This is your brain on drugs: why weed can help you get a better night’s sleep, the science behind how cannabis impacts migraines, and practical tips for how to find the pot that is best for you.
After listening to this episode you will have a better understanding of…
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How CBN Can Improve Your Sleep, Mood, and Health
Producers: Gina Delvac, Stephen Hoffman
for Western Sound
Host & co-creator: April Pride
Co-creator: Ellen Lee Scanlon
Marketing managers: Madi Fair, Alli Musolino
Theme music: Frikstailers
April Pride: This podcast discusses cannabis and is intended for an audience 21 and over.
Carrie Solomon: This is your brain. This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?
April Pride: It’s easy to assume that cannabis only has a negative impact on the brain. In our last episode about the war on drugs we talked about Just Say No. This kind of message is so deeply programmed, but as usual with cannabis, the available science and anecdotal data are so much more complicated. Rather than frying our brains, we’re starting to see that cannabis can have positive effects in rewiring brains that have trouble with migraines and sleep.
April Pride: Welcome back to How to Do the Pot. I’m April Pride. I do the pot and I’ve had so many friends laugh at my delivery of that last line, “I do the pot.” They say I lower my voice and I still sound fearful and ashamed, so I just want to be really clear. My name is April Pride and I do the pot. In fact, I do the pot daily. And I want to share more about my personal experience, which we’ll do later in this episode.
April Pride: In 2016, I founded Van der Pop, a cannabis company for and by women. And my new venture is Of Like Minds and this podcast, How to Do the Pot. We’re exploring everything women want and need to know in this new era of legal cannabis today. What do we know about cannabis and the adult brain? How it might be helpful for women who suffer from migraines? What are the effects of cannabis on our sleep?
April Pride: All right, this is the last episode of this season of How to Do the Pot. We’ve so appreciated your feedback and we want you to keep it coming. We want to hear from you. Email us a voice memo to hi, H-I, @dothepot.com. And we want you to answer one question: how do you do the pot? It can be a confessional, a tutorial, or an opportunity to bring to attention your personal discoveries with the plant.
April Pride: We’ve long kept these stories to ourselves for fear of shame. So tell us where pot takes you or has taken you. And although this is the last episode for this year, we do have more coming. We’re working on incredible content with Sophie Saint Thomas who has written a new book, and Lizzie Post, who is the great-great granddaughter of Emily Post and she’s going to share her etiquette suggestions. And we’ve already been hearing from some of you about how you do the pot.
Carrie Solomon: This is Carrie Solomon. I use CBD every night to help with sleep and I find that when I consume it as a tincture it doesn’t exactly help me fall asleep, but it gives me a better quality sleep throughout the night. So even if I wake up for some reason, I’m able to go back to sleep a little easier. I also consume CBD throughout the day, which just kind of helps with general anxiety and just everyday aches and pains. So sleeping is a little bit easier, but every night 10 to 15 milligrams full spectrum tincture
April Pride: And like this message from Valeria Sakota on how she uses cannabis to help with her migraines.
Valeria Sakota: I got my first migraine when I was in high school and since then they have come in clusters every couple of years. I was prescribed Imitrex for the headaches but phased off of it when I lost my insurance back in college and I haven’t reestablished the prescription because it came with side effects of its own. As an adult, I basically travel everywhere with a migraine preparedness kit, complete with Extra Strength Excedrin, chamomile tea, and weed. When I start to notice the aura impact my vision, I chug a glass of water followed by a cup of tea, take an Excedrin and smoke three times the amount of THC that I can typically handle. The weed helps me shut my body down and fall into a deep sleep while the migraine passes.
Valeria Sakota: It also helps to curb the nausea and vomiting that I often experience when I have a migraine and allows me to reduce the amount of over-the-counter pills that I would be taking to manage my pain. I do have to be careful, though, because I’ve noticed that some strains can make the headache worse and I haven’t been diligent enough to start a weed journal tracking which strains and terpene profiles I have a poor reaction to.
April Pride: I have so many women who come to me, in all honesty, looking a little desperate for cannabis advice when it comes to two things: migraines and sleep. Both related to happenings in the brain, so to understand how cannabis works in the brain and how it might help women like Valeria with their migraines, we need to return to some science that you hear us talk about a lot here on How to Do the Pot and that is the endocannabinoid system or the ECS. And yes, regular listeners, you may be rolling your eyes once again because we have talked about the ECS a lot already, how it helps explain cannabis’s benefits for pain, for autoimmune diseases and for reproductive issues like endometriosis.
