How Does Cannabis Affect Sleep?

Consumption of cannabinoids affects sleep by decreasing REM and increasing deep sleep which helps our bodies to rest.

What comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘marijuana’? Maybe you think of 70s hippies or a group of students in their dorms secretly smoking weed to relax. Whatever it is, the chances are that your opinion of it was formed on popular viewpoints during your childhood. 

A decade ago, during 1969, about 84% of people in the US said that cannabis shouldn’t be legal because it was presented as something terrible and vicious “with its roots in hell” like it was described in one movie from the 30s. Apparently, people choose to believe what they want without informing themselves and investigating the claims (because why would mass media lie right?).   

Then in the latest research, made by Pew Research Center in 2018, 62% of Americans said marijuana should be legalized. Why such drastic change, if it’s, is something wrong? Simply put, doctors and scientist now acquired more significant knowledge and understanding of how cannabis affects our body and mind. There are more and more drug trials that try to include medical marijuana as a part of a treatment of many disorders including sleep disorders. Actually, about forty percent of Americans are struggling with some sleep disorder, so no wonder 29 states approved cannabis use in one way or the other. The question is can it really help? 


Cannabis and Sleep 

Sleep is essential for the optimal functionality throughout the day. Lack of sleep can cause failure of other functions in our body that we rely on. So, we already know we’ll be in trouble the next day if we struggle to fall asleep or get a restful and deep sleep, the night before.  

Interestingly receptor called CB1 (part of the endocannabinoid system) which is in the human body is involved in the regulation of sleep. Consumption of cannabinoids like THC and CBD affect sleep by decreasing REM and increasing deep sleep which can help our bodies to rest. Cannabinoids also help with relieving the pain, and it’s best to use a balance between CBD: THC to help you fall and remain asleep. Since cannabis has various natural substances that affect sleep, it would be good to be informed of what those are. 


Types of Cannabinoidsand Their Effect on Sleep 

CBD – Cannabidiol is known to promote relaxation, and it doesn’t contain psychoactive substances to cause the ‘high’ effect. Many studies have shown that CBD has proved to be successful at easing symptoms of anxiety, reducing sleepiness during the day and promoting mental focus. Scientists believe that CBD works to balance the psychoactive effects of THC. 

THC – Tetrahydrocannabinol is like we mentioned the main factor that causes psychoactive effects in cannabis. Despite that, studies have proved that it can be used as an effective sedative that can help you fall asleep easier. Some suggest that it improves breathing during sleep so, it can be a possible treatment for sleep apnea. THC appears to reduce time spent in REM while sleeping, and due to that it decreases dreaming which can trigger nightmares. That can be very helpful to those who have PTSD. Since each sleep cycle is significant, considering the changes and side effect you may encounter during the use of cannabis can be a good thing when deciding how long to use it. 

CBN  Cannabinol is not as known as CBD but it also has strong sedative and THC may enhance those effects.  CBN also helps with relieving pain and anti-inflammatory ability. Fun fact: THC naturally transforms into CBN due to the aging of cannabis, and it doesn’t contain any psychoactive effects

Terpenesare an important part of cannabis which affects sleep and other cannabis effects. Although scientists are still learning about them, they think terpenes can enhance those beneficial effects. There are over 150 types of terpenes and based on different cannabis strains and their combinations you can get different smells and tastes. Research also shows that it can affect your mood, sleepiness, and alertness. 

Myrcene  It has anti-inflammatory and sedative effects. It can also be found in ylang-ylang and plant hops. 

Caryophyllene – This terpene is usually used to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and pain but due to analgesic and anxiolytic properties it can be used to improve sleep. It can be found in cloves as well. 

Terpineol – This one has sedative, pain relieving and relaxing effectsIt can also be found in pine and eucalyptus. 

Linalool – Studies show that this terpene lowers symptoms of depression and anxiety, but more importantly it promotes adenosine increase which is a hormone that helps us sleep. 

Limonene  This has been known to reduce stress and promote serotonin levels which makes it also a sleep promoter. Some studies show that it can be very helpful to reduce symptoms of insomnia. 


Most Popular Marijuana Strains  

Marijuana strains are divided into three groups, that differ in terms of their effects and where they are grown. 

