In case you haven’t heard, Americans are having a hard time finding the sleep they need, with more than one-third of US adults failing to get at least seven hours of sleep per night. With this struggle so apparently felt, many are turning to different treatment options—medication, alternative remedies, and lifestyle changes—to help them improve their sleep health. While experts agree that the first line of the defense for most sleep issues should be behavioral interventions like sleep hygiene and cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, some are turning to more unconventional methods.
Marijuana, a recreational and medicinal drug, which people have used over the years to manage pain, nausea, menstrual cramps, constipation, epilepsy, malaria, and vomiting, is becoming a more popular option for battling sleep woes – despite limited research confirming its long term impact on sleep architecture and overall sleep quality. While one study found that, 80% of research participants reported that the intervention helped them sleep, other research has shown that marijuana can suppress or disturb important stages of sleep such as REM and slow-wave sleep. Whether you’re a heavy or casual marijuana user, or are perhaps new to the idea and looking for guidance on how it can help you sleep, it’s important to get all the facts.
Of course, every state, and even every county, has different laws pertaining to the use of marijuana, so it’s important to consult your local laws to find out what’s legal to use in your area. It’s also important to note that research on the use of marijuana for sleep is still in its infancy, and therefore the data is limited. But, we’ll look what’s been studied to date, plus what to consider before using marijuana as a sleep aid.
Can Marijuana Help You Sleep?
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn’t approved marijuana use for managing or treating any condition, including sleep problems.
However, studies suggest the potential of marijuana use for managing sleep disorders like insomnia, nightmares associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), REM sleep behavior disorder, and sleep disturbance from chronic pain.
A 2017 review analyzed multiple studies that have looked into the effects of marijuana on various sleep problems. Overall, the researchers found that short-term marijuana use may have therapeutic effects in helping a person fall asleep faster.
The researchers also noted that relying on marijuana for sleep in the long term may lead to dependency.
Still, the researchers highlight that marijuana’s effect on sleep depends on the dose, time taken, and method of use.
Similarly, a 2019 review on the use of marijuana for sleep observes that marijuana may be beneficial for improving sleep quality as studies show that it may help a person fall asleep and reduce sleep disturbances. But the researchers also point out that many of these studies are limited by their small size and only looked at marijuana’s effect on sleep as a secondary objective, with other conditions such as multiple sclerosis, PTSD, and chronic pain, being the primary focus.
Another study examining whether marijuana improves sleep and anxiety symptoms in a clinical population found that marijuana use is associated with improved sleep in the first month, but this outcome changed later.
Interestingly, a 2021 study examining the medicinal use of marijuana for insomnia suggests that people who struggle to fall asleep may benefit from dosing marijuana two to four hours before going to bed. Also, people who have difficulty sleeping may experience better sleep when they take it one hour before bedtime.
The researchers also found that marijuana use may positively manage insomnia symptoms and improve sleep health for people with chronic insomnia after taking it for two weeks.
A population analysis of over 146 million US adults found that 14.5% use marijuana. However, heavy users reported that they either experienced too little or too much sleep with their marijuana use. The researchers observed that dosage heavily influences the effect of marijuana on rest.
How Does Marijuana Affect Sleep?
Many people who use marijuana for better sleep report sedative effects that impact their sleep quality, but some research suggests that overnight brain waves can be altered when using marijuana leading to sleep architectural impairment
Marijuana contains multiple active ingredients, called cannabinoids, that may impact sleep. Its main ingredients are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), having psychoactive properties, and cannabidiol (CBD) with nonpsychoactive constituents.
THC has sedating effects on the brain, which may cause a person to relax and feel sleepy. Researchers explain its sedative effects thus: THC may trigger the production of adenosine, a sleep-promoting agent, and suppress arousal systems in the brain, thereby causing a person to unwind and feel sleepy.
In contrast, CBD has an alerting effect that may lead to arousal and ward off THC’s effect on the brain.
An older study shows that 15 milligrams(mg) THC may cause sleepiness, while 15mg CBD may increase awakeness, therefore, counteracting THC’s sedative effects.
These findings suggest that marijuana with higher amounts of THC than CBD may better induce sleep, but significantly more research is needed to know the ideal dose and timing.
Additionally, numerous studies also suggest that marijuana may help lower stress and anxiety levels, improve mood, relieve pain, and manage exhaustion, all of which may be associated with supporting sleep
Potential Side Effects of Using Marijuana For Sleep
A study exploring the medicinal impact of marijuana for treating insomnia reported that participants that received it showed some side effects which the researchers referred to as mild, including:
- Dry mouth
- Swollen tongue
Additionally, relying on marijuana as a long-term intervention for improving sleep may lead to dependence. This long-term or heavy use may worsen sleep problems and lead to shorter sleep duration, poor sleep efﬁciency, decreased REM and slow-wave sleep, difficulty falling asleep, and frequent nighttime awakenings.
Sleep problems may arise or become more severe when a person tries to quit because sleep problems are a primary marijuana withdrawal symptom. In particular, individuals who stop using marijuana after long periods of time report bizarre and vivid dreams, a sign of REM sleep rebound, which may be a consequence of THC’s REM sleep suppression effects.
What to Consider Before Using Marijuana For Sleep
If you’re looking to use marijuana to help improve your sleep, consider speaking to a doctor first, who may look at your medical history, screen for potential sleep problems, and recommend treatment. For most people, healthy sleep promoting behaviors and behavioral therapy should be a first line of defense for improving sleep. It’s also important to remember that more research is needed to understand the long-term effects of marijuana use on sleep, and the ideal dosages for using marijuana. And as noted at the start of the article, you’ll want to check your local and state laws to know what kind of products you can purchase legally and safely.
Once you’ve understood all of these aspects, there are a few things worth noting when considering trying marijuana for sleep.
You can ingest marijuana by smoking, eating, vaping, or putting it under your tongue, also known as sublingual application.
Marijuana may come in different dose combinations of THC and CBD. As earlier noted, CBD may counteract THC’s sedative effects. So opting for marijuana with more THC may be more beneficial for sleep.
How you ingest marijuana determines when you should take it and expect its effects on your body. For example, inhalation allows marijuana into the system faster than eating it.
You may have to experiment to understand the dosage and timing to take it to help you fall asleep.
As always, it’s best to support your sleep health by following sleep hygiene practices, staying active during the day, getting adequate sunlight, and keeping your bedtime and wake times consistent – even on weekends! Have more questions? Tweet us @sleepscore !