For many, the notion that cannabis might induce wakefulness or greater mental clarity is counter-intuitive. For the most part, cannabis has gained recognition as a remedial substance for its ability to relieve pain, inflammation and especially as a sleep aid. While one of THC’s most famous characteristics is its ability to guide the user into a deep and restful sleep, cannabidiol may potentially have opposite effects. In fact, it may reduce brain fog, give greater mental clarity and even induce wakefulness.
Much of the research on cannabidiol’s effect on neurocognition and wakefulness is still just speculation. This is partly to do with the fact that there simply isn’t enough research on cannabidiol and partly to do with the complexity of the ways that cannabidiol interacts with the human body. For example, cannabidiol’s ability to decrease brain fog may be dependent on dose, constitution of the recipient, the ailment the recipient is experiencing and their previous relationship with cannabis.
What does the research say?
The research about cannabidiol’s effect on the circadian rhythm is varied but unfortunately, quite limited. The bulk of the research has presented mostly contradictory results. With that being said, the contradictory results might be due to differences in dosage, administration method and the overall health of the subjects of the study (providing they weren’t rats, of course).
To start with, one study conducted on rats in Berlin as early as 1977 found that CBD actually decreased slow wave sleep latency. That result was concluded on a 20mg/kg dose. The second experiment that was conducted in this study was done with a 40mg/kg dose, and obviously, wakefulness was dramatically reduced in the rats.
Another study conducted in 1981 found that cannabidiol administration caused the subjects of the study to sleep considerably longer than those who took the placebo. The doses given were 40mg, 80mg, and 160mg. Again, the prolonged deep sleep was reported by those who took the 160mg dose. The findings of this study are also extremely dose-dependent.
In later studies, there has been a huge adjustment to the dosage given to subjects. In this 2004 study, the researchers concluded that 15mg CBD was enough to induce wakefulness while 15mg THC behaved much like a sedative. However, cannabidiol was never administered to the patients exclusively in this study. It was always administered in conjunction with THC, making us wonder about the design of this particular study. Again, in a 2014 study, cannabidiol was administered to rats during the daytime. The researchers observed greater wakefulness but a decrease in REM sleep.
Peripheral effects of cannabidiol on wakefulness
It’s quite obvious from the research that we are aware that cannabidiol has some sort of effect on wakefulness and the sleep cycle. What isn’t obvious is just how it does that. There is much confusion surrounding the exact mechanism of action, but it is possible that it is more peripheral than we thought.
For example, cannabidiol has demonstrated potential in treating anxiety disorders. At this stage in our understanding of sleep and insomnia, it is entirely possible that sleep disorders are caused by neurological conditions such as anxiety or depression. In treating anxiety, cannabidiol may help to improve sleep and therefore, increase wakefulness in the long term. This is one suggestion of the ways that it may affect wakefulness and brain fog in a peripheral way.
Cannabidiol and the Endocannabinoid System
What we know about how cannabinoids interact with the human body is still preliminary, thanks to the fact that we have only known about the endocannabinoid system for 40-odd years. However, our little understanding may help us understand why research data is so varied and contradictory with respect to cannabidiol.
To start with, cannabidiol has no real affinity for CB receptors. This means it does not bind directly to CB receptor sites the same way that THC does. Rather, CBD acts on the endocannabinoid system in a more profound way. One such way is that it inhibits the enzymes which break down natural endocannabinoid, anandamide. This increases the amount of anandamide circulating in the body, causing a cascade of other effects such as enhanced mood.
One way to tackle the question of whether or not CBD gives greater mental clarity is to consider this point. Scientists have observed varying degrees of sleepiness and wakefulness after CBD administration. The varied response may have to do with the differing chemical compositions of each human body, each digestive system, each brain chemistry — for example. Overall, what we can see is that CBD can have a lot of different effects, depending on how it is used and the constitution of the person taking it.
So does it give greater mental clarity?
The easy answer to this question is — yes!
It absolutely may be able to give a person greater clearness. But does it always give a person greater mental clarity? Not necessarily, and that’s where things get complicated.
The research points to the possibility that wakefulness vs sleepiness after cannabidiol ingestion has a lot to do with the dose. At higher doses, it can cause drowsiness and cause deep sleep. At lower doses, this phytocannabinoid can increase wakefulness. However, these are also other factors which may affect these results.
Overall, research supports the possibility that it decreases brain fog and gives greater mental clarity. But for us to really understand this and the mechanisms by which it happens, more research is required.