Using Cannabis To Deal With Insomnia
With today’s hectic schedules and numerous causes of stress coupled with increasing health issues, insomnia has become all too common. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that between 50 to 70 people in the US suffer symptoms of some kind of sleeping disorder with it affecting a staggering 30-40 percent of the population at some point, 10-15 percent chronically.
With this high incidence of sleeping disorders, a rather controversial cure has become a subject of interest; the use of cannabis.
Both in the U.S.A. and globally, cannabis and its uses are becoming increasingly popular. Not only are attitudes changing fast, the laws governing its use for both medical and recreational reasons are also relaxing.
So, why is marijuana considered to be helpful in managing insomnia?
Today, we will be discussing these effects and the other properties of marijuana that could help in the management and cure of insomnia.
Let’s dive in!
What Is Insomnia?
We all know that sleep is vital in maintaining both our physical and mental health, yet at some point, it eludes many adults.
Insomnia in a nutshell is having a hard time falling asleep, or being unable to sleep for long. This could result in being awake for an extended period of time during the night and therefore waking up feeling unrefreshed.
Insomnia could either be a clinical disorder or just a passing phase depending on other factors such as hectic schedules, emotional distress, restlessness, illness and other factors.
Insomnia in general can affect one’s well being, health and performance.
Who Is Affected By Insomnia?
Anyone can experience insomnia. However, it’s more prevalent in women than men.
You might be surprised to learn that in the United States, over one in four women are affected in comparison to less than one man in five.
Also, individuals who have particularly irregular sleep/wake schedules have a higher chance of developing insomnia as the irregularity of their sleep weakens the signals from the circadian clock which is key in regulating sleep and wakefulness.
Of particularly high risk are those that encounter time zone changes frequently or work on shift changes that are nor regular.
Other groups prone to insomnia include:
- “Night owls” might also experience insomnia due to their irregular sleep patterns.
- People prone to anxiety and worrying.
- People who have a problem unwinding from the day’s activities tend to also sleep poorly.
- Individuals with other sleep disorders, for example sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome.
- There are also a certain group of people who are genetically predisposed to insomnia. Though it is hard to identify these genetic markers, it appears to be the case.
- The elderly also appear to experience elevated incidences of insomnia.
Why is Insomnia Detrimental?
Insomnia is very personalized and different people will experience it differently. However, here are some common effects insomnia can cause:
- Fatigue and daytime sleepiness
- Irritability coupled with mood disturbances
- Problems with memory, attention and concentration
- Decrease in energy, initiative, motivation
- General lack of interest or capacity for interacting socially
- Physical discomfort and pain, including headache, muscle tension and gastrointestinal distress
- A cycle of anxiety or worry concerning one’s ability to sleep
It is not necessary for a person to experience all insomnia symptoms and daytime impairment for them to be diagnosed as having insomnia disorder. Sometimes, just one symptom or impairment is enough.
However, more often than not symptoms occur in a cluster with daytime impairment being spread across a number of issues.
How Does Cannabis Help Insomnia?
Cannabis has a long history as a medical herb and for centuries it has been used to both induce the quantity and quality of sleep in some parts of the world. These properties have quickly caught on and increasingly more people have sought it as both a recreational tool and as a solution to their maladies and sleep disorders.
84% of people who have used cannabis for sleep have reported it as being very helpful with a large number who were using over the counter drugs reducing them or doing away with them all together. This is particularly important because long term use of over the counter sleep aids has been linked to developing Alzheimer’s disease.
So, what exactly are these properties?
- Cannabis Causes Sedation
Certain strains of cannabis have a sedating effect. In layman’s terms, they can knock one out cold.
What in cannabis has these sedating properties?
THC, a cannabinoid found in cannabis, has very pronounced sedative effects. Not only will it make you drowsy, it induces very deep sleep that is both restorative and refreshing.
Terpenes are the compounds that give cannabis its signature taste and aroma.
Though cannabis contains hundreds of terpenes, the below are particularly helpful in managing insomnia:
Myrcene, Limonene, Terpineol together with Terpinolene have all been shown to have a sedative effect
Pinene and Phytol both specifically decrease the time one takes to fall asleep with phytol also having an effect on the overall sleep amounts
CBD Though still contested, CBD might well contain some sedative properties as well.
- Cannabis Combats Pain & Anxiety
Terpenes as mentioned previously are found in abundance in cannabis. Apart from having sedative effects, terpenes also give relief from anxiety and pain and reduce inflammation. These may also positively influence sleep as when the body is at its optimum, sleep comes naturally.
CBD: As far as combating underlying causes of insomnia go, CBD reigns supreme. In recent years, it has gained popularity in pain managing pain, anxiety and stress as well as clearing the mind.
Because many cases of insomnia are caused by these underlying factors, resolving them usually leads to a good night of rest.
Let’s take a deeper look at these comorbid insomnia symptoms and how CBD helps manage them:
Physical pain is a significant source of insomnia. A growing body of research illustrates that cannabis has the ability to alleviate physical pain.
A significant number of marijuana users consume it for the management of pain. A recent study showed actual proof of the positive effect of cannabis on pain, with 64% of those tested experiencing a reduction in the severity of their pain and about half of them having a significant relief for their insomnia.
