Sleep is essential for maintaining our mental and physical health, yet it eludes many adults. 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 getting harder and harder — well, you’re not alone.
With so many people experiencing sleeping disorders, there’s been a rise of interest in one controversial cure — cannabis. Many in the medical marijuana community refer to cannabis as an effective treatment, with little to no side effects, for a range of sleeping disorders.
“Marijuana is an effective sleep aid because it restores a person’s natural sleep cycle, which so often falls out of sync with our schedules in today’s modern lifestyle,” says Dr. Matt Roman, a medical marijuana physician.
Whether you have a sleep disorder or you’re having difficulty sleeping after a stressful day, cannabis could help you. Marijuana’s analgesic properties might provide some relief for those with chronic pain, while the antianxiety properties can soothe a stressed out mind and body.
First, here’s a quick primer on the science behind marijuana. This herb works because it contains different cannabinoids, two of which you’ll see most often:
cannabidiol (CBD). CBD has a number of health benefits, and is nonpsychoactive, meaning it doesn’t cause you to feel “high.”
tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC, a psychoactive cannabinoid, is primarily responsible for that “high” feeling.
Something else THC is responsible for? Inducing sleep. So you’ll want a strain that contains more THC than CBD.
According to a 2008 study, ingesting marijuana strains with higher levels of THC in it typically reduces the amount of REM sleep you get. Reducing REM sleep means reducing dreams — and for those who experience PTSD, it could mean reducing nightmares.
So the theory is that if you spend less time dreaming, you’ll spend more time in a “deep sleep” state. The deep sleep state is thought to be the most restorative, restful part of the sleep cycle.
Still, REM is important for healthy cognitive and immune functioning, and marijuana with higher THC levels could impair your sleep quality if taken long term.
But this isn’t true across the board. Some studies have found that sleep can actually be impaired by regular use of marijuana. It’s clear that marijuana changes sleep cycles.
Timing is important when it comes to using cannabis, especially for sleep. Dr. Jordan Tishler, a Harvard-trained physician and cannabis therapeutics specialist, recommends a strain with less than 20 percent THC. Anything more than that, he says, will make dosing difficult. Too much THC might make you feel groggy and sleepy the next morning. seldom recommends edibles, pointing out that, “They are unreliable about when they’ll kick in. Sometimes it’s about one hour, other times it can be more like two to three hours.”
It can also affect us for longer than intended and cause grogginess in the morning. “Because of the way cannabis is processed from our gut to our liver, the duration of action can be much longer, like 8 to 12 hours.”
While everyone’s physiology is different, it’s usually better to ingest the marijuana at least an hour before bedtime. According to Tishler, an hour before bedtime is ideal because the cannabis will work for about three to four hours, helping you to fall asleep. “That way, people don’t feel the effects right as they are going to sleep, which can cause excitability and prevent sleep.”