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According to the American Sleep Association, between 50 and 70 million American adults have a diagnosed sleep disorder. (1) Millions of others suffer from mild sleep issues such as lack of quality sleep, waking up sleepy, or occasional insomnia.
There is no doubt that sleep is an issue in some way for most. That is why so many people use medical cannabis to help their sleep. One survey report found that over 80% of people who use medical cannabis for any reason say that it also helps improve their sleep. (2)
Here’s what the science says about why cannabis is so effective for sleep-related issues and how you can choose the very best WholesomeCo medical cannabis strain and product for your needs.
The general consensus about cannabis and sleep is that it works -- and it works well.
Research to date has shown this, as well as the experience of countless medical cannabis users throughout the years. A 2017 survey done with medical cannabis patients in New England found that 60% were able to significantly reduce the number of sleeping pills they used after starting cannabis for sleep. A similar survey of medical cannabis users who were customers at a Colorado dispensary found that 74% used cannabis specifically to improve sleep. Of those individuals, 87% reported that cannabis helped them reduce or stop taking over-the-counter sleep aids. Eighty-three percent reported that cannabis replaced prescription medication for sleep. (3)
In fact, studies that go back decades have concluded that medical cannabis has the ability to:
The “trick” to experiencing success with medical cannabis is to get educated. Know how much you should use and what strains, strengths, and consumption methods are best for you. Then learn how to safely use medical cannabis so that you see improvements in both the short and long term.
In order to understand how medical cannabis affects sleep, it is important to understand how the endocannabinoid system works. The ECS can be described as a subtle energy system and a “helper” for all other systems in the body. It is intricately connected to these other systems, especially to the nervous system, the immune system, the digestive system, the endocrine system, and others.
The sleep cycle and the chemical mechanisms around sleep are heavily monitored and can be vastly affected by the health (or lack thereof) of the endocannabinoid system. For example, one hormonal substance that is critical for sleep is melatonin. According to a recent 2020 Argentinian study, receptors for both melatonin and cannabinoids/endocannabinoids are “closely related” in structure. Having enough of both substances working adequately within the endocannabinoid system will have a significant effect on neuroinflammatory levels. This can affect brain health in general, including the sleep cycle and risks for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. (5) Another study put out by an international team of researchers from Mexico, Portugal, Brazil, Japan, Uruguay, and Germany connected weak points within the endocannabinoid system with age-related sleep issues. (6)
Within the endocannabinoid system, both CBD and THC play a role in sleep function. New anecdotal evidence (and some small studies) are also discovering that another cannabinoid called CBN could be very beneficial for sleep as well.
A meta-analysis of all research on the topic of cannabis and sleep through 2014 found that cannabidiol (CBD) can have a subtle yet long-lasting and deeply healing effect on the sleep cycle when used alone or in combination with THC.
In addition, a systematic review of 34 other studies put out in 2012 by researchers at the University of Calgary went a step further in stating that CBD alone (150-600 mg per day) can help curb insomnia in addition to overall anxiety disorders that are often at the root of insomnia when used regularly. (7) Ample studies suggest that CBD has such a profound effect on sleep over time because of what it can do to help regulate and slow down cortisol production.
Finally, a re-emerging cannabinoid called CBN (cannabinol) is also showing promise for helping with sleep-related conditions. CBN is derived from THC but does not contain any psychoactive properties. Unlike CBD, whose benefits for health are fairly broad, CBN’s focus is narrow: most people find it very effective for sleep-related conditions and for lowering anxiety. Studies into exactly what makes CBN so effective for sleep is still in its infancy, although anecdotal evidence is promising.
