Does Cannabis Help with Insomnia?

Woman Can't Sleep
Photo by: andriano.cz/Shutterstock

Mary Jane, sing me to sleep. 

There's a reason cannabis has become a medical resource throughout the country, helping users battle ailments and soothe their symptoms. The natural remedy does its job. Whether that's helping patients with epilepsy calm their seizures, aiding cancer patients rediscover their appetite, or calming someone down with anxiety, marijuana can be a blessing wrapped in leafy greens. 

Another serious issue that Americans struggle with, across the board, is their nightly slumber. Many people have a very difficult time falling or staying asleep. While many turn to over-the-counter or prescription solutions, there is a natural alternative sold in pot shops rather than pharmacies. 

Does cannabis help with insomnia? You bet it does. 

Insomnia 

Insomnia is an extremely common disorder that makes falling or staying asleep extremely difficult or next to impossible. Implications include never feeling well-rested, waking in the middle of the night, day-sleeping, being irritable, and worrying about sleep. Standard treatment usually centers around improving sleep habits, behavior therapies, and targeting the underlying causes of the sleeplessness.  

Insomnia comes in two forms: acute or chronic. Acute lasts for one night a week for up to a few weeks, while chronic accounts for three nights a week for a month or longer. The American Sleep Association says that around 30% of adults experience short-term sleep issues, while 1% deal with chronic insomnia.  

According to the National Sleep Foundation, insomnia can be a symptom of an underlying issue, such as nasal and sinus allergies, anxiety, depression, reflux, arthritis, asthma, neurological conditions, back pain, and chronic pain, among others. Lifestyle choices, including diet, lack of exercise, and medication complications can also contribute to sleep loss.   

Weed for Relief 

Marijuana can be a very useful tool when dealing with the struggles of insomnia. Best when taken occasionally before bed, cannabis has been shown to help people fall asleep more easily, which can help to treat insomnia. 

There is a two-fold diversity in cannabis compounds. We know that some strains get you high while some don't (high-THC/low-CBD content versus high-CBD/low-THC content), and the same pattern exists in sleep studies. 

THC has been linked as a main ingredient for sleepiness. In 2017, a review surmised that THC gives users an easier time when it comes to sleeping; a 2004 study indicated that CBD, cannabis' other main compound, has the opposite effect. Higher-CBD products can lead to increased alertness. Most marijuana strains have higher levels of THC than CBD, which is likely why it has a reputation for causing drowsiness.  

When THC has degraded over an extended period of time, it changes into a compound known as cannabinol (CBN). CBN is a chemical not to be trifled with; it's five times more sedating than its former form (THC), though it takes a long time ? nearly 3 years ? to transform. "Old weed" is probably the best cannabis for sleep-induction, though it involves quite a time investment.  

Strain Game 

Man Smoking Pot by the Sea
Photo by: andriano.cz/Shutterstock
Thanks to the variety within cannabis, certain strains are more helpful than others when aiding with sleep. Indica-dominant strains have more sedating characteristics than sativa-dominant strains, which are known to induce high-energy highs. Terpenoids, the aromatic compounds found in cannabis' oil glands, might lend an insight into why certain strains have specific effects. For example, indica-dominant strains might contain more of the terpenoids that carry relaxing or sedating traits than sativa-dominant strains. 

For the underlying insomnia issues related to pain, cannabis can be a useful treatment. For example, if chronic pain is the main reason for insomnia, several strains can give relief. If anxiety is a major ailment, there are strains available to help. Mixing marijuana into the equation as a solution to underlying issues can be an indirect solution to sleeping problems.  

Good to Know 

There are a few known side effects to using cannabis as a sleeping aid. First, dreaming is reduced. While the herb initiates a faster fall-asleep time, it reduces REM sleep, the stage responsible for dreams. This can, however, be positive for people who suffer from night terrors, PTSD, and regular nightmares.  

Next, smoking before bed can lead to a mild hangover the next morning. Grogginess, dehydration, and decongestion can last into the next day. For most people, a mid-day nap will be essential. Counter these feelings with water, exercise, food, and vitamins. To avoid these lethargic feels, try to get well-tested herb, eat healthy, drink water, and try not to over-indulge.  

Last, it's possible to build up a tolerance. If cannabis is used too often as a sleeping aid at high doses, the THC can become less effective as the body begins to accept it. For the most effectiveness, use marijuana sparingly to help with insomnia. Too much use can also lead to difficulty sleeping without cannabis' help, plus withdrawal symptoms including even more sleeping difficulty. 

Best Use 

To get the most out of your cannabis nightcap, pair it with another natural sleep aid. Terpenoids found in other plants can have a synergistic effect. Some options might include hops, lavender, and chamomile, which can be found in teas and bath and body products. Drink or lather up while enjoying your sleepy strain to maximize the results.