So if getting shut-eye is becoming harder and harder, you’re not alone.
With so many people experiencing sleeping disorders, there’s been a rise of interest in one controversial cure: cannabis. Many in the medical marijuana community refer to cannabis as an effective treatment, with little to no side effects, for a range of sleeping disorders.
“Marijuana is an effective sleep aid because it restores a person’s natural sleep cycle, which so often falls out of sync with our schedules in today’s modern lifestyle,” says Dr. Matt Roman, a medical marijuana physician.
Whether you have a sleep disorder or you’re having difficulty sleeping after a stressful day, cannabis might be a choice for you. Marijuana’s analgesic properties might provide some relief for those with chronic pain, while the anti-anxiety properties can soothe a stressed out mind and body.
The science of sleep via cannabis
There are different strains of marijuana. Some are more energizing, and some are calming and sedating depending on the balance of the different cannabinoids.
First, here’s a quick primer on the science behind marijuana. This herb works because it contains different cannabinoids, two of which you’ll see most often:
- Cannabidiol (CBD). CBD has a number of health benefits, and is nonpsychoactive, meaning it doesn’t cause you to feel “high.”
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC, a psychoactive cannabinoid, is primarily responsible for that “high” feeling.
Something else THC is responsible for? Inducing sleepTrusted Source. So you’ll want a strain that contains more THC than CBD.
According to a 2008 studyTrusted Source, ingesting marijuana strains with higher levels of THC typically reduces the amount of REM sleep you get. Reducing REM sleep means reducing dreams — and for those who experience PTSD, it could mean reducing nightmares.
So the theory is that if you spend less time dreaming, you’ll spend more time in a “deep sleep” state. The deep sleep state is thought to be the most restorative, restful part of the sleep cycle.
Still, REM is important for healthy cognitive and immune functioning, and marijuana with higher THC levels could impair your sleep quality if taken long term.
But this isn’t true across the board. Some studies have found that sleep can actually be impaired by regular use of marijuana. It’s clear that marijuana changes sleep cycles.
Things to consider before you try marijuana
Smoking of any kind is a known health risk and should be approached with caution. Also, medicinal use of marijuana is still illegal in many areas.
Talk to your doctor about your sleep cycles. There may be long-term health consequences with interrupted REM, because much of the immune function repair takes place in deep sleep.
Long-term use of any sleep aid isn’t recommended. Try these tips from Healthline to help you sleep better.
Please use marijuana responsibly. As with all forms of smoking, your risk of COPD can increase. Smoking marijuana is hazardous to the lungs, especially for those with asthma or other respiratory conditions. The use of marijuana while pregnant or breastfeeding isn’t recommended.
Long-term marijuana use has been shown to have changes on the amount of gray matterTrusted Source in the brain. For teenagers, marijuana seems to have even more profound long-term and lasting effects on the brain and isn’t recommended.
Marijuana use isn’t recommended for anyone under 25 years of age because of the long-term effects on learning and recall.
Does cannabis help with sleep?
Cannabis is known to induce a state of relaxation and drowsiness that could help to induce sleep.
Research on the possible sleep effects of cannabis date back to the 1970s, but high-quality studies are scarce because of the drug’s legal status.
The ongoing changes in the legality of cannabis are being driven by changes in attitude and by a greater understanding of its potential medicinal use.
There are many different components found in cannabis. The two most commonly studied elements are:
- Cannabidiol (CBD): This is a non-psychoactive compound, meaning that it does not induce the highs associated with cannabis.
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): This is a psychoactive component that causes many of the feelings of being high.
Most medical research has focused on CBD, which has several proven health benefits.
What do the studies say?
A study in participants with and without sleeping difficulties found that cannabis use reduced the time taken to get to sleep in both groups.
A further studyTrusted Source looked at the therapeutic effect of CBD in people whose sleep was disrupted by anxiety, such as in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The research team noted that, at the time, PTSD was an acceptable condition for medicinal cannabis use in five states, and cannabis use for medical reasons was growing in the U.S.
The study concluded that many people with PTSD used cannabis to help them sleep. But the long-term consequence of the habit was not known, and more research in this area was needed.
But a of the scientific research into cannabis use for sleep and sleep disorders concludes that the overall picture is far from clear and more studies are needed.
A study, using rodents only, found that CBD could induce a deeper sleep state in rats that researchers had subjected to anxiety.
But an earlier study in humans found that CBD produced a more alert state, while THC acted as a sedative.
A further studyTrusted Source found that daily cannabis use had a negative impact on sleep quality in young adults who had no reported sleeping difficulties.
Again, the researchers in this last study concludedTrusted Source that more large-scale research was needed to assess the true impact of cannabis on sleep.
To further cloud the picture, much of the current support for cannabis as an aid to sleep is anecdotal. So, further investigation is needed to find out if the benefits are real or not.
Should I take cannabis for sleep?
People sometimes smoke cannabis with tobacco, which is a known carcinogen.
It is also possible for cannabis use to become addictiveTrusted Source and for it to have a negative impact on mental wellbeingTrusted Source, particularly in people who may be susceptible to anxiety or other mental health problems.
Taking cannabis to sleep is not a natural method of inducing sleep, and it can lead to a dependency on the drug.
For more long-term solutions to problems falling asleep, people may want to try some of the following natural methods:
- going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, including weekends
- ensuring the room is dark and quiet when trying to sleep
- avoiding the consumption of large meals within an hour before bed
- exercising regularly each day
- avoiding caffeine, especially close to bedtime