THC, on the other hand, has been shown to help the most with “sleep latency.” This is the time it takes a person to fall asleep. Many people, including military veterans, use high-THC cannabis to help curb PTSD-induced insomnia. Successful results have been experienced by many. Cannabis use has helped thousands over the years get off of opioid drugs as well as sleep-focused pharmaceuticals such as Benzodiazepines. According to a 2016 article in Time magazine, opioid deaths typically decline by an average of 25% in states where medical cannabis is legal. (10)
The downside of THC when it comes to sleep is that using a high amount of it for a long period of time at night can lead to poor sleep quality in the long run. People who use high THC cannabis have been shown to have a deprivation of REM sleep in particular. REM sleep is an important part of the sleep cycle that is responsible for information processing as well as for emotion and mood regulation. (11)
Finally, sometimes the withdrawal of regular high-THC use can cause sleep disruption. This may include an increase in nightmares and restless sleep as well as experiencing poor-quality sleep throughout the night.
Finding the right cannabis strain and/or the right cannabis product for sleep is a personal journey and will depend on your unique situation. That being said, here at WholesomeCo, we have a wide variety of wild-crafted, all-natural, and organically grown strains that have become favorites to use for sleep. We also have doctorate-level pharmacists ready to help you. Schedule a free consultation here.
The best strains for sleep, in general, are going to be so-called “indica dominant” varieties that contain a higher amount of CBD than THC (either slightly higher or a significant ratio difference). As we mentioned above, CBD is the best for curbing long-term chronic sleep disturbances based on imbalanced stress hormones and other stressors. On the other hand, adding a little bit of THC to the mix provides a healthy balance of both kinds of cannabinoids to help you fall asleep fast. Strains and products that contain calming and relaxing terpenes are also a plus. Some examples of these are myrcene, caryophyllene, nerolidol, linalool, terpinolene, and pinene. (12)
At WholesomeCo, some of our customer favorite strains for sleep include:
Some of our customer favorite cannabis products for sleep are created to not only help with getting to sleep but also can assist in lower pain (which can often contribute to sleepless nights):
Sleep disturbance or sleep-related conditions are not technically a qualifying condition in their own right for medical cannabis use in Utah. That being said, the majority of conditions that are “legally qualifying” in the state do tend to have some sleep-related characteristics that cannabis can help with. These include:
In addition, in the state of Utah, medical cannabis can legally be consumed in the following formats:
For getting to sleep fast, using a vape (packed with one of the flower strains mentioned above for example) will be the quickest way for the effects to take place. On the other hand, if you are looking for a mild, more subtle healing effect, then consuming a gelatinous cube or using a transdermal patch may be the best method of administration for you.
Tinctures are another popular consumption method for both medical cannabis and straight CBD. Their acting time is also fairly quick, but not as quick as vaping. Tinctures also last a little bit longer than vaping, but not as long as gelatinous cubes.
Studies indicate that a person cannot become extremely chemically addicted to THC in cannabis. That being said, a person can become psychologically addicted to THC and have some minor withdrawal effects if they have used high-THC strains and products regularly for a long period of time. According to a University of Indiana School of Public Health report, one in ten adults who use medical cannabis for any reason experience mild physical withdrawal and sometimes intense psychological withdrawal symptoms once they stop using it. Since CBD is not psychoactive the same way THC is, there appears to be very little to no withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping it, other than a possible return of the sleep-related conditions that the person had originally used the CBD for.
If you have been using high-THC cannabis for sleep latency or to curb acute anxiety and panic attacks, you may experience some sleep-related effects once you stop. According to some studies, these may include an increase in nightmares, restless sleep, poor sleep quality in general, and a return of difficulty in falling asleep right away. (13)
Keep in mind that “reliance” can develop with any substance or modality used for sleep, whether it is medical cannabis or listening to a particular piece of music at night. In general, it is a good idea to “change it up” every once in a while, so that both your body and your mind remain flexible to a variety of modalities that can help. This may include taking a break from cannabis for a few days or trying other modalities such as mindfulness meditation, a hot bath, or limiting sugar and caffeine at night, in addition to or in place of cannabis for a limited time. Good bedtime hygiene is always important and cannabis can be a great part of your nighttime routine.
If you are just starting out on your health journey with medical cannabis or you have been a WholesomeCo medical cannabis customer for a long time and just have a question, we are here to help.
Be sure to contact one of our doctorate-level pharmacists today to schedule your FREE Cannabis Curious consult. Most inquiries will be answered within 24 hours.