- Up to 30% of adults suffer from insomnia
- Insomnia is as simple as having difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Insomnia is usually a sign of another medical condition, often depression
- Marijuana can have a strong effect on sleep
Research shows that marijuana can reduce disturbances during sleep and the time it takes to fall asleep
TruthOnPot.com – Regular marijuana users often cite difficulty falling asleep as a reason for their use. While most experts have yet to voice support for medical marijuana as a treatment for insomnia, research seems to confirm what many users claim; marijuana helps with sleep.
The earliest record of marijuana as a sleep aid comes from ancient Indian medicine. However, medical marijuana only made its way into Western medicine in the 19th century, when Dr. William B. O’Shaugnessy returned from India with cannabis and encouraged physicians to prescribe it for many ailments, including sleep.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder, defined as having difficulty falling or staying asleep. Insomnia can be a symptom of a variety of conditions and is not normally considered a condition on its own. Approximately 40% of adults with insomnia also suffer from a mental disorder – most commonly depression.
Insomnia is common among the overall population and is estimated to affect between 10-30% of adults – many of whom turn to sleeping pills for relief. In fact, research shows that over 95% of diagnosed cases of insomnia are treated with sleep medications. While certain sleep medications may be effective in managing insomnia, they also subject users to a wide range of side effects, including the risk of death.
How Can Marijuana Help?
In recent years, scientists have become increasingly aware of the endocannabinoid system’s role in regulating sleep. In addition to maintaining a regular sleep pattern, the system, which is responsible for the effects of marijuana, has been identified as a potential target for the treatment of insomnia. Studies show that endocannabinoids increase sleepiness and that insomnia may even be caused by a dysfunctional endocannabinoid system.
On the other hand, few studies have investigated the use of medical marijuana on human patients with insomnia. Only one study in the past few decades tested the effects of THC on insomniacs.
The study was published in 1973 by researchers in the United States and involved 9 test subjects that were given varying doses of THC – 10, 20 and 30mg – once a week for 6 weeks. Each dose reduced the time it took to fall asleep (sleep latency), with the most effective dose being 20 mg. 20 mg of THC was found to reduce the average time it took patients to fall asleep by more than an hour.
Overall, THC was found to be more effective in helping patients fall asleep once they got into bed – but not sooner. Interestingly, the highest dose of THC (30mg) was less effective than the 20mg dose, suggesting that the 30mg dose may have been too intoxicating. According to the study’s authors, the effects of being too high can outweigh the desire to sleep or simply make it harder to fall asleep.
The study also showed that THC could decrease the number of sleep interruptions that insomniacs experience, but only during the early part of the night. THC also seemed to increase the amount of time that patients spent sleeping – higher doses of THC were correlated with longer periods of sleep. Patients also reported a “hang over” effect in the morning, particularly at the 30 mg dose. On the other hand, 20 mg didn’t seem to negatively affect patients the next day.
Interestingly, cannabidiol (CBD) may also offer benefits to patients with insomnia, but without the psychoactive effects that THC is known for. A study published in 1981 involving 15 insomnia patients showed that 160mg doses of CBD led to an increase in the amount of time spent sleeping compared to placebo. The patients that received CBD also experienced less dream recall, suggesting that CBD might also affect REM sleep in the same way as THC.
Marijuana and Other Sleep Disorders
Although research on marijuana and insomnia came to a halt after the 1980s, a number of recent studies suggest that medical marijuana can improve the sleep quality of patients who suffer from other conditions.
For instance, a study published in 2010 found that synthetic THC was more effective than amitriptyline – an antidepressant commonly used to treat insomnia – at improving sleep quality in patients with fibromyalgia. Numerous studies (Russo et al., 2005 and Bribois et al., 2011) conducted on patients with disorders such as multiple sclerosis and cancer have noted an improvement in sleep quality from the use of cannabinoids as well.
Finally, research suggests that medical marijuana may be an effective treatment for sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is another common sleep disorder that affects up to 25% of middle-aged men and 9% of middle-aged women in North America.
Marijuana and Sleep
In addition to reducing the time it takes to fall asleep, studies show that marijuana can have a significant impact on the sleep cycle. In fact, marijuana increases stage 3 sleep and reduces REM stage sleep. Stage 3 sleep – also known as slow-wave sleep – is believed to be the most important stage for the sleep deprived. A lack of stage 3 sleep has been linked to high blood pressure in older men.
However, the reduction in REM sleep should be approached with caution, even though research has yet to confirm what exactly REM sleep does. While experts continue to assert that REM sleep must have some sort of positive effect on the body, it is interesting to note that a lack of REM sleep has been found to improve memory and symptoms of depression.
Overall, it appears that medical marijuana may be a viable alternative to traditional sleeping aids. The few side effects associated with marijuana may provide further benefit to patients who react poorly to pharmaceutical treatments.