It’s hard for us to imagine now that people ever thought sleep just wasn’t that important. As recently as our parents, people just sort of didn’t sleep well or that much and accepted it as one of life’s many challenges.
But ever since a ton of fairly recent research has shown that consistent, good-quality sleep makes a huge difference in health and quality of life, we are enveloped in messaging that sleeping well is maybe the most important thing we can do for ourselves, after “breathing air” but somewhat tied with “eating healthy.” People’s anxiety about sleeping well seems to be at an all time high, to the point that it is interfering with their good sleep. We are bombarded with articles about “sleep hygiene” (consistent bedtime and preamble routine, no screens or light sources in the bedroom, perfect room temperature, comfortable bed and sheets, ideally gently woken from slumber by a sunrise light or alarm timed with our REM cycles) and products that will help us sleep, supposedly.
I’ve had ongoing sleep challenges of varying kinds and consistencies for several years. My most common problem is waking up in the middle of the night, sometimes late enough that it becomes “waking up way, way too early,” either way leading me to get not quite enough sleep. Lately, for a fun change of pace, I’ve struggled with falling asleep in the first place (despite, on average, staying up later). Because of this, like a lot of people who don’t want to go as far as prescription sleep aids, I dabble in the soft-product sleep economy — sleep masks, melatonin, and, recently, various CBD products.
The unregulated CBD (cannabidiol) market has also blown up in the past year or so; we are making and consuming the CBD version of anything we can get our hands on — lattes, gummies, sodas, lotions, oils, vapes — much faster than we can even settle on what CBD is or what it does. (There are some excellent primers out there, but the short version is that CBD is a derivative compound of hemp or cannabis plants that ostensibly gives the relaxing sensation of cannabis without the psychoactive component; the science of which cannabis compounds do what, and in what combinations they need to be present to achieve certain ends, is not entirely locked down.) The FDA is working to fast-track hearings and regulations for the CBD market, but even at its speediest it moves a lot slower than our impulse to self-medicate our nerves. But the CBD backlash has already started, since we don’t really know what it does or what’s in any of the products that claim to have it. I haven’t tried everything on the market varying CBD-infused products have made me feel varying things; at best they are a little calming, but not intensely so, and the effect doesn’t build the more you take, unlike other full-spectrum weed products.
CBD guy: yeah theres this ingredient in weed that you cant feel if it's working, and you cant tell if it's even there and it doesnt do anything , but it basically cures all diseases— the calmness unto death (@normal_now) November 28, 2018
Me: I'd like to purchase it from a trusted vendor such as a gas station or vape store
A few months ago, the weed-focused lifestyle brand Gossamer released its own CBD oil specifically designed to help with sleep, which emerged in a necessarily defensive crouch against the already-growing skepticism against the sudden surge of CBD everything. According to Gossamer and its resident scientist, Alex Capano, who holds a doctorate in nursing practice in cannabis studies from Thomas Jefferson University, isolated CBD compounds are not nearly as effective as a modulated tincture that includes small amounts of the rest of the compounds in the plant, too. Because of this, according to the founders, an actually effective CBD product will have a balance of CBD, CBN (cannabinol, which is what THC, the more psychoactive compound in cannabis, turns into when exposed to air, changing its effects from psychoactive to more of the calming/pain-relieving type), and terpenes, rather than just pure CBD extract. The product will also be verified in an independent lab, which is an extra step Gossamer takes with Dusk that is not currently required by any regulations.
A regulation aside: this is why many people have started to denigrate CBD products on the market as snake oil; there is nothing requiring something labeled “CBD” to actually contain any particular amount of CBD, and the FDA regulates food and drugs in a reactive, rather than proactive way, and requires companies to prove safety compliance for products, but does not independently verify any claims or even the submitted lab results; this surprises a lot of people, but it is true. Most supplements, like vitamins or over-the-counter “sleep aids,” are not tested for efficacy or really anything else, which is the same regulatory environment CBD is wading into; therefore it’s not much more of a criticism of CBD products to say they don’t do anything than to say, for instance, vitamins don’t do anything (which, they do not). The FDA steps in when something turns out to be poisonous, or makes pharmaceutical claims it can’t deliver on, which some CBD product manufacturers have done. But it will not ban something from existence just for costing money and being otherwise harmless.
There is a federal cap on how much THC can be present in hemp, which means a minimal amount in hemp-derived CBD products are actually legal (and can be turned into CBN). The other crucial component, according to Capano, are terpenes, a third, less-understood compound type not often talked about outside of cannabis testing labs that seems to modulate the effects of THC and CBD. “Some CBD products don’t have them, and others are not strategic about the terpenes,” Capano told The Outline, “or they are not consistent with the terpene blend as they manufacture.” While growers have long been able to describe various strains in terms of their THC/CBD breakdown, studies have shown that strains are not super-consistent when it comes to their compound contents, or their effects on people who use them.
My sleep hygiene is admittedly not great, and like, I think, the majority of people who live in our times, I’m apt to try and slap a product band-aid over my lack of personal discipline. Alprazolam I’d been prescribed for anxiety often seemed to help on wakeful nights, but I was constantly cautious of dependence. Prescription drugs are crazily cheap compared to something like Dusk, as long as you have insurance; a month’s worth of daily doses costs me only a few dollars, while 30 doses of Dusk is $65, on par with other boutique CBD products marketed for sleep and about the same as a very expensive eighth or pretty cheap quarter-ounce of weed (which would last me, at minimum several months; my tolerance is low and I’m painfully uncool). But its specific positioning to help with sleep while also attempting to answer concerns about the efficacy of CBD in general are aimed directly at a precise, pervasive strain of anxiety.
The instructions on the bottle of Dusk indicate the user is meant to squirt a full dropper of oil under their tongue, let it sit for 30 seconds, swallow, brush their teeth, and then go to bed. Given my tolerance, I undercut the amount by about a quarter at first, despite the fact that my sleep issues were at an all-time peak. The oil tastes herbal, not unpleasant. The first few times I tried Dusk, I fell asleep but still managed to wake up after about 90 minutes, and the effects didn’t seem to take hold for a couple of hours. The first time I tried it, I slept soundly for about seven hours and woke up feeling a little groggy but not insurmountably so. It seemed like with some timing adjustment, Dusk would basically work for me.
But Dusk and I diverged over its instructions: they say Dusk is not really designed for occasional use, times you imagine you might be too wired to sleep on a particular night. It’s meant to be used consistently, every night, and that it can take up to two weeks for the effects to settle in (according to Capano, the blend is lipophilic, meaning it binds with fat, so it can stay in the body and its effect can build over time).
I asked Capano what the long-term prognosis is for someone using Dusk oil to fall and stay asleep every night: is it just a lifestyle? Do you transition out? If you need or even just benefit from Dusk oil as consistently as it’s supposed to be used, do you have perhaps some sort of greater issue that should be treated with something other than an over the counter product? “I really do think that you don’t have to have a problem to then use CBD to try and alleviate symptoms associated with that problem,” said Capano. “We are all about preventative medicine.” In other words, like almost all sleep-oriented products, Dusk treats symptoms, not underlying issues. Other sources have similar takes: sources told Consumer Reports that CBD is “not a treatment for insomnia,” and that people should consult with their doctors before self-treating.
There are not established issues with dependency on CBD (and there are unlikely to be; cannabis dependence in general, if it happens, is more of a lifestyle issue than one of biology, like with, say, heroin or nicotine). Stopping use should be as easy as waking up the next day and no longer taking whatever form of CBD it is, and all it means is you have to cope with whatever life is like without it.
Even if products are a stopgap until one figures out what, precisely, their underlying issues are, the question becomes of what a good night of sleep is worth. What is the cost of sleeping badly, or not sleeping at all? And if we can spend money to fix it, how much money should good sleep cost? How much will a person pay every day, every month, to sleep?
Dusk’s $65 price tag per month’s worth of sleep was where I balked. I pay at least as much, if not more, for other abstract “health” enhancements — I pay more to go to a gym which, on balance, also helps me sleep. While Dusk worked for me somewhat, its best effect overall was making me realize how much neglecting those “underlying issues” was costing me.