April Pride: Today, we want to focus more on how these receptors are working within our brains. And to do that, we of course wanted to speak to an expert.
Dr. Michele Ross: My name is Dr. Michele Ross. I’m a neuroscientist.
April Pride: Dr. Ross is one of a growing number of neuroscientists who are looking closely at how cannabis impacts the brain and what that can mean for treating patients. But as you’ve heard us say before, she didn’t get a lot of training in the endocannabinoid system.
Dr Michele Ross: So the endocannabinoid system is actually the largest neurotransmitter system in the body, which is sort of crazy because it’s something that’s not really taught in medical school or even graduate school. So, for example, I was a neuroscience PhD student learning about all the neurotransmitters in the brain. And the endocannabinoid system was always like this endnote in the book. Even my professors were going, “Well, we don’t know too much about it.”
Dr Michele Ross: It turns out that the endocannabinoid system is not only the largest neurotransmitter system, and again, those are those signals between neurons that help our brain cells communicate, but it’s also the neurotransmitter system that regulates the other neurotransmitters. And so what that means is that your endocannabinoid system, based on releasing these phytocannabinoids, those signals actually tell your neurons or brain cells whether they should release more serotonin or less serotonin, or they should stop signaling.
Dr Michele Ross: A lot of the activity in the brain is actually inhibitory or basically stopping signals from happening. The endocannabinoid system can stop us from signaling things. It can stop us from stopping those signals. It’s actually really, really important. We need to inhibit things like pain, right? A pain signal, right? If you could actually stop a pain signal, that’s very important.
April Pride: Okay, so I know Dr. Ross just threw a lot at us. You’ve heard us talk generally about cannabinoids. You just heard Dr. Ross break that down a little further into endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids. So we’re going to have a quick vocabulary break.
April Pride: Endocannabinoids, those balancing neurotransmitters that the body makes on its own. Endo, within the body. Phytocannabinoids are plant-derived compounds that mimic endocannabinoids, like from smoking or vaping or our CBD tincture or any other way you might be doing the pot, same chemical structure. One is already in our bodies. One comes from plants. Did you also catch the endocannabinoid system is the largest neurotransmitter system in our body?
April Pride: Okay. Just a little bit more here. Neurotransmitters are often referred to as the body’s chemical messengers. The ECS based on number of neurons alone is facilitating more messages between the brain and body than the nervous system. And there are compounds in plants designed to work with this system to regulate our body and minds, whether they come from the body’s own system or outside. These neurotransmitters are interacting with a whole bunch of other systems. They get a lot more air time, like the ones that make serotonin or dopamine. I asked Dr. Ross about how those interactions worked.
Dr Michele Ross: Whether it’s an endocannabinoid or phytocannabinoid like CBD, we’re finding out that there might even be influences on some of these other receptors. So we’re just at the tip of the iceberg in trying to understand what these endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids do. It’s really, really exciting, but as a neuroscientist, it’s also really frustrating because we don’t know all the pathways. We’re like, “Well, we think it works like this, but you know, we’ll find out two or five years from now.” We’re like, “Actually it doesn’t work like that at all.” We actually don’t know all the answers and there’s so much for us to learn.
April Pride: Skipping ahead, this is a question that I usually ask at the end, but I think it’s appropriate here, which is: What’s the next step that would help you do your job better as a neuroscientist?
Dr Michele Ross: I think that we need to understand how all the components of a plant work together. I think that there’s a lot of research right now on single cannabinoids. For example, how does CBD bind to XYZ receptors? And we’ve found out that it probably has like 50 different mechanisms of how it may work. But we also are not understanding how these plant extracts work. For example, how does the full compliment of CBD, THC, the minor cannabinoids, the flavanoids, the terpenes that are specific to one stream versus the other, how do they work in the brain? What are all the effects they’re having together?
Dr Michele Ross: Because we do know that there’s an entourage effect and unfortunately because studying the full plant extract has been illegal for so long, especially in the United States, we don’t know how consuming even just cannabis oil impacts the brain versus how just THC or just CBD impacts the brain. And I really think that there’s so much potential for us once we understand how these full- spectrum extracts work to be able to use them not only to treat diseases like epilepsy, like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and so on.
