derived from cannabis is gaining popularity among those who want to reconcile with sleep. Four specialists untangle the real from the false.
"When you take it, you don't feel tired, but soothed and light." Paul*, a thirty-something Parisian, talks here about what he has been using for two years to reduce his nightly awakenings in times of stress: cannabidiol (abbreviated CBD), a molecule derived from cannabis. Unlike delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is also present in the plant, CBD has no euphoric effects and is not a drug.
Since 2018, it can be found in France and internationally in all forms: e-liquid, herbal tea, chewing gum, spray, oil, chocolate bar, lollipop, fizzy drink ... It would solve all the ills or almost - anxiety, migraines, painful periods - and especially sleep disorders. The current anxiety context does not fail to increase interest in the substance. Sandrine Bridoux, co-founder of the French CBD oil brand Fresh Body Green Mind, says she has seen an increase in sales of over 300% since the first containment.
Indirect action and placebo
For the time being, no serious clinical study can prove a real action of CBD on sleep. "The world of the molecule remains above all driven by the testimonies of users", adds Pascal Douek, medical cannabis specialist and patient-expert (1).
The benefits described by consumers would stem more from the indirect effects of the psychotropic drug. "Several scientific data show that CBD is effective against pain and has some potential against anxiety and post-traumatic stress. If you suffer from these problems and taking CBD suppresses them, you'll sleep better," says Pierre Philip, head of the university sleep medicine department at Bordeaux University Hospital and director of the Sanpsy CNRS research unit (2). This is the case of Sophie, who tells on the forum Reddithow CBD tea significantly reduced her joint pain and thus improved the comfort and quality of her nights.
"In anxious people, CBD does not trigger sleep like a sleeping pill but its anxiolytic action acts on the cause of insomnia, anxiety, by activating one of the serotonin receptors," says Nicolas Authier, psychiatrist, pharmacologist and chairman of the scientific committee on medical cannabis at the National Agency for the Safety of Medicines and Health Products (ANSM). What, in practice, to improve the conditions of arrival of the sleep or to support the return to sleep during the night.
Health professionals do not rule out a potential "placebo effect" either. "Consumers believe in it because they are sensitive to the natural character of this product from the plant," observes Nicolas Authier. "It is part of a ritual, like the vervain tea that we take before going to bed," adds Pascal Douek, a doctor specializing in medical cannabis.
In view of the current medical research on the subject, specialists insist: one cannot speak of a therapeutic impact. "Some clinical trials are testing dosages of 200 to 800 mg of cannabidiol per day, quantities much higher than those of products found in shops today," says Nicolas Authier.
Lack of control and undesirable ingredients
Without prohibiting the taking of CBD to the angry of the pillow, the professionals remain cautious. Because in this flourishing market, the grass is not green on all floors and doctors point the finger at a legislation still too vague. Without regulation, we have no way of knowing the quality of the product," laments psychiatrist and pharmacologist Nicolas Authier. Some sellers import cannabidiol produced abroad whose THC level exceeds the imposed zero tolerance." Indeed, in France, the production and sale of CBD is authorized on condition that the molecule is extracted from hemp plants (seeds and fibers only), whose THC content is less than 0.2% and that the finished product contains no trace of it.
Unwanted additives can also be found in a bottle of CBD, such as dextromethorphan, a cough suppressant that can be addictive, reported last year The New York Times. In 2017, a study by the Medical University of Pennsylvania also revealed that less than a third of 84 products examined contained the amount of CBD listed on their labels. In France, checks by the ANSM made a similar finding in 2018.
Sandrine Bridoux, of CBD oils brand Fresh Body Green Mind, is well aware of the problem. "Our CBD is extracted from the stalks and seeds of hemp produced in France and whose production has been analyzed by a third-party laboratory," she assures. "Some players have chosen to have a scientific rigor, but this is not the case of all, we must remain vigilant," concludes Pascal Douek.
The ball remains in the court of research. The European justice, has just decided in favor of CBD, judging this Thursday, November 19 illegal its prohibition in France. The Court indeed considered that "according to the current state of scientific knowledge", this molecule "does not appear to have any psychotropic effect or harmful effect on human health." It then concluded that "the national court must assess the scientific data available in order to ensure that the real risk alleged for public health does not appear to be based on purely hypothetical considerations."
On the field of sleep, the director of the UFR Sanpsy CNRS Pierre Philip invites caution: "We know nothing about the long-term consequences of the use of CBD". Before turning to this type of product, the specialist, at the initiative of an educational Instagram account around the problems related to fatigue, advises as a priority to review its sleep hygiene. And to put into practice two simple rules: a duration of sleep of 7 hours per day, adjusted according to individual needs, and a daily alarm clock at fixed time.
* The first name has been changed.
(1) Pascal Douek is the author of Medical Cannabis, a new opportunitypublished by Solar, 272 pages, 19,40€.
(2) Pierre Philip is the author ofAnti-fatiguepublished by Albin Michel, 256 pages, €18.90.