REM sleep behavior disorder (RBD) is a rare condition that frequently foreshadows the development of neurodegenerative diseases by several years (1). Mainly seen in middle-aged to elderly men, RBD manifests itself as a disturbance in the body’s muscle control system during sleep. Generally, RBD is treated with benzodiazepines, but promising new research suggests that cannabidiol (CBD), one of the main non-psychoactive compounds found in the cannabis plant, may help the brain to naturally manage the body’s muscle movements during REM sleep, significantly reducing RBD-related symptoms without any of the negative side effects that are commonly seen with long-term benzodiazepine use.
About CBD and Rem Sleep Behavior Disorder
RBD is a parasomnia disorder characterized by involuntary movement of the body during the final stage of sleep. For a healthy individual, a typical night’s sleep consists of five distinct stages which gradually navigate the brain from wakefulness to the deepest dream state (2). During the fifth and final stage, a phase known as rapid eye movement (REM) occurs, and while in the throes of this state, most people dream. REM sleep is characterized by a profound change in brain activity when compared to non-REM sleep. Brain waves suddenly look the same as they do during wakefulness, yet the body becomes temporarily immobilized by gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glycine, a neurotransmitter and an amino acid, respectively, that switch off the parts of the brain that regulate muscle movement (3). This condition of paralysis, called REM atonia, is what prevents people from acting out their dreams with their bodies. A person suffering from RBD does not experience such a paralysis during the final stage of sleep, which can result in talking, screaming, flailing limbs wildly, grabbing at the air, and even jumping out of the bed, possibly causing injury to themselves or their sleeping partner. RBD is often an early sign of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Lewy body dementia.
Cannabidiol VS Benzodiazepine
There is no known cure for RBD, although the symptoms can be treated with the benzodiazepine Clonazepam, which is 90% effective in eliminating the disorder. Because Clonazepam can have some fairly undesirable side effects, including depression, memory loss, appetite suppression and dependency (4), there are many patients who wish to pursue a natural means of alleviating their RBD symptoms. Cannabidiol (CBD) is showing some promising signs of relief for REM sleep sufferers. While it is not yet fully understood why CBD is so useful when it comes to helping the body manage this sleep disorder, some recent research suggests that CBD interacts directly with the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) and inspires the ECS to regulate GABA receptors and potentiate glycine receptors in a similar fashion as benzodiazepines (6). When these receptors are operating properly, it is possible for the REM atonia functionality to be coerced back into working order, or at least near to working order, eliminating much of the involuntary body movement caused by RBD. This is wonderful news for those looking for a natural way to reexperience the feeling of waking up just like you would wake up in soft crib sheets and for those looking for a natural way to manage their symptoms without any of the nasty side effects that can go along with benzodiazepine use.