Can You Use Cannabis to Restore Your Natural Sleep Cycle?
Insomnia isn’t that uncommon
Sleep is essential for maintaining our mental and physical health, yet it eludes many adults.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, 50 to 70 million U.S. adults experience symptoms of a sleep disorder. About 30 to 40 percent of the population will experience insomnia at some point in their lives, and about 10 to 15 percent of adults will deal with chronic insomnia.
So if getting shut-eye is becoming harder and harder, you’re not alone.
With so many people experiencing sleeping disorders, there’s been a rise of interest in one controversial cure: cannabis. Many in the medical marijuana community refer to cannabis as an effective treatment, with little to no side effects, for a range of sleeping disorders.
“Marijuana is an effective sleep aid because it restores a person’s natural sleep cycle, which so often falls out of sync with our schedules in today’s modern lifestyle,” says Dr. Matt Roman, a medical marijuana physician.
Whether you have a sleep disorder or you’re having difficulty sleeping after a stressful day, cannabis might be a choice for you. Marijuana’s analgesic properties might provide some relief for those with chronic pain, while the anti-anxiety properties can soothe a stressed out mind and body.
There are different strains of marijuana. Some are more energizing, and some are calming and sedating depending on the balance of the different cannabinoids.
First, here’s a quick primer on the science behind marijuana. This herb works because it contains different cannabinoids, two of which you’ll see most often:
- Cannabidiol (CBD). CBD has a number of health benefits, and is nonpsychoactive, meaning it doesn’t cause you to feel “high.”
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC, a psychoactive cannabinoid, is primarily responsible for that “high” feeling.
Something else THC is responsible for? Inducing sleep . So you’ll want a strain that contains more THC than CBD.
According to a 2008 study , ingesting marijuana strains with higher levels of THC typically reduces the amount of REM sleep you get. Reducing REM sleep means reducing dreams — and for those who experience PTSD, it could mean reducing nightmares.
So the theory is that if you spend less time dreaming, you’ll spend more time in a “deep sleep” state. The deep sleep state is thought to be the most restorative, restful part of the sleep cycle.
Still, REM is important for healthy cognitive and immune functioning, and marijuana with higher THC levels could impair your sleep quality if taken long term.
But this isn’t true across the board. Some studies have found that sleep can actually be impaired by regular use of marijuana. It’s clear that marijuana changes sleep cycles.
Smoking of any kind is a known health risk and should be approached with caution. Also, medicinal use of marijuana is still illegal in many areas.
Talk to your doctor about your sleep cycles. There may be long-term health consequences with interrupted REM, because much of the immune function repair takes place in deep sleep.
Please use marijuana responsibly. As with all forms of smoking, your risk of COPD can increase. Smoking marijuana is hazardous to the lungs, especially for those with asthma or other respiratory conditions. The use of marijuana while pregnant or breastfeeding isn’t recommended.
Long-term marijuana use has been shown to have changes on the amount of gray matter in the brain. For teenagers, marijuana seems to have even more profound long-term and lasting effects on the brain and isn’t recommended.
Marijuana use isn’t recommended for anyone under 25 years of age because of the long-term effects on learning and recall.
More research on marijuana for medicinal purposes as well as the risk of COPD is still needed.
Is cannabis an answer to entering the land of sleep? From strains to timing, here’s what you need to know about cannabis as a nightcap.
5 Best Medical Marijuana Strains for Insomnia and Sleep Ailments
Do you have troubling sleeping? Here are the 5 best medical marijuana strains for insomnia to help you fall into a deep sleep.
One in four Americans experience acute insomnia each year, while one in ten suffer from persistent sleep problems and chronic insomnia, according to a recent study from medical researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. These statistics translate into millions of people losing sleep each night, only to feel grumpy and tired the next day.
Despite the importance of sleep in our overall health, there are still high rates of dissatisfaction with conventional pharmaceutical sleep aids, particularly regarding adverse side effects and the risk of dangerous drug interactions.
Fortunately, cannabis is shown to be a safe, natural sleep aid for many sufferers. Provided you’re using the right strain, cannabis can calm racing thoughts, relieve pain, and relax muscles sending you into a snoozy slumber.
What is Insomnia?
Clinically speaking, acute insomnia is defined as difficulty of falling asleep or staying asleep for at least three nights per week over two consecutive weeks. Acute insomnia is often related to a life event such as an inability to switch-off after a stressful day at work, or if you struggle to sleep the night before an exam.
Chronic insomnia is when poor sleep occurs at least three nights a week for more than three months straight. Chronic insomnia can have many underlying causes, such as shift work, poor bedtime habits, and certain medications.
Is Medical Marijuana Effective for Insomnia?
Studies published as early as the 1970s demonstrate that medical marijuana may be an effective treatment for insomnia. One statistically significant double-blind trial involving a group of insomniacs found that the major psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis, known as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), facilitates sleep, while also reducing the number of interruptions throughout the night. 
More recently, clinical trials have shown that smoking marijuana increases non-REM stage 3 “deep” sleep, which is the deepest form of restorative sleep possible. 
Early clinical trials also found that THC-heavy strains can reduce REM sleep, an undesirable phase of the sleep cycle characterized by rapid eye movements and a propensity for dreams, nightmares, and sleepwalking. 
