From: The Hemp Book
Regular marijuana users often cite difficulty falling asleep as a reason for their drug habits. While health experts have yet to voice their support for medical marijuana as a treatment for insomnia, history seems to confirm what many users have already found out themselves – marijuana helps with sleep.
The earliest recording of marijuana’s use as a sleep aid comes from ancient Indian medicine. However, medical marijuana only made its way into Western medicine during the 19th century, when Dr. William B. O’Shaugnessy returned from India with cannabis and encouraged physicians to prescribe it for a variety of ailments, including sleep.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a common sleep disorder that is defined as having difficulty falling or staying asleep. Insomnia can be a symptom of a wide variety of disorders and is not normally considered a condition on its own. Approximately 40% of adults with insomnia also suffer from a mental disorder – most commonly depression.
Insomnia is highly prevalent among the overall population and is estimated to affect between 10-30% of adults – many of whom turn to sleeping pills for relief. In fact, research shows that over 95% of diagnosed cases of insomnia are treated with sleep medications. While certain sleep medications may be effective in managing insomnia, they also subject users to a wide range of side-effects, including the risk of death.
How Can Marijuana Help?
Insomnia is usually a sign of another illness. Image source
In recent years, scientists have become increasingly aware of the endocannabinoid system’s role in regulating sleep. In addition to maintaining a regular sleep pattern, the endocannabinoid system has been identified as a potential target for the treatment of insomnia. Studies show that endocannabinoids act to induce sleep and that insomnia may even be caused by a dysfunctional endocannabinoid system.
On the other hand, very few studies have investigated the use of medical marijuana on human patients with insomnia. In our review of the medical literature spanning the past few decades, we could only find one study that tested the effects of THC on patients suffering from insomnia.
The study was published in 1973 by researchers in the United States and involved 9 test subjects that were given varying doses of THC – 10, 20 and 30mg – once a week over a 6 week period. According to the results, each dose was able to reduce the time it took to fall asleep (sleep latency), with the most effective dose being 20 mg. 20 mg of THC was found to reduce the average time it took patients to fall asleep by more than an hour.
Overall, THC was found to be more effective in helping patients fall asleep once they got into bed, as opposed to getting them into bed sooner. Interestingly, the highest dose of THC (30mg) was found to be less effective than the 20mg dose, suggesting that the 30mg dose may have been too intoxicating. According to the study’s authors, the effects of being too high can outweigh the desire to sleep or simply make it harder to fall asleep.
The study also showed that THC could decrease the number of sleep interruptions that insomniacs experience, but only during the early part of the night. THC also seemed to increase the amount of time that patients spent sleeping – higher doses of THC were correlated with longer periods of sleep. Patients also reported a “hang over” effect in the morning, particularly at the 30 mg dose. On the other hand, 20 mg didn’t seem to negatively affect patients the next day.
Marijuana and Other Disorders
Although research on marijuana and insomnia came to a sudden halt after the 1970s, a number of studies show that medical marijuana can improve the sleep quality of patients who suffer from a variety of other conditions.
For instance, a study published in 2010 found that synthetic THC was more effective than amitriptyline – an antidepressant commonly used to treat insomnia – at improving sleep quality in patients with fibromyalgia. Numerous studies (Russo et al., 2005 and Bribois et al., 2011) conducted on patients with disorders such as multiple sclerosis and cancer have noted an improvement in sleep quality from the use of cannabinoids as well.
Finally, research suggests that medical marijuana may be an effective treatment for sleep apnea – another common sleep disorder that is estimated to affect up to 25% of middle-aged men and 9% of middle-aged women in North America.
Marijuana and Sleep
In addition to reducing the time it takes to fall asleep, studies show that marijuana can have a significant impact on the sleep cycle itself, by increasing stage 3 sleep and reducing REM stage sleep. Stage 3 sleep – also known as slow-wave sleep – is believed to be the most important stage for the sleep deprived. A lack of stage 3 sleep has been linked to high blood pressure in older men.
However, the reduction in REM sleep should be approached with caution, even though research has yet to confirm what exactly REM sleep does. While experts continue to assert that REM sleep must have some sort of positive effect on the body, it is interesting to note that a lack of REM sleep has been found to improve memory and symptoms of depression.
Overall, it appears that medical marijuana may be a viable alternative to traditional sleeping aids. Likewise, the lack of side-effects associated with marijuana may provide further benefit to patients who react poorly to the side-effects of pharmaceutical treatments.
From: The Hemp Book