Cannabis and your sleep: How it (might) help, how it (might) hurt, and which strains could help you get more restful nights
Insomnia plagues lots of patients with chronic illnesses. Those with conditions like epilepsy, intractable pain, and PTSD are especially susceptible to disturbed sleep. In Ohio, patients who struggle with insomnia due to a chronic medical condition may now consider using medical cannabis to treat their symptoms.
While we’re still researching the exact mechanisms that control how and why we sleep, previous studies indicate the endocannabinoid system may play an important role in sleep regulation, including sleep promotion and maintenance. One such study concluded that medical cannabis use was associated with fewer problems with waking up at night compared with nonmedical cannabis use.
When you don’t get enough sleep, it can significantly impact your health over time. Prolonged periods of insomnia can cause memory issues and lack of alertness. In the long term, insomnia can contribute to high blood pressure, obesity, and psychosis. Though the right amount of sleep can vary from person to person, 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night is what doctors recommend.
Why Might THC Help
Taking THC before bed might help you get to sleep by activating the endocannabinoid system’s CB1 receptors. THC is thought to shorten your period of sleep onset latency (SOL). SOL is calculated from the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep after the lights have been turned off. Additionally, THC may help some users sleep longer. Research connects THC to an increase in slow-wave sleep, an essential aspect of cerebral restoration and recovery.
While CBD can help some users relax into a calmness that allows them to sleep, several studies show the opposite to be true. One study determined CBD was “wake inducing.” Another concluded that THC appears to be sedating and CBD appears to have “alerting properties.”
It’s possible that marijuana strains with very high levels of THC can reduce the amount of REM sleep you get. Reducing REM sleep means reducing the amount of dreams, which can help PTSD sufferers avoid trauma-triggering nightmares.
Why THC Might Hurt
For a PTSD patient, avoiding triggers can save lives. But for the rest of us, we might be wise to use caution when taking a daily high THC product. It’s thought that REM sleep is the most restorative, restful part of the sleep cycle. We know that the amount of REM sleep we get plays a role in healthy cognitive and immune functioning. Medical cannabis with very high (25-35 percent THC) levels may be able to impair your sleep quality if taken long term.
In one study, researchers observed that marijuana changes a person’s sleep cycles (also known as circadian rhythm). Where cannabis improved overall sleep in the short term, patients who took more frequent THC doses had poorer sleep in the long term. Because the study set out to measure chronic pain, not insomnia, much more support research is needed. But it does bring up the questions of whether long-term chronic use of THC might lead to sleep problems.
“We’re still far from saying we have the evidence to support the use of medical cannabis for sleep,” said the study’s lead investigator Sharon Sznitman, PhD. “For in the end it was just a cross-sectional, observational study, so we cannot say anything about cause and effect. But if these results pan out, they could be far-reaching and exciting.”
Best Strains To Try for Insomnia
Because it’s thought that high THC levels might be the culprit to disrupted sleep cycles, switching to low THC/high CBD strains might be a good way to nip insomnia in the bud.
According to Leafly, when analyzing the lab results for patterns amongst the most effective strains for sleep, some Kush varieties ranked best. These strains share a similar chemotype with high levels of the terpenes trans-nerolidol, b-caryophyllene, and D-limonene.
Bubba Kush might be a good strain for sleep because it’s well balanced. It’s not too high in THC at 8 percent and the CBD is at 10 percent, making it a popular choice for patients who struggle with insomnia.
If your insomnia is due to one of these 22 qualifying conditions, you may be eligible for an Ohio medical marijuana card. Book an appointment with one of our trusted physicians today.
Author: Gabrielle Dion Visca
Gabrielle has been writing and editing professionally for the medical and wellness industries for more than 20 years. She currently writes articles about medical marijuana for DocMJ and is the founder of the Ohio cannabis journalism non-profit, MedicateOH.