People with mood and sleep disorders often spend a lot of time in REM and not enough in “deep” sleep. Due to these connections, neurobiological researchers are now investigating the potential for THC to improve sleep cycles in patients with post-traumatic stress disorder.  One of the highest-quality studies (a double-blind, randomized controlled trial) demonstrated that nabilone, a synthetic form of THC, significantly reduced the occurrence of distressing nightmares in Canadian military personnel with PTSD. 
THC vs. CBD for Insomnia
When it comes to treating insomnia and other sleep disorders with cannabis, it’s important to understand that not all strains are created equal. You’re probably familiar with the two major cannabinoids found in marijuana: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
THC is the major psychoactive cannabinoid known to promote appetite and improve nausea, while also acting as a natural sedative and analgesic. CBD is the main non-psychoactive cannabinoid recognized for its therapeutic effects, including reducing inflammation, anxiety, and depression. As such, strains that are high-THC and low-CBD provide the user with a “high”, while strains that are high-CBD and low-THC generally don’t. But what type of strain is best for insomnia?
As demonstrated above, studies in humans clearly show that THC has a sedative effect that facilitates sleep. THC acts on CB1 receptors to increase sleep through our body’s endocannabinoid system via an adenosine pathway in the brain. 
Evidence surrounding the role of CBD in sleep is less clear. For example, some studies show that CBD has alerting properties . In fact, CBD is shown to activate neurons within the hypothalamus and other regions of the brain responsible for waking.  However, other studies have demonstrated that CBD alleviates symptoms of anxiety and inflammatory pain helping many people get a restful night’s sleep. 
One study provided greater clarification with results that suggested CBD has different effects on sleep depending on the dosage. Lower doses of CBD have a stimulating effect, while strains with higher doses of CBD have a sedating effect. In the study, insomniacs received three different daily doses of CBD or a placebo. The highest dosage of CBD (160mg/day) significantly increased total sleep duration and decreased the frequency of waking during the night. 
Indica vs. Sativa for Sleep
When it comes to treating insomnia with cannabis, it’s important to understand that no two strains are created equal. Indica and sativa, for instance, are two subspecies of the cannabis plant with different origins and effects.
Many dispensaries will tell you that indica strains are more relaxing and sedating due to the higher concentrations of CBD, while they will recommend sativa strains for daytime use due to the uplifting and awakening effects of THC. You can also find many hybrids strains that take advantage of both indica and sativa properties to create a balanced effect.
With that said, the indica or sativa distinction is not the most reliable way to predict the effects of any given strain. It’s much safer to ask about the cannabinoid content. Most medical marijuana professionals will recommend strains with less than 20% THC. High doses of THC can cause hallucinations and mild “hangovers,” in which you may experience residual drowsiness that leaves you feeling lethargic and dehydrated the next day.
Best Strains for Sleep
We’ve compiled a list of particularly sedative strains to guide you on your next visit to the dispensary. However, keep in mind that individual strains affect each person differently and finding the solution for your insomnia may require some trial and error.
Offering a mellow descent into dreamland, Granddaddy Purple is arguably the best indica strain for sleep, especially if pain keeps you awake at night. Cherished by insomniacs for its high levels of the sleep-inducing terpene myrcene, this indica analgesic produces a powerful cerebral high along with whole-body sedative effects that dissolve pain and anchor your body for sleep. Individuals report using Sativa strains to reduce nightmares. 
Tahoe OG Kush
Described by patients as a “true replacement for prescription sleep meds”, Tahoe OG Kush has sedative effects that tend to be stronger and faster-acting than your average hybrid strain. It rapidly reduces muscle tension, leaving you with a heavy body sensation that eases you into a deep sleep. It features an earthy, lemony taste, and is a must-try for anyone in need of a good night’s sleep who doesn’t want a hangover the next morning.
The child of Granddaddy Purple and OG Kush, God’s Gift is a true “gift” for insomniacs. With high-THC content (up to 27%) and a low-CBD content (1%), this hybrid strain wipes away all your worries in one foul swoop. It’ll leave you feeling euphoric and relaxed so that you can ease off into peaceful sleep. However, due to the high THC-content, God’s Gift is not recommended for beginners. Individuals prone to anxiety or panic attacks with high THC-strains should approach God’s Gift with caution.
Picture yourself on a cold winter night curled up in a blanket beneath a sky of green lights. This isn’t distinctively dissimilar to the experience delivered by Northern Lights, a traditional indica strain that’s been sending people to sleep since the mid-1980s. With its high THC content, Northern Lights dissolves pain and sends you off into a deep sleep. However, novice cannabis users should also approach this potent strain with low dosing to avoid the potential THC hangover.
Afghan Kush is a pure indica strain with roots tracing back to the Hindu Kush mountain range, near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s a typical Afghani indica, meaning it has heavy, body-focused effects that pacify pain, hush anxious thoughts, and move the body into bed. Due to an abundance of CBD, Afghan Kush is one of the best strains for insomnia with people that tend to experience anxiety associated with high-THC products.
Working with Your Medical Marijuana Physician for Sleep Ailments
If you are seeking an effective medical marijuana strain for sleep work with your medical marijuana physician to get the recommended dosage and strain. From there, your physician will be able to make a recommendation to your dispensary so that you can pick up your products and try them out. Note that not all dispensaries will have every strain mentioned above, so you may need work within the confines of your medical marijuana doctor’s recommendation along with the supplies of your local dispensary.
If you are located in Florida contact THC Physicians today.
Do you have troubling sleeping? Here are the 5 best medical marijuana strains for insomnia to help you fall into a deep sleep.