  • Indica comes from India in Mt. the Hindu Kush, and it is considered to have relaxing and soothing effects due to higher levels of THC. 
  • Sativa, on the other hand, makes you feel energized and is more used as a daytime strain in combination with uplifting CBD effects. 
  • Hybrid is a mix of both and can be better for a person who is taking it because after experimenting a few times you can pinpoint precisely pain relief and feelings you want to achieve. 

* Effect of those can vary sometimes depending on the person. 

Specialists recommend using Indica strains for sleep disorders and to avoid an overdose of THC that leaves you feeling something similar to a hangover; it is best to use marijuana strains that contain less than twenty percent of THC. Optimal balance between CBD: THC can help you reduce daytime fatigue, insomnia, and increase the quality of sleep.  


Cannabis and REM 

Our sleep system contains light sleep, medium sleep, deep sleep, and finally REM sleep. REM stands for rapid eye movement which is a stage of intense dreaming and during that time our body is resting. Normally, all stages focus on resetting and helping various body parts to relax including regulating our brain and body functions. Fifty percent of sleep time we spend in light sleep, and during deep sleep, our body is resetting and strengthening the immune system. Final stage REM promotes emotion regulation and it ‘deletes’ memories that are short term. After that, due to the reset of the brain, we experience dreams which are intense. 

As we age, REM sleep is slowly reduced which can cause emotional disbalance. Using cannabis can help people with sleep disorders to regulate those cycles, and it can relax them enough to fall back asleep if their rest gets disrupted during the night.  


Cannabis Use 

There are many ways to consume marijuana, but we will list a couple of the most popular onesKeep in mind that there is no best method only the right method for you. 

  • CBD oils – You can place it under the tongue or consume it as edibles. Since it goes directly into your bloodstream, the effect will be quicker and stronger compared to vaping. It is advised to use smaller dosages in the beginning.
  • Edibles – Many medical practitioners recommend this although it is difficult to dosage. The best way to find the right edibles is through high-quality strain.  
  • Dried cannabis – They can be placed under the tongue or made into edibles. You will feel the effects quickly, and if you want to experiment with dosage, it is best to use micro-dosing. 


Before Bedtime Consumption 

If you want to get the most out of cannabis effect before sleep timing is essential. The optimal time is 1h before bedtime as cannabis will do its work for 3 to 4 hours helping you fall asleep. It is always best if it doesn’t kick in right away because it can prevent sleep causing excitability. 

Experts do not recommend consuming edibles before sleep due to digestion (form our gut to the liver) process which can last from eight to twelve hours.

Possible Side Effects 

Even though cannabis has its perks, knowing the potential side effectis one of the major factors to consider before consumption. 

  • High strains of THC and overuse can cause increased appetite, euphoria and dry mouth. 
  • If you stop using it after a long time, there might be withdrawal side effects such as changes in mood, especially feelings of depression or anxiety and sleep issues like intense dreaming. 
  • Possible grogginess the following day 



Here is what science says about marijuana’s effect on sleep 

  • Multiple studies confirmed that marijuana induces sleep  One study reports that 2000 people (who were tested) who used cannabis extract as a form of treatment had improved their sleep parametersHarvard Medical School also confirmed that marijuana has a relaxing effect.
  • Cannabis is much safer than cigarettes – The mortality risk from cannabis is lower compared to tobacco based on the research made a few years ago. Although it’s safe smoking marijuana poses some risk factors. This is because marijuana that is smoked contains almost the similar substances that tobacco has which are harmful. Due to deep inhale, smokers are exposed to tar. Keep in mind that edibles, oils, and tinctures don’t pose this risk.
  • Cannabis combats factors that induce insomnia  One of the most significant factors that cause insomnia are stress and depression. A study from a few years ago made by Buffalo University noted that brain chemicals contain endocannabinoids. When we use compounds taken from cannabis to bring back normal function of our endocannabinoids that could stabilize depression and our mood.
  • Cannabis consumption by adolescents is not recommended – The brain of kids and adolescents is still developing so using marijuana from an early age can cause long-term brain damage and disrupt its development. 


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