The National Sleep Foundation reports that between 50 to 70 million adults in America experience symptoms associated with sleep disorders, nearly 30 to 40% of people will experience insomnia during their lives, and 10 to 15% of adults suffer from chronic insomnia. There are numerous reasons why sleep might be so difficult to come by (anxiety, depression, chronic pain, PTSD, etc.), but we’re not here to talk about that. Instead, we’re examining why medical marijuana can be your solution for issues with sleep, despite the cause, and how it helps.
Why Use Cannabis for Sleep?
Currently, many of those who suffer from issues related to sleep rely on sleep aids and sedatives in the hopes they get some good shut eye. However, like many pharmaceuticals, when you solve one problem, another takes its place. When it comes to sleep aids, many patients report an increase in negative side effects like grogginess and confusion upon waking up.
Switching to medical marijuana to help treat issues with sleep may be the solution you’ve been searching for. In fact, it’s been used as a sleep aid for centuries. With its sedative and relaxing effects, cannabis can help you get to sleep faster and easier by shortening the time it takes to fall asleep, even for those with chronic insomnia.
In a study on cannabis and sleep conducted by Dr. Rolando Tringale and Dr. Claudia Jensen, it was found that the use of cannabis shortened the time it took subjects with sleeping issues to fall asleep by an average of 30 minutes. Study participants who didn’t experience issues falling asleep, fell asleep even faster than usual.
What’s more, cannabis has been shown to increase the amount of time spent sleeping, though it can shorten REM (rapid eye-movement) sleep which is a pro or con depending on the specific condition. In general, REM sleep is important because it stimulates the part of your brain that is essential to making and retaining memories, and therefore learning. It is also the part of the sleep cycle associated with dreams. With that in mind, for those with PTSD-related sleep issues like nightmares, a disruption in REM sleep may be welcomed since it would inhibit nightmares.
How Does Cannabis Help with Sleep?
There are over 600 natural chemical compounds found within cannabis, many of which have an effect on sleep or sleep cycles. Two of the most important aspects of cannabis when it comes to treating sleep conditions are cannabinoids and terpenes.
If you’re attempting to get into medical marijuana, cannabinoid is a word that will quickly become part of your vocabulary. Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found within hemp and cannabis that interact with the cannabinoid receptors in our bodies (yes, our body has receptors for chemicals in cannabis!).
The cannabis plant contains over 100 different cannabinoids, but the three most well-known—and most beneficial for sleep issues—are cannabinol (CBN), cannabidiol (CBD), and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
CBD is a cannabinoid with no psychoactive effects, unlike THC and CBN, and can help reduce anxiety levels. It can also help to balance or counteract any negative side effects of THC and, combined with its anti-anxiety properties, can help people get a restful sleep. However, it is actually most commonly used in the daytime to reduce sleepiness and increase alertness. But despite its ability to perk one up, it has not been linked to negatively affecting sleep/wake cycles.
THC is the most well-known cannabinoid and produces a psychoactive effect. In short, it gets you high! THC also has well documented sedative properties and, as discussed above, decreases REM and increases time spent in slow-wave sleep. New research also indicates that THC may become a solution for those with sleep apnea as its use is linked to improved breathing during sleep.
Last on the list of important cannabinoids is CBN, a lesser known but important cannabinoid when discussing sleep issues. Found in aged cannabis, CBN is a byproduct of THC as it converts and changes over time. It produces strong sedative effects on the body, more so than even THC.
As discussed in a previous blog, terpenes are gaining momentum within the cannabis community. More and more research indicates that these small, aromatic molecules, which are responsible for a strain’s smell and taste, play a vital role in mood, energy, sleepiness, and alertness.
While there are many types of terpenes (they are found in many plants, fruits, and flowers—not just cannabis), the five most beneficial for sleep conditions are:
Also found in lemongrass, thyme, and mangoes, Myrcene is anti-inflammatory and produces sedative effects on the body.
With a peppery and spicy scent, this terpene is commonly found in cloves and black pepper. In cannabis, it has pain-relieving and anxiety reducing properties that promote rest and relaxation.
Cannabis that smells citrusy is high in limonene, a molecule also found in citrus peels. It is reported to have an anti-depressant and calming effect on the body as it stimulates serotonin levels in the brain. As such, it is often linked to reduced insomnia.
Strains of cannabis that contain terpineol produce sedative relaxing effects. In addition to cannabis, the terpene can most commonly be found in lilacs, eucalyptus, and pine.
Scented like lavender—which everyone knows helps to promote sleep—linalool in cannabis will lead to less anxiety and depression. For those with sleep issues, linalool is an incredible terpene since it also increases adenosine, a hormone that helps promote sleep.
Should You Use Cannabis to Promote Sleep?
Sleep is incredibly important to our overall health. Research links poor sleep to a number of health issues, including obesity or issues with weight, increased risk of heart attack and strokes, hypertension, and diabetes, among many others. If you experience chronic insomnia or have trouble sleeping, medical marijuana may be just what you need.
*At time of publication, insomnia and sleep conditions are not a qualifying condition in our home state of Pennsylvania but anxiety—which is often a side effect of poor sleep—is a qualifying condition.