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Medical Marijuana: A Treatment For Sleep Apnea?

By on February 16, 2013

Summary (click to view)


• Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that affects up to 25% of men and 9% of women, 70-80% of sufferers remain undiagnosed
• An ‘apnea’ or ‘hypopnea’ is a pause or decline in breathing during sleep
• Patients with sleep apnea experience apneas/hypopneas many times throughout the night
• Symptoms of sleep apnea include snoring, restless sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness
Studies have found that THC taken before bedtime can reduce the frequency of apnea episodes in patients with sleep apnea

TruthOnPot.com – What do heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and snoring all have in common? The answer is sleep apnea – a sleep disorder that commonly goes unnoticed in those affected but is estimated to occur in up to 25% of middle-aged men and 9% of middle-aged women in North America.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Many patients find CPAP treatment to be uncomfortable and difficult to follow in the long-run. Image source

Sleep apnea is a surprisingly common sleep disorder that is characterized by abnormal declines or pauses in breathing during sleep. Each pause is called an ‘apnea’ or ‘hypopnea’ and can last from a few seconds to minutes in length – occurring 5 to 30 times or more per hour. Sleep apnea falls under the broader category of sleep-disordered breathing and is classified as mild, moderate or severe depending on the number of apnea/hypopnea episodes that occur per hour of sleep.

Individuals who suffer from sleep apnea are rarely aware of their difficulty breathing, even upon awakening. As a result, sufferers of the disorder are difficult to identify and studies show that 70-80% of those affected remain undiagnosed. Diagnosis requires conducting an overnight sleep test called a polysomnogram.

The most common signs of sleep apnea are snoring, restless sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness. Patients with sleep apnea often complain of being tired during the day, despite long hours of nighttime sleep. Furthermore, obesity increases the likelihood of suffering from sleep apnea – studies show that up to 40% of individuals that are obese also suffer from sleep apnea. Other common symptoms of sleep apnea include depression, mood swings, morning headaches and problems with attention, memory and concentration.

As time goes on, sleep apnea can wreak havoc on one’s health. It has been identified as a major risk factor for a number of cardiovascular conditions, including hypertension, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure and stroke. Furthermore, sleep apnea has been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, cancer and even traffic accidents. Children who suffer from sleep apnea are at an increased risk of bedwetting, behavioral problems and ADHD.

Current Treatments

The most common and effective treatment for sleep apnea is the use of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machines. These involve a mask connected to an air pressure machine that is worn over the face while sleeping. Despite its well-documented effectiveness, the lack of patient adherence is a major drawback of this form of treatment. Studies show that 46-83% of patients do not adhere to CPAP treatment over the long-run.

Patients tend to favor drug therapy as a treatment for sleep apnea, but pharmaceuticals options are severely limited for this disorder. However, recent studies have found marijuana-based medications to hold promise as an effective alternative to CPAP machines for the treatment of sleep apnea.

How Can Marijuana Help?

A number of studies have investigated the effects of cannabis extracts on sleep apnea, revealing positive findings.

In 2002, researchers at the University of Illinois published the results of a study documenting the effects of cannabinoids (THC and oleamide) in animal models of sleep apnea. The results showed that both THC and oleamide were able to stabilize respiration in the animal models during all stages of sleep, decreasing apnea indexes during NREM and REM sleep stages by 42% and 58% respectively. These decreases were observed to be dose-dependent – meaning that higher doses of cannabinoids resulted in higher reductions in apnea episodes.

Following the positive results of this pre-clinical trial, lead author Dr. David Carley published the first human trial to investigate the effects of THC (dronabinol) on sleep apnea in 2013. The study involved administering varying doses of dronabinol (2.5, 5 and 10mg) to 17 test subjects prior to bedtime over a 3 week period. The results showed an overall reduction in apnea indexes of 32%, despite significant variance between patients.

Although a 32% reduction is marginal when compared to the effectiveness of current treatment options (such as CPAP and oral devices), the authors suggest that cannabinoid medications could still be of benefit to patients who suffer from mild to moderate cases of sleep apnea. Furthermore, the reduction was observed to be dose-dependent in both pre-clinical and human trials – meaning that higher rates of reduction may likely be achieved with higher doses of cannabinoids.

Dr. Carley has since received a $5 million grant from the National Institute of Health to investigate these results further in a Phase II clinical trial. If similar results are found, THC pills may become available to patients with sleep apnea in the near future.

  • 大胆不敵なリーダー

    Take a couple puffs right before you turn in, if you smoke a couple hours before you go to bed it doesn’t help as much and if you smoke too much it can also be counterproductive. Just puff till you start to feel something and then your in the zone.

    • MisterChew

      I totally agree! I have Sleep Apnea, and for some reason, when I take a couple of puffs (2 bowls from an Arizer Solo) of Marijuana (Master Kush/Indica) before bedtime. I sleep much better than on days when I don’t vape. There must be some correlation.

  • dj m

    me too. it guarantees me sleep. but now I have been caught growing it I might lose my job. house and possibly go to prison. nice politicians and doctors do your jobs properly!

    • joe

      Fight da power man

  • Squizza

    I suffer servealy with sleep apnea and have been on cpap machine for 12 years now and I still feel tired during the day because I’m still waking up during the night, I would like to know if medical marijuana would elevate this problem and also where would I be able to buy it from in Melbourne.

  • dr. Satendra Saxena

    I don’t think marijuana can help in treatment of sleep apnea,i am enjoying marijuana for last 30 years and now at the age of 57 i have developed sleep apnea, i do not recommend it, i am a neuro surgeon by profession.

    • Ola nordmann

      UUuh what? You just read successfull trials and yet came here to comment that it doesnt work? Troll. I have sleep apnea and it helps me alot, sleeping with a CPAP machine is almost impossible. Mary makes it ok. Sleeping pills are not a longterm solution, and comparing the side-effects pills vs maryj the conclusion is clear.

    • Cleottis Love Jr.

      The reason I’m researching this is because I have been clocked at 100 apneas in a hour. I don’t like the cpap machine, but when I don’t use it I have major problems. Recently I got a little high and I haven’t slept better without the cpap! Until now I thought the cpap was the only way to sleep! No headaches, depression, or mood swings !

  • Laurie Bortolon

    Would sleeping pills help me ,I have severe sleep apnea I’m tired but I have trouble falling asleep I’m getting fed up. Does anyone have any suggestions.

    • Damon Davis

      sleeping pills would only help you get to sleep unless you are trying all natural sleep aid like midnite (think that’s the name) you can usually get them over the counter at your local grocery store or by the pharmacy dept I would say give it a shot and see worst that would happen is you lose out on a few bucks (like five I think)

      • Laurie Bortolon

        Thanks I will get some tomorrow

    • Vincent

      Sleeping pills relaxes your throat muscles.. This makes your sleep apnea worse.. You need a CPAP machine to help you sleep

  • John

    I have found no relief by using? Been smoking for 40 years and yet I stop breathing 42 times an hour during my sleep?
    Is there another way of dosing that maybe would make a differenc

    • John

      The other issue is when I smoke I don’t dream meaning I don’t believe I reach the REM sleep stage? If I quit for 3 weeks or so my dreams become one after another, kind of like going to a movie theater