April Pride: Just like we talked about with Dr. Jessica Knox in our episode on pharmaceuticals, doctors and scientists who work directly with cannabis are so focused on trying to reveal the full benefits of the plant rather than zeroing in on single molecules the way that drug company research tends to do. And one of the applications we’re interested in is migraines.
Dr Michele Ross: 18% of all women suffer from migraine disorder. Yeah. It’s one of the least- funded areas of research. And we’re not talking about cannabis, we’re just talking about any treatments. Everyone thinks that there’s a one size fits all for each condition, right? Like there’s one strain that works for a headache, so there’s one route of administration that works.
Dr Michele Ross: From what we’ve seen, many people with migraines that respond to different strains. Some people like strains with THCV in them. That seems to be very helpful for migraines and that’s found in strains like Durban Poison, for example. Some people like CBD and they hate THC. Some people like to consume edibles. Some people like tinctures, some people like to smoke it and they smoke it, you know, all day and that keeps away their migraines.
Dr Michele Ross: We still are very far away from I think having a standard treatment that we can say, “These three cannabinoids and these two terpenes are basically the baseline of where we should be starting for cannabinoid treatment of migraines.” But I think out of all probably the conditions that I feel like migraines are really easy to determine onset and the duration and knowing that you can actually take a dose of a pharmaceutical or even cannabis, if you take it consistently, you can actually prevent the onset of migraines.
April Pride: Fortunately, we have more complete research on the effect of phytocannabinoids on our sleep health. Let’s quickly review cannabinoids we first discussed on our pain episode. THC is a cannabinoid that can be psychoactive. It can get you high, while CBD won’t. There are a bunch of other not so name-brand cannabinoids that are showing promise for sleep, such as CBN and CBG. But in the interest of showing you how to do the pot using products that are tested and readily available for you today, we’re only focusing on THC and CBD.
April Pride: Okay. So why does a combo of these cannabinoids offer optimal treatment for issues related to sleep? THC gets you to sleep, sedating you within an hour, and CBD keeps you asleep. So in addition to stabilizing your sleep patterns at night, CBD is also optimizing your sleep/wake cycle throughout the 24-hour period.
April Pride: And 2017 reviews suggest that CBD reduces daytime drowsiness, improves alertness, and relieves anxiety. So understanding how these cannabinoids work better together is a real example of the benefits of full spectrum plant medicine in contrast to isolated cannabinoids.
April Pride: One of the other more profound, I think, discoveries with THC and the brain and sleep is that THC suppresses nightmares or dreams. And so this is often how PTSD manifests itself, through nightmares. So THC, because of the way that it reduces activity during REM and deep sleep, it takes away bad dreams. So THC is a crucial ingredient for some people, and one thing that I’ve seen over and over is that women as entrepreneurs in cannabis, they found their business because they or someone they love had an issue and cannabis was finally the answer.
Julia Jacobson: Hi, April, it’s Julia Jacobson’s CEO and co-founder of Aster Farms and I am going to share with you my story of using cannabis to treat my insomnia. Since I was very little, I have struggled with anxiety and insomnia. When my head hits the pillow, my mind starts racing. When I was little, it was all about analyzing everything that happened on the playground that day. But today it’s running through every detail of our business. When I do finally fall asleep, I wake up almost every hour and I’m forced to battle my racing mind again.
Julia Jacobson: As I got older, I was prescribed Ambien and lorazepam to help me get a normal night’s sleep, but there were consequences both big and small to being on those medications. I woke up in the morning feeling groggy and hungover, and if I didn’t fall asleep right away, I would actually hallucinate. Once my printer actually grew legs and crawled across the room to me, which was not as cool as it may sound. But worse, by my senior year of high school, I was addicted.
Julia Jacobson: The details of that struggle are private, but the consequences extended far beyond myself. I hurt my family. I lost friends, I lost a boyfriend and I was almost kicked out of school. It was the darkest time of my life. But then in college I happened to discover that if I smoked weed before bed, I slept through most of the night and I didn’t feel hungover and I wasn’t hallucinating about printers coming to life and best of all, no relationships were hurt in the process.
Julia Jacobson: When I consume cannabis before bed, it stops my mind from racing. It shuts it all down. I can hear the ambient details like rain or my dog snoring, and my mind is able to wander off to sleep. It’s absolute heaven after a life-long struggle with insomnia.
