Guest Blog on Cannabis & Sleep from Tuck
According to a recent survey of medical marijuana users, 76 percent of cannabis aficionados report using weed for relaxation and 65 percent as a sleep aid. Eighty-four percent of respondents said that partaking in marijuana relieves their symptoms.
But what does science say? Medical researchers and doctors have a higher bar for accepting any claims, as well they should: Basing their recommendations on solid peer-reviewed research is their job.
To be sure, studies of marijuana’s effect on sleep are scarce and rife with quality control problems that stem from our society’s history of lack of comfort with marijuana and the laws that reflect this discomfort. But as we increasingly get over our collective cannabis phobia in the legal sphere, more and more research gets done. Here’s what the scientific consensus points to so far:
- Marijuana is 114 times safer than alcohol and cigarettes. Even if pot wasn’t good for sleep (and some of it sometimes for some people is not), it is eminently safe. Check out recent research on marijuana’s safety in the 2015 issue of the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature.
- If you do use pot for sleep, consider edibles. Smoking anything comes with some risks to lungs, threat, and other organs. The American Lung Association notes that marijuana smokers “tend to inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer than cigarette smokers, which leads to greater exposure per breath to tar.” The solution is opting for tinctures, chocolates, or other edibles.
- Marijuana may both alleviate and provoke anxiety. The medical authorities at Harvard concede that at low doses, THC can promote calm. But they note that higher doses can evoke “episodes of anxiety,” especially in pot neophytes who used more than the correct dosage for them.
- The power of marijuana to lull us into sleep has been verified by a number of studies. A review of clinical trial data of cannabis-based medicines published in the journal Chemistry & Biodiversity noted that most of the examined 2000 subjects who took cannabis extracts in clinical trials demonstrated “marked improvement in subjective sleep parameters,” as well as no growing tolerance to the product over several years. In a Canadian study of 104 HIV-positive adults, two thirds of the trial participants gave thumbs up to the use of marijuana for sleep, among other benefits.
- Don’t forget the mitigating powers of CBD. The non-psychoactive cannabinoid helps offset THC’s rousing effects (which mean potential for sleep-stealing anxiety and psychosis). For many users, the mellower indica strains of cannabis help produce the unmistakable heaviness (sedation) just before falling asleep. But THC, even if derived from an indica, can be too much for some of us. In those instances doctors, such as James Lathrop, founder of Cannabis City, recommend sticking to CBD. “I recommend CBD to all novice users,” Lathrop says. “Certainly for people who are prone to anxiety, someone who doesn’t want that high-THC effect, the high-CBD strains can really do it.”
- If CBD keeps you up, consider taking it a few hours before desired bedtime. Some studies indicate that CBD can induce a kind of wakefulness and focus and can decrease the beneficial slow wave and REM phases of sleep. If that’s the case for you, take a CBD-rich tincture or extract a few hours before you want to get to sleep.
- Cannabis can work against obstructive sleep apnea. In the June 2002 issue of the journal Sleep from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago Department of Medicine reported “potent suppression” of sleep-related apnea in rats administered either exogenous or endogenous cannabinoids. More recent studies confirmed this effect in rats and in human adults.
- Marijuana can be a compliment, but not a substitute, to healthy sleep hygiene: a comfortable mattress that’s right for you; sleeping in a dark, cool, and quiet room; no caffeine after 6 p.m.; limited alcohol prior to sleep; no electronic screens two hours prior to bedtime; a soothing bedtime routine.
- For more scientific findings, consult the Sleep journal. If you want to access more research on marijuana and sleep, you’ll find it in the publication from the World Association of Sleep Medicine and International Pediatric Sleep Association.
- Finally, don’t forget that the way your body responds to cannabis is more important than any anecdote. Listen to it.
Written By: Agnes Green
Agnes Green is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck Sleep. She holds two master’s degrees in the social sciences from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. She sleeps best after a kettlebell workout, with a window slightly cracked in a dark room, and on a medium-firm mattress in Portland, Oregon.
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