Anxiety is one other condition which causes significant issues for sleep, and is a significant driver of insomnia along with its symptoms. Just like pain, anxiety is another leading reason why people use cannabis and its derivatives such as CBD oil.
In a different study carried out in 2019, people using cannabis to manage both insomnia and other comorbid conditions that include anxiety and depression reported significant improvement to these co-occurring conditions.
It is also worthy of note to point out that a majority of the participants in this study had more than two conditions at the same time.
Other Health Conditions: As mentioned, it’s common for insomnia to exist in a cluster of other health conditions, which could be both psychological and physical, and for these factors to interact with each other in complex ways that escalate.
Apart from anxiety and depression related to insomnia, Cannabis may also effectively manage conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), other sleep disorders such as “REM sleep behavior disorder.
With its improvement of the onset of sleep as it makes falling asleep easier, it is a great remedy for the reduction of nightmares , which is also very common in PTSD patients.
This is a very exciting and important scope of research which deserves critical attention.
The management of Cancer side effects: This is hands down one of the most common medicinal uses for medicinal cannabis in recent times. It’s therapeutic effect on both the symptoms of cancer such as pain and the side effects of the harsh treatments for cancer such as radiation and chemotherapy make it a “drug of choice”.
Among these side effects is insomnia in its own right. Therefore, not only does cannabis deal with the side effects thereby making the patient comfortable enough to sleep, it also deals with the insomnia that is a comorbidity of cancer.
These are just but a few “comorbid insomnia conditions” which cannabis has shown signs of being able to treat.
What Should You Consider Before Trying Marijuana For Insomnia?
It is important to note that smoking, all kinds of smoking including mariujuana poses a health risk and should be done with caution. Fortunately, other forms of ingestion exist including vapes, oils and edibles.
Another issue of importance to note is that cannabis is still illegal in many states. It is therefore imperative that one finds out the law in their area and practices safe consumption.
Last but not least, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your sleep pattern. It could be that you have an underlying issue he needs to address or that cannabis may counteract with a medication you are on. Either way, it’s good to your doctor in the loop, especially if you are more advanced in age.
Either way, you need to find a solution to remedy your sleep irregularity as lack of proper sleep will definitely have long term consequences on your health because a lot of the repair to your immune function happens in deep sleep.
To take an Indica, Sativa or Hybrid Strain For Insomnia?
Assuming you have received the all clear from your doctor to use marijuana…
Which strain should you use?
Think of this as selecting a tea blend. You could go for straight white or black tea, or a hybrid. Here are the three most common kinds of strains you’ll encounter:
- Indica. Considered to have soothing and relaxing properties.
- Sativa. Generally makes people happy, excited and energized.
- Hybrids. A mix of both indica and sativa which might have balanced effects depending on the blend.
Hands down, indica strains are the recommended choice in helping you sleep.
In choosing what strain to use for sleep, please seek recommendations from a cannabis dispensary or seasoned consumer.
Though THC strains are the most recommended for sleep, a Harvard-trained physician, Dr. Jordan Tishler, who is also a cannabis therapeutic specialist recommends strains which contain less than 20% Thc. He says that anything more than that may cause grogginess and sleep the following morning.
How Much Cannabis Should You Take For Insomnia?
Most people’s method of choice when it comes to ingesting marijuana is smoking it with a pipe or as a joint.
If you want to keep your lungs protected, don’t enjoy smoking, or do not like the signature odor of marijuana, THC-rich tinctures that are placed under the tongue or vaping devices would be a better choice for you.
Another pertinent issue is the dosage of marijuana you need to take to help you combat your issues of insomnia. Generally, a dosage of 10mg- 20mg per day is a good starting dose. Because cannabis remains largely untested, and its effect on individuals vary greatly, you might have to start with small amounts and work your way up, testing how much you can tolerate and how much gives you the desired effect, which is sleep.
If you are vaping or smoking, start with just a few puffs. It is easy to adjust upwards until you find a dosage that best deals with your insomnia.
What Time Should You Take Your Cannabis?
As you are aiming for a good night’s sleep, timing is paramount. It is best that you use a method that is quick and reliable and that you take it at a time that is best suitable to give you optimal sleep.
Most experts agree that this is an hour before bed. While everybody’s physiology is different, this seems like a reasonable amount of time to prepare for bed and feel the effects until you finally doze off.
To this end, edibles are often discouraged because not only is their “kick-in time” very sporadic, it’s action on the body lasts until the next day, making one groggy and sleepy well into the next day.
The use of cannabis in dealing with insomnia is an idea whose time has come. Not only does it regulate sleep patterns naturally, it also does not have the long term side effects often associated with the use of many other over the counter drugs.
However, it is important to note that the use of marijuana should not be applied continuously and should be broken to allow the mind to reset and experience non induced sleep. The long term suppression of REM sleep could have negative consequences on daytime, cognitive functioning.
Also, though cannabis is used commonly to reduce anxiety, in some instances some people could find that strains high in THC would make them more paranoid and anxious. It is thus advisable to experiment with different strains until you find one that will induce your sleep without heightening your anxiety.