Julia Jacobson: To get super technical about it, I’m all about clean and sustainable consumption. So I use a PAX 2 vaporizer, which you put ground flower into, not an oil cartridge. With my PAX and a good night-time strain, currently my favorite is our Watermelon OG, I can stay asleep for at least a few hours. And it’s not just being asleep, it’s a good, deep sleep. So cannabis has given me a safe alternative to treat my insomnia and I am incredibly grateful for that.
April Pride: And that’s certainly the case with Carolina Vazquez Mitchell, the founder of Dreamt.
Carolina Vazque: Hello, this is Carolina Vasquez Mitchell. I’m the chief scientific officer and founder of Ciencia Labs and Dreamt. And I also have a lot of problems to fall asleep. So everything has started a long time ago when I was in a PhD program in chemistry. I was very stressed and I didn’t wanted to use medication. So I started use cannabis flower and it helped me to fall asleep. However, it wasn’t long-lasting, so I have to wake up several times during the night to smoke again.
Carolina Vazque: I was just irritating my lungs with all that smoke. So I had to stop the smoking and I didn’t use cannabis until I was working as the chief scientist in this big manufacturing company. They were making a cannabis vape pens and I started using these vape pens and they didn’t irritate my lungs as bad as flowers.
Carolina Vazque: So I started using these product again, but they were so high in THC that they’d make me anxious and I wasn’t able to fall asleep properly sometimes. And when I did fall asleep, I still have to wake up several times during the night and smoke again. So it was the same problem that I had with the flower. And I decided that I needed to do something about it. So I used my background in chemistry and biochemistry and I started doing a lot of research and find compounds that I can include in the formulation that can reduce the anxiety that I got from the THC and that can make the formulation last longer.
April Pride: Sleep is so precious to our health and it can be such a challenge, especially for women in our 30s, 40s, 50s and of course beyond. So let’s say you’re looking to sleep better. For today’s high five, our tips for how to do the pot when you have sleep issues or are managing migraines. Number one, learn to read the label. If you’re in a state that has legalized adult use, there’s more and better labeling. So what should you be looking for? Look at those percentage numbers. How much THC versus CBD is in this strain? And if you’re just getting started with cannabis, look for high CBD strains. I would say start there.
April Pride: Number two, find your ratio and your dose. If you visited a legal dispensary, then you may be familiar with packaging labeled in ratios printed 1:1, 3:1, 5:1, et cetera. Tinctures, capsules and edibles can be found labeled in this way. And these denote the ratio of CBD, that’s the first number, to THC, the second number. When you’re buying flower and pre-rolled joints, you may need to do some mental math to figure out the ratios. These all refer to how much CBD is in your cannabis. The first number is CBD. So a three to one product has three times the amount of CBD as THC.
April Pride: When combined, CBD reduces the psychoactive effects of the THC. Just like sometimes you take one Advil and sometimes you take three. It’s the same thing with THC and CBD. Different conditions require different doses, even within the same person, right? So you just need to fall asleep, but you’ve got something on your mind. Chances are you can get away with a 20:1 tincture. Say you have a pounding headache, and that’s what’s keeping you from going to sleep.
April Pride: As Valeria shared in the beginning of the episode, she requires three times the typical dosage of THC that she feels comfortable consuming and it just knocks her out, right? She wakes up, the migraine’s gone. So find your ratio. Find your dose and know that it does fluctuate and it does change depending on the condition.
April Pride: This is the part that’s like being a scientist or a doctor, keeping notes on what’s working for you, getting a strain journal. It can be frustrating when you get too high or you don’t get the sleep that you need, but the results when it does work can be profound. And cannabis has been shown to not be habit-forming, including as a sleep aid.
April Pride: Number three, find a cannabis source with good recommendations. If you’ve been in a dispensary, you know there’s a lot of talk about sativa and indica. The conventional wisdom is indica is the sleepy body high kind of cannabis and sativa is more peppy and creative. It’s true that cannabis sativa and cannabis indica are two different types of plants, but these broad generalizations that just don’t pan out in terms of individual strains. I strongly recommend that you ask yourself, how do you want to feel? Do you want to be energized? Do you want to laugh? Do you need to be creative or as we’ve been talking about in this episode, do you want to be sleepy?
