Cannabis has long been used to aid sleep. A frequent lack of sleep can have a significant impact on mental and physical wellbeing. But using cannabis requires caution, not least because it is currently unclear whether the drug has proven benefits for sleep.
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.
How to ingest marijuana for a good night’s rest
Most people ingest marijuana by smoking it as a joint or with a pipe.
If you don’t enjoy smoking, want to protect your lungs, or dislike marijuana’s signature odor, try vaping devices or THC-rich tinctures, which are dropped under the tongue. Both are common methods of using marijuana for sleep.
Then comes the question of how much marijuana to use. It might take some experimentation to get the dosage that’s right for you — so don’t try this during a work week! If smoking or vaping, you’ll want to start with just a few puffs.
Tishler notes that a little goes a long way. As mentioned before, overdoing it can lead to grogginess the next morning. “If you need to re-dose in the middle of the night, that’s [OK] too,” Tishler says. “But you should avoid re-dosing if you awaken within four hours of when you need to be up.”
Take note of how you feel after you smoke. Feeling “high” can vary from feeling slight euphoria, to a slowed sense of time, to enhanced sensations such as cotton mouth.
Cannabis may promote better breathing
Sleep apnea is a sleep condition characterized by frequent obstructions of breath, with lapses that can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. As you can imagine, sleep apnea causes the individual to wake up many times over the course of the night, and leads to a myriad of unpleasant ripple effects like daytime sleepiness, fatigue, headaches, mood disturbances, inattention, increased susceptibility to accident, and other health problems.
Preclinical studies show that cannabis may improve this condition. A 2013 study measured the efficacy of an exogenous cannabinoid known as dronabinol (a THC “mimic”) and noted improvements in 15 out of 17 study participants following 21 days of treatment. Another 2002 study observed THC’s ability to restore respiratory stability by modulating serotonin signaling. We’ll need more confidence from clinical studies to be certain of cannabis’ efficacy, but researchers appear to be off to a good start.
Indicas, sativas, hybrids — does it really matter?
If you’ve spoken to your doctor, and they’ve approved the use of marijuana to treat your insomnia, it’s time to choose a strain.
Think of choosing a strain like choosing a tea blend. You could go for straight white or black tea, or a hybrid. Here are the three most common kinds of strains you’ll encounter:
- Indica. This type of strain is considered soothing and relaxing.
- Sativa. Generally, sativa strains make people feel excited, happy, and energized.
- Hybrids. A combination of both indica and sativa, hybrids are blends that are often left up to the manufacturer or dispensary.
You can always ask people at a dispensary to recommend a strain for you or to help you find what you’re looking for.
Dr. Jordan Tishler, a Harvard-trained physician and cannabis therapeutics specialist, recommends a strain with less than 20 percent THC. Anything more than that, he says, will make dosing difficult. Too much THC might make you feel groggy and sleepy the next morning.
Different strains will also have different amounts of cannabinoids in them, but when it comes to getting sleep, both Roman and Tishler recommend an indica strain to induce sleep.
Know potential side effects of cannabis for sleep use
Cannabis can be helpful in bringing about sleep. It does have side effects that you should know. They include:
- Next-day grogginess, especially with overuse and/or a high-THC strain.
- Overuse and high-THC strains can also produce dry mouth, euphoria, and increased appetite after ingestion
- After extended use, possible withdrawal symptoms that may include changes to mood (feelings of anxiety or depression) and changes to sleep (trouble falling asleep, vivid dreams)
Discontinuing long-term use may worsen sleep
If you’ve ever quit or taken a tolerance break after long-term cannabis use, you’re probably familiar with this phenomenon. You might find yourself tossing and turning, waking up frequently, or feeling groggy the next day. A 2008 sleep study found that discontinuing long-term use led to shorter sleep time, less slow wave sleep, worse sleep efficiency, longer sleep onset, shorter REM cycles, and more sleep disruption in abstaining subjects than the drug-free control group. However, researchers acknowledge these findings are limited by a small sample size and the inability to determine causation. In other words, it’s possible the study subjects had used cannabis to treat pre-existing insomnia and ceasing use caused a resurgence of sleepless symptoms.
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.