Using Cannabis to Aid Sleep
Counting sheep and taking prescription sleep aids are both proving to be outdated methods of beating the restless nights of insomnia.
Prescription drugs are all too common these days, especially when it comes to treating sleep disorders. Whether it’s Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata, or another drug with a creepy name, the market for sleep aids is vast and dangerous. Side effects of these range from gastrointestinal problems to effects on daytime memory. A study from the University of Laval found a 36 percent rise in the mortality rate among Canadians who reported using certain forms of sleeping medications.
The potential side effects and dangers of traditional sleeping medications prompt a necessary question: is there a safer alternative to overcoming insomnia?
Oddly enough, insomniacs need look no further than their favorite plant to obtain a good night’s sleep. No, we don’t mean eating more vegetables or anything gross like that.
We mean ingesting marijuana.
What is Insomnia?
The National Sleep Foundation defines insomnia as “difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, even when a person has the chance to do so.”
There are two types of insomnia: chronic and acute. Chronic refers to sleep disruption that occurs multiple times a week for months at a time. Acute insomnia happens mainly because of life circumstances, like temporary stress, and typically resolves on its own.
Estimates from the National Institutes of Health place the number of adults who suffer from sleep disruption at around 30 percent of the general population. Those with insomnia may experience trouble falling asleep, remaining asleep, or may wake up before getting a sufficient amount of rest. Insomnia can greatly impact the quality of one’s day-to-day life, as sleep is a vital and necessary component of living a healthy mental and physical life.
What’s the Big Deal With Sleep, Anyhow?
Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep for the maintenance of proper mental and physical health. With these recommended amounts, people will sleep for an average of ⅓ of their lives.
What’s the big deal about getting sleep, anyway? Can’t I just get a couple of hours and drink coffee or Red Bull throughout the day?
Not exactly. Researchers still don’t fully understand exactly why we sleep, but it seems to boil down to several main reasons. According to Dr. Neil B. Kavey, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, these are as follows:
- Most of the body’s repair work occurs during sleep, including the secretion of growth hormones that repair tissues
- The body’s energy supplies, depleted from the day’s activities, are restored
- Allows for mental clarity and focus
To fully understand the importance of sleep, one needs only to go without it for an extended period of time. A lack of sleep affects us in a myriad of ways, including our abilities to think clearly, form memories, and react quickly to stimuli. Susceptibility to anxiety, irritability, and depression can skyrocket. The risk of developing obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and numerous other physical ailments also increases.
All things considered, insomnia can be devastating to your quality of life.
Marijuana, You Say?
With each passing day, marijuana’s medicinal benefit seems to be touted in another sector of the healthcare market. It has been used to alleviate symptoms of PTSD, chemotherapy, anxiety, nausea, and many other ailments.
Insomnia is another realm in which marijuana may help.
There are two main components of marijuana that people seek out for health benefits: CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Each has differing effects on sleep; one may be a better option for individuals dealing with certain symptoms.
CBD and Sleep
Insomnia may often be the result of other medical problems. Individuals dealing with pain, inflammation, or anxiety tend to opt for marijuana strains higher in CBD because of its pain-relieving and soothing properties.
Aside from alleviating conditions that disrupt sleep, CBD can help stabilize sleeping patterns. CBD is a cannabinoid, and a cannabinoid is a chemical compound that our bodies naturally produce. These help regulate emotions and sleep, so adding the external cannabinoid CBD triggers the release of more in our bodies.
CBD is also thought to bring about longer durations of undisrupted sleep, specifically the REM stage of sleep (during which the most rest is gained).
CBD is non-psychoactive, so those looking to avoid the high that comes with consuming THC may decide to opt for CBD-based options instead.
By managing pain and other ailments, as well as releasing sleep-regulatory cannabinoids, CBD is a good option for overcoming insomnia.
THC and Sleep
THC is another strong candidate for bringing about sleep. This compound has significant sedative properties, interacting with certain cell receptors in the brain to affect the body’s sleep/wake cycle.
A finding from the Journal of Psychopharmacology reports that the use of 15 mg of THC was associated with increased sleepiness and a reduction in sleep latency.
THC is also known to cut back on REM sleep, which may particularly benefit those who suffer from PTSD or anxiety related nightmares that disrupt sleep (since REM sleep is the stage during which we dream). Lower doses of THC (less than 20 percent) are thought to more sedative, as the psychoactive properties of high amounts of THC may hinder sleep.
Indica or Sativa
Generally speaking, indica strains of marijuana are thought of as downers (“body-high”, soothing and relaxing), whereas Sativa strains are considered uppers (“head-high”, generate excitement and energy).
Because of these overarching effects, indicas are typically recommended regarding insomnia; sativa should generally be avoided due to their stimulating effects; hybrids (combinations of indicas and sativas) may work, depending on their Indica-Sativa or THC-CBD ratios. An easy way to remember this is that Indica will make you sink “in da couch.” Indica strains with approximately 20 percent THC are typically best.
Before choosing a specific strain to help overcome insomnia, it’s best to speak with a pharmacist or healthcare professional to find a specific strain best for you.
When it comes to using marijuana for insomnia, ingesting it one hour before going to bed provides enough time for the benefits to fully kick in.
Various options for ingesting marijuana exist, and they come with different considerations relating to sleep.
Using edibles as a sleep aid can be effective because their effects last longer and can continue working for hours of sleep. However, a downside of edibles is that they tend to take longer to go into effect than other methods, as the body has to digest them and wait for the compounds to pass the blood-brain barrier. Another includes the difficulty of accurately dosing edibles, especially if making them at home. This can lead to a product that is too potent or not potent enough for the purposes of getting to sleep.
Traditional smoking of marijuana is a tried-and-true, straightforward method of ingestion. Using the appropriate strain in a blunt, joint, bowl, or bong will work fine, although smoking may make it difficult to accurately assess how much marijuana you’ve consumed based on inhalations alone. Experimenting with number of puffs—starting out small and working up, if need be—is an adequate way to arrive at an appropriate amount for sleep aid.
For individuals who are not keen on smoking, vaporisation is a smoke-free alternative. Many marijuana-users have turned to vaporising in recent years for a smoother and reportedly healthier means of inhalation. Choosing to vaporise instead of smoking before bed may avoid irritations that could interfere with sleep.
Additionally, THC tinctures allow for drops to be inserted under the tongue, avoiding odor associated with smoking or vaporising. THC or CBD capsules contain cannabis oil in an easy-to-swallow pill form, another option for those looking to avoid inhalation methods.
Whatever the method, ingest one hour before bed, start with a smaller dosage (ideally agreed upon with a pharmacist or healthcare professional), then work your way up if the effects are not strong enough.
Marijuana as a sleep aid can help fight insomnia without all of the dangerous and unpleasant side effects of traditional prescription medications. Finding a strain and dosage amount that is right for your needs, ingesting an hour before bed, and using your preferred ingestion method will move you one step closer to taking back the night and gaining peaceful sleep.