Marijuana can be beneficial for sleep; understand – 03/15/2023 – Balance
I always take a long time to sleep and wake up frequently at night. I heard that cannabis can help. And truth?
Few things can disrupt your day more than a sleepless night. Insufficient sleep can worsen moods, deplete energy, and has even been linked to a host of health problems, including dementia, depression, heart disease, and a weakened immune system.
Between 2013 and 2020, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) in the United States, more than a third of adults in the country reported sleeping less than the recommended seven hours per night. And, in 2020, a Department of Health and Human Services study found that about 8% of adults reported that they regularly took sleeping pills to help them fall asleep or stay asleep. Some of these people, studies suggest, may be smoking or consuming cannabis products to aid sleep.
So we asked a few experts, including cannabis and sleep researchers, a sleep psychologist and a pharmacist who works with the plant, to explain its effects on sleep and how its various chemical compounds influence the results.
Will cannabis help me sleep?
In a study published in 2022 of more than 27,000 medical marijuana users in the United States and Canada, nearly half cited sleep as a physical health reason for their use.
But it’s tricky to explain exactly how cannabis affects sleep because the studies that have been done are limited and their results are often mixed, says Vyga Kaufmann, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The two main active compounds in cannabis — tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC, which is largely responsible for getting people high) and cannabidiol (or CBD, which doesn’t) — appear to affect sleep in different ways, points out Cinnamon Bidwell, a psychologist clinic and assistant professor of cognitive science at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
For example, limited studies have found that low doses of THC can improve sleep and high doses can make it worse, while the reverse is true of CBD. This makes studying cannabis and sleep challenging, Bidwell points out — especially since different cannabis products can have different ratios of the compounds.
That said, researchers in a review of 26 studies published in 2020 reported that there was “promising preliminary evidence” that cannabinoid therapies, including THC and CBD, should be investigated as possible treatments for sleep problems such as insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome and nightmares related to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Cannabis’s effects on sleep and drowsiness can also be influenced by how you ingest it, says Ashima Sahni, a pulmonologist and sleep expert at the University of Illinois School of Medicine.
Oral forms, such as pills or chewables, will take longer to kick in than inhaled forms, he says, but their effects on sleep will be prolonged throughout the night. Inhaled cannabis, either by vaping or smoking, will produce faster results, but they won’t last as long. Of course, adds Sahni, vaping and smoking can cause health problems, including lung damage and inflamed airways.
There’s also some evidence that cannabis can indirectly help with sleep by alleviating chronic pain and anxiety — two key concerns motivating new patients to try medical cannabis, says Rahim Dhalla, a pharmacist specializing in medical cannabis in Ottawa, Canada, who studied patients’ experiences with cannabis for sleep. Research in this area, however, is “limited” and “data is scattered far and wide,” says Kaufmann.
What needs to be considered
In her clinical experience, Bidwell indicates that people who use cannabis products for sleep seem to be most satisfied with them when they use them occasionally, but not every day. That’s because using THC too often can lead to a tolerance or addiction, she says, which can reverse its sleep benefits.
“As you start using it more chronically, you fall into the trap that to get the same effect you need to increase the amount,” adds Sahni. And eventually it can get to a point where it doesn’t work.
At the same time, you may become so dependent that you have to keep consuming to avoid withdrawal symptoms. In people with marijuana addiction, Bidwell points out, stopping its use can result in symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, nausea and even disturbing dreams that can disrupt sleep.
“That’s one of the main reasons they come back to using it, or why they can’t stop completely,” she says, “because it’s hard to sleep during withdrawal.”
And some people who use a lot of THC may report a “marijuana hangover” the next morning, which can include symptoms such as fatigue, headache, and dry eyes and mouth. Using CBD, however, does not appear to lead to tolerance or dependence.
In Kaufmann’s clinical experience, many patients want to try cannabis for sleep because they are wary of sleep aids. But she advises them to first try some lifestyle strategies, like going to bed and waking up at the same times each day, cutting back on screen time before bed, cutting back on caffeine in the afternoon, doing daily exercise, and keeping their bedroom fresh, clean and comfortable.
For her insomnia patients, Kaufmann recommends trying cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, or CBT-I, a type of talk therapy designed to help change the way you think about sleep. It’s “the gold standard intervention for insomnia that has the most lasting effects,” she says, and patients often don’t even know it’s a possible treatment for them.
An important consideration for anyone curious about marijuana is that it’s not legal everywhere in the US. [e ilegal no Brasil]. But even if you live in a place where consumption is legal, you should ask yourself some questions before trying marijuana for sleep, says Dhalla: Are you taking any medication that might interact with it? (The blood thinner warfarin and several epilepsy medications are a particular concern with cannabis products.) Would you like something you can use every day, or just as needed? If you’re looking for an everyday sleep aid, he says, cannabis isn’t your best bet.
The bottom line is that we need more research, says Kaufmann. We want people to be satisfied with their sleep, he says. If you’ve never used marijuana-based products and are looking for sleep aids, this shouldn’t be the first thing you try.
Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves