Although illegal in many US states, marijuana is the most popular recreational drug across the country. As the stigma fades and marijuana is legalized in more states, it is essential to know how it affects certain aspects of our health, both positively and negatively. It is widely used as a sleep aid, due to its relaxing and painkilling properties. Some people use only one marijuana component, CBD oil, to help them sleep.
One thing that is for sure is – we need more research on how marijuana affects sleep. As far as the current research suggests, marijuana can decrease sleep latency (time it takes to fall asleep) and it increases deep sleep while hindering REM sleep, but it seems to have a number of negative effects when used chronically.
Here we present common types of marijuana, their compounds, and the effect they have on sleep.
Marijuana – types and chemical compounds
Marijuana (cannabis, ganja, weed) is a plant that can be used for hemp production or for consumption through smoking (for example, cigarettes called joints), tea or eating (leaves mixed into cookie dough). Marijuana is known for its psychoactive properties – some use it for relaxation and recreation, whereas some consume it for medicinal reasons, for pain relief or mitigation of illness symptoms.
Marijuana contains over 100 chemicals called cannabinoids, two of which are the most popular – THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is mainly responsible for the intoxicating effects, whereas CBD doesn’t alter consciousness – it seems to be mainly responsible for relaxation, sleepiness and pain relief.
There are also many terpenes – chemicals which give marijuana smell and taste. They are thought to be able to enhance the effects of cannabinoids, but also have their own role. For example, one terpene called linalool was found to increase levels of adenosine (a substance that makes us sleepy).
Depending on the strain of marijuana, it can contain more THC and less CBD, or vice versa. The same goes for terpenes. Each strain has its own chemistry, smell, and taste – which makes its effectiveness.
However, not every strain affects each person equally, so what works well for one person might cause nausea to someone else.
The most popular and well-known strains are indica, sativa, and hybrid (indica-sativa combination). Indica is held as relaxing, sedating one and sativa as energizing and stimulating.
Still, you should consult a professional about one that could suit you best, because the effect depends on CBD-THC levels. Many factors affect their presence in a plant, from genetics to packaging and storing. Even the time and way of measuring plays a role because those levels can change through time.
A study has shown that most strains on the market actually have the same levels of CBD and THC, although they were marketed as different strains. Domestication process has likely made them almost indistinguishable. Therefore, you should pay more attention to what is inside of the plant than what its name is.
Cannabis for sleep. How does marijuana affect my sleep?
Many groups of people use cannabis to ease falling asleep. One such group is PTSD sufferers, including the US veterans. It is often used for both – pain relief and coping aid.
People suffering from insomnia can find marijuana helpful because it causes relaxation and allows them to fall asleep quickly and stay asleep for a long time. It increases deep sleep, which is good, because you’ll feel more rested in the morning, but it decreases or entirely prevents REM sleep which helps with memory consolidation (this could explain why frequent users of marijuana usually have memory problems).
However, it seems that marijuana can be used as sleep aid only occasionally. When used daily over a long period of time, deep sleep decreases, sleep patterns get more inconsistent and sleep becomes fragmented. As this is happening, the user usually opts for higher doses to cover up the negative effects.
If marijuana becomes an important part of one’s life, quitting isn’t easy – there are withdrawal symptoms which further impair the quality of sleep and the ability to fall asleep. These effects may last for a short time or as long as six weeks.
Marijuana for treating sleep problems
Some research on mice suggested that obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) could be treated with cannabis. However, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine does not recommend using marijuana for this purpose.
Treating nightmares, PTSD, REM behavior disorder and restless leg syndrome (if not treated well) seems to work well, as shown on a number of small studies.
Side effects of using marijuana for sleep
Short-term side effects are mainly related to the following day, and they include grogginess, dry mouth, and euphoria in the morning, especially if a lot of THC was taken in.
Long-term side effects include sleep problems, poor sleep quality, low motivation, bad memory, and withdrawal symptoms, should one decide to stop using it. They include anxiety, depression, and vivid dreams (likely caused due to REM rebound – the brain is finally free of the REM-inhibiting substances and tries to make up for the lost REM sleep by increasing its duration).
Do we know enough about marijuana?
A study from 2017 whose aim was to collect and review cannabis-related literature has brought a conclusion that everything we know about cannabis so far is not clear, because some studies have shown results that were not confirmed by other studies, that is, there are many opposing, contradictory findings.
We need more longitudinal studies (studies which last for years) in order to be sure about the long-term cannabis effects. What has been found so far doesn’t seem promising for frequent marijuana users.
Marijuana is illegal in many US states and countries in the world, so it is not easy to conduct studies on its consequences or benefits.
For these reasons, the use of marijuana – if necessary – should be only habitual. For those suffering from great pain due to an illness or injury, marijuana can provide a good source of sedation.
The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.
- Tringale R, Jensen C. Cannabis and Insomnia. O’Shaughnessy’s. http://files7.webydo.com/92/9209805/UploadedFiles/5E9EC245-448E-17B2-C7CA-21C6BDC6852D.pdf Accessed April 11, 2019.
- Bonn-Miller M. O, Babson K. A. Using Cannabis To Help You Sleep: Heightened Frequency of Medical Cannabis Use among Those with PTSD. Drug Alcohol Depend. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3929256/ Accessed April 11, 2019.
- Cannabis, Cannabinoids, and Sleep: a Review of the Literature https://www.med.upenn.edu/cbti/assets/user-content/documents/s11920-017-0775-9.pdfAccessed April 11, 2019.
- Kirkner R. M. Impact of marijuana on sleep not well understood. The Chest Physician. June 9, 2018. https://www.mdedge.com/chestphysician/article/167690/sleep-medicine/impact-marijuana-sleep-not-well-understood Accessed April 11, 2019.