April Pride: You heard Dr. Michele Ross mentioned terpenes. When you smell through your nose, terpenes I feel are where that smell meets the back of your throat and your taste buds. The other thing that I’d like to say about terpenes is when you smell flower, it connects with your, it doesn’t. Some people like stinky, cheesy smelling nug and others just really, they’re turned off by it. I would follow your nose. If it doesn’t smell good to you, it’s probably not meant to be consumed by you. Try to smell it. Remember in our last episode how we talked about knowing who you’re buying from. Talk to your bud tender at the dispensary. A good shop will have great recommendations based on both how and why you want to do the pot.
April Pride: Number four, find your cannabis and sleep ritual. Using cannabis can be very ritualistic, just like getting into a good sleep routine. As you get to know your dosage and balance of CBD and THC, see if having a consistent way and time you use cannabis can help you prepare for sleep.
April Pride: Which brings us to number five, a brand that focuses on delivering products that integrate beautifully into a sleep ritual. The brand we’re featuring today is PotLi. It was founded by two women in California. Their first customers were their toughest. They’re Asian immigrant moms, definitely conservative and totally not cool with cannabis. But one mom needed its healing properties to treat symptoms of asthma. So the founders got creative.
April Pride: They came up with a familiar and easy way to consume: raw wildflower honey harvested from their very own hives in the San Francisco Bay area. So speaking of a nightly routine to help ease you into sleep, they’re infused hemp-derived CBD product-infused honey can ship throughout the US. I know that I’m going to have a dry January, but I’m going to be high and dry. So a little bit of infused honey at night seems like it’s better than a martini.
April Pride: PotLi offers a full range of cooking ingredients. So their honey is also available in California with THC. They also have an olive oil that includes THC, so I feel like in the new year there are so many ways that you can incorporate a very familiar and healthy form of consumption to battle your migraines or conquer your sleep issues. So visit potlishop.com and save 10% when you enter promo code DOTHEPOT.
April Pride: As you heard at the top, this is our last episode for this first batch of How to Do the Pot. We’ve been hearing about your personal experiences and please, again, keep those coming. We’ve had so much information that we wanted to share with you in this show and we wanted to validate the specific and stigmatized ways that women, especially moms are doing the pot. So before we wrap up this season, I thought it only fair to share where cannabis fits into my personal life.\
April Pride: Like I said, I do the pot and I do do it daily. The question I ask myself to be a responsible cannabis consumer is, “Is this weed, is it helping the situation or is it hurting the situation?” Weed doesn’t have all the answers. You still have to show up and make good choices. Weed is for sure a choice that offers less harmful consequences than other ways I know that I’ve employed to manage my stress and mental health.
April Pride: So let’s also be clear. I still meditate. I still take my daily prescribed meds. Cannabis definitely changes the formula for achieving my best life, but it’s not a silver bullet. 76 million women have access now to legal cannabis in some form. Not all women can afford to consume cannabis without considering where the line item is in their monthly budget. These women who have found the plant to be the answer to being a woman with shit to do and looking for less harmful ways to adjust her attitude, they too may find themselves consuming on the regular.
April Pride: The reality of our current system is that pharmaceuticals are covered by insurance. Weed is not, and black market weed is cheaper than regulated weed. Black market weed, though, is not tested and now there are tax dollars at stake. So enforcement of illegal operations has in some ways become personal to the state. The reality of legal cannabis is so much more than how to get high, but thank God we can.
April Pride: People worked for decades to get us to legalized cannabis and now we’re working to normalize cannabis. That’s what my co-founder Ellen Scanlon, my college friend, and I are looking to do with this venture, Of Like Minds and this podcast. We both want to help women get to their best cannabis-supported outcome. We want to work in an industry that is committed to social change. We want to work with of like minds to build a new type of industry with leadership we can all admire for their contributions to our collective vision.
April Pride: Please keep in touch as you tell us how you and your loved ones are using the pot. I’m April Pride. I do the pot, we got that straight and we’ll be back in 2020 with more of your questions, experiences and research on how cannabis is impacting our lives and our society. Share with us the most simple or elaborate way you interact with the plant. Email us a voice memo to hi, H-I, @dothepot.com. Thanks to my co-founder, Ellen Scanlon, our marketing manager, Alli Musolino, producer, Gina Delvac, Ben Adair, and the whole team at Western Sound. If you liked the show, please share it with someone, rate and review us on Apple Podcasts and you can find more about our guests, high five tips and so much more at dothepot.com. See you next year.
So you must be legal, too. Age 21+ invited to continue.