Wellness with Weed: Sleeping with cannabis

It’s complicated…

As Bill Nye recently pointed out, “What’s happened with marijuana is it’s a Schedule I drug, which means it’s presumed to be addictive and it’s presumed to have no medical value,” he stated in a recent interview with NowThis. “Yet people are using it for all these medical applications,” he said. “So well, let’s study it. Well, you’re not allowed to study it because it’s a Schedule I drug… So that has to be sorted out.”

In other words, an old-school policy is holding up really important cannabis research. Once Jeff Sessions and POTUS have their secret meeting with Russian Big Pharma, the doors to research may finally burst open. Mostly kidding…that doesn’t feel like a healthy solution! But until policies change, scientists in the United States are practically wading through concrete when it comes to research on the medicinal properties of marijuana. Nonetheless, we do have some information to help you make informed decisions about cannabis for sleep. As with any medication or drug, we recommend that you pay attention to how your body responds to cannabis. You know your body better than anyone else.

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Highlights on how cannabis can help you sleep better

Leafly has a great article about sleep from March of 2016. Here are some highlights:

THC (especially indica) is better than CBD for sleep, CBN (aged/degraded THC also known as cannabinol) is 5x more sedating than THC, it may help restore respiratory stability, it may help you fall asleep faster, you may feel groggy in the morning, cannabis in conjunction with natural remedies such as lavender and chamomile may maximize the effect, and cannabis inhibits dreaming (more below)

The effect of cannabis on sleep may vary

A publication from September 2017 by sleep psychologist, Deirdre A. Conroy, Ph.D., suggests that “cannabis’s effect on sleep may differ depending on whether you have depression or anxiety. In order words, if you have depression, cannabis may help you sleep – but if you don’t, cannabis may hurt…Cannabis’s 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.” Dr. Conroy is at the University of Michigan with research that focuses broadly on sleep and psychiatric disorders and specifically on sleep disturbance in alcoholism, insomnia in adolescent depression, and sleep in marijuana users. Keep your eyes peeled for more work from this woman!

Cannabis suppresses REM sleep (when you have most of your dreams and/or nightmares)

For those who struggle with nightmares, cannabis could be a fantastic solution. Thanks to VICE Netherlands, Dr. Hamburger confirms: “Every night, you go through about four or five sleep cycles…Each cycle takes about ninety minutes, during which you go through different phases. There’s superficial sleep, deep sleep, and finally REM sleep. During that REM period, you have most of your dreams…By smoking weed, you suppress the REM sleep…” thus greatly reducing the chance of good or bad dreams.

But Hamburger also reminds us that by suppressing REM, “…you also suppress a lot of important functions of that REM sleep. One of those functions is reliving the things you have experienced and coming to terms with them, as it were. Processing all kinds of psychological influences is something you do in REM sleep. You also anticipate the things that will happen the next day or the days after that. While you’re sleeping, you already consider those and make decisions in advance.” So if you’re trying to reduce nightmares and holding the options of Big Pharma in one hand and cannabis in the other, I’d opt for cannabis. As a therapist, I’m biased enough to throw in the recommendation of considering cannabis in conjunction with therapy because when the cannabis nightcap stops, your dreams may resurge with two or three weeks of temporary intensity as your body readjusts.

Cannabis for sleep apnea

Cannabis.net released a publication in February 2017 that highlights the potential benefits of cannabis for sleep apnea. The University of Illinois published research 15 years ago explaining that

“THC and oleamide were effective in stabilizing respiration in the subjects during the entire cycle of sleep, which reduced the apnea index during NREM and REM sleep stages by as 42% and 58% respectively. The reduction was dose-dependent…a higher dose of cannabinoids…resulted in a greater reduction in apnea symptoms.”

The findings prompted Dr. David Carley, the study’s lead author, to conduct the first human trial in 2013. He wanted to document the effect of THC (dronabinol) on sleep apnea. The 17 participants were administered with different doses of dronabinol (2.5, 5, and 10mg) before bedtime over the course of 3 weeks. The results showed that the overall reduction in sleep apnea indexes was at 32%. The study’s authors suggest that patients can still find relief by using cannabinoid medications, whether they are suffering from mild or moderate cases.

Cannabis may be worth trying!

And in conclusion, if you’re struggling with sleep, we encourage you to explore the possibility of using cannabis as a form of treatment. Talk to your doctor, talk to your medical marijuana provider, or if you’re fortunate enough to be in a state where recreational marijuana is legal, talk to your budtender. Let us know how it goes!

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