Many people are using cannabis as a sleeping medication but does it really work?
Sleep is an essential component to keep our mental and physical health in its prime. Yet adults oftentimes do not get enough sleep. According to the American Sleep Association, 50 to 70 million U.S. adults experience symptoms of a sleep disorder. About 30 percent of the population will experience insomnia at some point in their lives, and about 10 percent of adults will deal with chronic insomnia. So if getting shut-eye is becoming harder and harder, you’re not alone.
Cannabis treatment for insomnia is a huge step forward for the millions of people living with this common sleep disorder. Studies show that around 1 in 3 people have at least a mild form of insomnia. While some only deal with insomnia briefly, others find it to be a severe and ongoing struggle that negatively impacts many areas of their life.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a common sleep condition that causes individuals difficulty when they want to fall asleep. It can also impact your ability to stay asleep once you do fall asleep. Sleep plays a vital role in many areas of our lives. It is crucial you get a good night’s sleep for several reasons. Quality sleep supports good physical health and a person’s overall well-being.
When you get the right amount of sleep every night, you ensure your mental and physical health, and your safety and quality of life. But, studies show that millions of people face sleep deprivation daily. Statistics show that 30-35% of adults have brief symptoms of insomnia, and 15-20% have short-term insomnia disorder that lasts less than three months. While even brief bouts of insomnia can greatly impact your life, it is the 10% of adults who deal with chronic insomnia disorder who face a major negative impact on their overall health.
Regardless of whether you experience brief bouts of insomnia or chronic insomnia, the condition can easily lower your quality of life. That’s because common symptoms of insomnia include:
Loss of concentration
Inability to focus
Changes in mood
Loss of motivation
Increase in mistakes and/or accidents
How Does Insomnia Impact Everyday Life?
There are several ways insomnia can impact your daily living. Sleep is a basic human need. Just as we need to eat, drink, and breathe, sleep is vital to our health and livelihood. Without the right amount of sleep, adults face a higher risk of:
Physical health issues
Mental health issues
Loss of productivity
When you don’t get good, quality sleep, it can be difficult to perform the necessary daily tasks you are responsible for in life. Insomnia can interfere with work, school, home responsibilities, and even social functioning. Adults with chronic insomnia have reported trouble learning, focusing, and reacting. Since sleep is necessary for good brain health, losing sleep can lead to trouble with decision-making, problem solving, coping skills, and controlling your behavior and emotions. In fact, insomnia has been linked to an estimated $63 billion in lost work performance in the United States alone.
Many sleeping medications, such as the benzodiazepines, convert deep sleep into lighter sleep, so that while the total amount of sleep may be modestly increased, it may not be of optimal quality. Certainly anyone who has used alcohol to help sleep knows that in the long run, it really doesn’t. In fact, while alcohol initially can make you drowsy and even increases deep sleep, it later causes sleep to be light and fragmented.
People who have had the misfortune of over-indulging in alcoholic beverages and have awakened with a terrible hangover know this all too well. However sleepy the hung over person feels, it is impossible to get comfortable and fall back asleep. This is why, for purposes of good sleep hygiene, we recommend limiting daily intake of alcohol to no more than 1 or 2 standard doses (4 – 6 oz of wine, 12 oz of beer or 1.5 oz of liquor) and not drinking after dinner so that the alcohol has time to get out of your system before trying to sleep.
The studies on cannabis and sleep that were conducted in the 1970’s (see Roehrs and Roth, 2011), give some information about the possible effects of cannabis on sleep. Low doses of THC (4 to 20 mg) mildly decreased REM sleep in both regular users and nonusers. Interestingly, deep sleep was increased when cannabis was initially used but this effect disappeared after repeated use. With high doses of THC (50 to 210 mg) REM sleep was decreased in both regular users and nonusers. Total sleep time was not affected but deep sleep was decreased. When THC was stopped some rebound in REM sleep was found with reduced sleep time and increased time to fall asleep.
Glennon, R. A. (2008). Neurobiology of hallucinogens in Galanter, M. & Kleber, H. D. (Eds) Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment 4rd Edition. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Martin, B. R. (2000). Neurobiology of marijuana in Galanter, M. & Kleber, H. D. (Eds) Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment 3rd Edition. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Roehrs, T. & Roth, T. (2011). Medication and Substance Abuse in Kryger, M. H., Roth, T. & Dement, W. C. Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine 5th Edition. St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier Saunders.
Weaver, M. F. & Schnoll, S. H. (2008). Hallucinogens and Club Drugs in Galanter, M. & Kleber, H. D. (Eds) Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment 4rd Edition. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing.