A Potential New Solution

By Adarsh Shah

With so many people suffering from sleeping disorders, there’s been a rise of interest in one controversial cure: cannabis. The use of cannabis in the medical marijuana community is growing and many refer to cannabis as an effective treatment for sleeping disorders with little to no side effects. By one estimate:12% of Canadians use cannabis (2015 Health Canada Survey) 70% of young adults that casually use cannabis report that they do so to help them sleep 50% of cannabis users who have been using it for 10 years or more, use it to improve their sleep; and 85% of people who use cannabis for medical reasons say it improves their sleep.

“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.

Cannabis certainly is widely reported to help reduce anxiety and stress.  But, despite the rising use of cannabis products to help with insomnia, there is little clinical evidence supporting its direct use to treat sleep disorders.  And, in fact, long-term use could be detrimental to sleep quality.


The Science Behind Cannabis’s Benefits

Since the legalization of cannabis, numerous private companies have started manufacturing and marketing cannabis products to the public claiming health benefits.  The basis of the claim stems from the fact that cannabis contains more than 100 chemicals, called cannabinoids that may have therapeutic benefits.  

Some cannabinoids are psychoactive, meaning that they create the “high” associated with cannabis use.  THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the most common psychoactive cannabinoid.  Other cannabinoids, like CBD (cannabidiol), are non-intoxicating and have little psychoactive effects. According to CAMH, the reported therapeutic benefits of cannabis are its ability to regulate (and manage): nausea (e.g., for chemotherapy patients); appetite (e.g., for people with cancer or HIV/AIDS); pain (e.g., chronic pain or cancer-related pain); and depressed mood and insomnia.

The theory behind improved sleep quality is that cannabinoids, like CBD, bind to receptors in the brain, sending messages to increase levels of sleep-promoting hormones.  In addition, CBD can change the body’s circadian rhythm – or sleep clock – helping you sleep longer in restorative sleep stages.


Clinical Studies on Cannabis and Sleep

Large clinical studies that directly prove that cannabinoids improve sleep are few and far between.  Some studies suggest that cannabinoids could improve deep sleep by reducing time in the REM sleep stage.  And some studies suggest that CBD’s sedative effects could decrease the time to fall asleep and prevent waking from interruptions. However, the sample sizes of these trials were quite small.  And sleep is often a secondary, rather than primary outcome in these studies.  For example, one clinical study on patients suffering from fibromyalgia showed that a cannabinoid (nabilone) improved sleep, in addition to alleviating pain.


How to take Cannabis for Improved Sleep

If you plan on trying cannabis as a sleep aid, your doctor can provide the best guidance based on your needs and medical history.  After getting good medical advice, consider the form in which to ingest it, as cannabis can be smoked, vaporized, eaten, or placed under the tongue as a sublingual tincture. Retail dispensaries can then guide you on which cannabis products to try.

Cannabis can come in over 700 strains, each with varying ratios of THC, CBD and other cannabinoids.  These strains affect everyone differently, depending on factors like how much you use it, your mood, your age, and whether you are currently on any other medication.  Usually taken approximately one hour before sleep, people experiment with different strains before they find the format and dosage that works best for them.


Precautions & Dangers

Health experts agree that long-term use of any sleep aid isn’t recommended.  Cannabis, specifically, can cause physical dependence if used regularly for a long period of time.  And, when stopped, people can experience mild withdrawal.  Withdrawal can lead to insomnia and worsening anxiety.  Withdrawal symptoms can include irritability, upset stomach, loss of appetite, sweating and disturbed sleep. These symptoms generally last for about a week, but sleep problems may continue longer. Talk to your doctor before attempting to treat your sleep disorder with cannabis.  There may be long-term health consequences of extended use, particularly in people under the age of 25.


Alternative Methods to Improving Your Sleep

The main accepted therapeutic characteristic of cannabis is its ability to reduce anxiety and stress.  An alternative to ingesting cannabis could be to use a topical.  Many claim that topical CBD creams, oils, salves and gels provide pain relief and relaxation.  These topical treatments are often scented, for example, with lavender, chamomile, or coconut oil.  For many, reduced anxiety and calmness can be achieved through a variety of other means without having to smoke or ingest cannabis.  For the newbie, a good starting point to improved relaxation could simply be a lavender-infused pillow or a calming lavender pillow spray.


To learn more about improving your sleep quality, contact our friendly sleep experts at hello@ultramaticsleep.com; or by visiting their showrooms in Toronto / Mississauga / Oakville.