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As cannabis continues to be legalized in many states across the country, there is growing interest—and research—in its benefits and risks.
As of 2021, 49% of the U.S. population reports having tried cannabis. Many turned to it because they believe marijuana can help them fall asleep faster and achieve better sleep quality. Young cannabis users overwhelmingly say that they use cannabis to improve their sleep.
However, there is still some debate over whether cannabis is an effective sleep aid. In this guide, we'll explore the research on cannabis and sleep and try to answer the question: is cannabis good for sleep?
Cannabis alters the brain in numerous ways, most notably by affecting the brain’s endocannabinoid system. This system is responsible for many essential functions, including mood, memory, and pain. Cannabis also interacts with other systems in the brain, such as the dopamine and serotonin systems.
The main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and changes how those cells function. The result leads to the short-term effects of marijuana, such as feelings of relaxation and euphoria.
Cannabis also contains cannabidiol (CBD), which does not produce psychoactive effects but does interact with the endocannabinoid system.
The effects of THC and CBD on sleep are not fully understood, but it’s hypothesized that they can work together to produce the sleep-promoting effects of cannabis. However, the value of using marijuana as a sleep aid largely depends on the individual. Some people find that cannabis helps them fall asleep and stay asleep, while others find that it disrupts their rest.
Anxiety keeps your mind racing and can seriously harm the quality of your sleep. When you are preoccupied with worries and fears, falling asleep and staying asleep become more difficult.
Cannabis can be effective in treating both the subjective experience of anxiety and physiological measures, such as heart rate. A relevant faction of research shows the actual value of CBD as an anti-anxiety medication. For instance, a small study showed that CBD could reduce anxiety in people with social anxiety disorder.
THC's relationship with anxiety, however, is less straightforward. Researchers believe THC can decrease anxiety at low doses and heighten anxiety at high doses.
Cannabis’ effects vary depending on how you consume it. Cannabis can be smoked, vaporized, ingested, or used as sublingual tinctures.
Smoking and vaporizing are the most common methods of consuming cannabis. If you're trying to use cannabis for sleep, you might consider smoking because the effect is immediate. You can smoke right before bed.
However, cannabis smoke contains many of the same harmful chemicals as tobacco smoke, which can irritate your lungs. Additionally, you may inadvertently consume too much. As we discussed above, high amounts of THC can trigger anxiety.
According to the Sleep Foundation: “Different forms of cannabis offer different bioavailability, or how much of the active THC you can expect to make it into your bloodstream. Inhaled cannabis tends to have high bioavailability, as the THC enters your system directly.
Ingesting cannabis can also help you fall asleep, but it takes longer for the effects to kick in. Cannabis edibles can take anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to take effect.
Some people naturally have a snack before bed and can easily add cannabis to their routine. However, others feel sick if they eat close to bedtime.
Sublingual tinctures are another option for consuming cannabis before bed. Tinctures typically get made by extracting cannabinoids from the cannabis plant using alcohol or another solvent.
Tinctures get taken by placing a few drops under the tongue and holding it there for 30-60 seconds before swallowing. Tinctures are an excellent choice for those who have limited experience with cannabis, as they're easy to consume and often tasteless.
The effects of cannabis also vary depending on the strain. Cannabis strains can be broadly classified into two categories: indica and sativa.
Accordingly, a common question amongst cannabis users is whether indica or sativa is better for sleeping.
Cannabis users often say that indica strains produce feelings of relaxation and sedation, while sativas are often linked to creative energy. Unfortunately, it's not that simple.
There are fundamental differences between indicas and sativas, but those differences primarily relate to the plant's size and shape. How a particular strain makes you feel depends on various and unpredictable factors.
To find the best cannabis for sleep, you'll likely need to sample a handful of different strains and track your reactions. It can be a long and tedious process.
In the short-term, cannabis may be an effective sleep aid. However, there are potential risks to consider before using it regularly.
Cannabis can worsen pre-existing mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, both of which can contribute to sleep disorders.
In addition, studies suggest that cannabis provides diminishing returns as a sleep aid. People who use cannabis to sleep long-term tend to develop a tolerance. Simply increasing your consumption won't help, as heavy cannabis use gets linked with poor sleep.
Cannabis can also interact with other medications you're taking. For example, it can amplify the effects of sedatives like benzodiazepines and barbiturates. We recommend discussing with your doctor the potential risks of combing cannabis with any prescribed medication.
Cannabis may help you fall asleep for a time, but it's not a long-term solution.
It's important to remember that cannabis is still illegal in large swaths of the country. You may not have safe or legal access to cannabis.
Even if you have access, it may not be your best answer. Cannabis affects everyone differently, and you can't say in advance how a strain will make you feel. You might consume cannabis that helps you sleep on Tuesday only to try a strain that leaves you awake and anxious on Friday.
If you want a long-term solution to your sleep problems, consider options like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBTi) or a comprehensive program like Sleep Reset. These methods are substance-free and endorsed by sleep experts.
Take the sleep assessment to learn how to sleep better without substances.