Many states are adopting the use of marijuana for medical purposes even though federal law does not yet support marijuana to be used in this context. But marijuana also has been used historically, spiritually and socially for many years.
Over the past decade, research has focused more on the use of cannabis for medical purposes. Individuals with insomnia tend to use medical cannabis for sleep at a high rate. Use for sleep is particularly common in individuals with PTSD and chronic pain.
The effects of cannabis vary widely depending on the user, the strain, the dose and environmental factors. But the mechanism of its influence is always the same. Common research says marijuana influences the body’s endocannabinoid system, a complex network of receptors sensitive to chemical compounds found in the drug.
The first thing to know about marijuana’s impact on sleep is that different cannabinoids have varying effects. The two main chemicals we are concerned with are THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol: the psychoactive ingredient that accounts for the marijuana “high”; and CBD, or cannabidiol: a non-psychoactive substance increasingly valued for its therapeutic applications.
Some studies showed that users’ ability to fall and stay asleep improves with cannabis use. A small number of subjects also had a slight increase in slow-wave sleep. However, once nightly cannabis use stops, sleep clearly worsens across the withdrawal period. This research suggests that while motivation to use cannabis for sleep is high, and might initially be beneficial to sleep, these improvements might wane with chronic use over time.
New areas for exploration in the field of cannabis research might examine how various cannabis subspecies influence sleep and how this may differ among individuals. Research groups have been exploring cannabis types or cannabinoid concentrations that are preferable depending on one’s sleep disturbance. For example, one strain might relieve insomnia, while another can affect nightmares. Other studies suggest that medical cannabis users with insomnia tend to prefer higher concentrations of cannabidiol, a nonintoxicating ingredient in cannabis.
At this point, cannabis’ effect on sleep seems highly variable, depending on the person, the timing of use, the cannabis type and concentration, mode of ingestion and other factors. Perhaps the future will yield more fruitful discoveries.
You can read the whole article in the Q3 issue of A2Zzz.