The cannabis plant is a miraculous plant that we continue to find new medical applications for every day.  As these applications expand we are reminded of some of the more traditional applications that this plant has been used for.  One of the most common, and the oldest uses of cannabis is to help with sleep. According to The National Sleep Foundation, 50 – 70 million Americans consistently suffer from some type of sleep-related issue while another 20 – 30 million suffer from intermittent sleep issues.  This is around 30% of the United States population that has trouble sleeping. The most commonly reported sleep disorder is insomnia. Insomnia is categorized as having problems falling and/or staying asleep.  Many people who suffer from insomnia often wake up during the night which prevents them from getting a good night’s sleep, which is one of the most important bodily functions for promoting health and wellness. Insomnia can happen for a multitude of reasons including stress, illness, physical pain or emotional discomforts like anxiety and depression.  Women are more likely to have insomnia than men. One in four women will develop insomnia at some point throughout their lives. Given the prevalence of this disorder, it is no mystery why the sleep aid industry is a 70 billion dollar global industry.  

Like many ailments here in the United States sleep disorders are more often than not treated with pharmaceutical medications.  With just a quick google search you can find lists of different sleeping pills both prescription and over the counter. While these medications can help aid in sleep, there are many different side effects associated with many of the most common sleeping medications.  The five most popular sleep prescriptions in the United States are Lunesta, Sonata, Ambien, Rozerem, and Halcion. Between these five medications, they share a long list of potential side effects. Some of the most concerning side effects include burning or tingling in hands, feet, arms, and legs, sleepwalking, memory loss or impairment, stomach pain and uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body.  While not all users experience these side effects, they happen to enough consumers that they require a warning before consumption.  

Another issue with sleep aids is that they are easy for people to become dependent on them.  Sleeping pills are categorized as a group of drugs called Sedative-Hypnotics.  This category of drugs depresses the body’s basic functions in order to relax or sedate the consumer.  While these drugs can be positive and help people with their sleep issues, they can also become habit-forming.  Sleeping pills are prescribed as a short term fix to sleeping issues but many people find that once their prescription has run out they can no longer sleep without it. Many sleeping pill consumers up their doses without the guidance of their doctor, which only makes the body become dependent on these drugs faster.  

Cannabis has been used for a long time as a sleep aid.  Compared to the current medications being used for insomnia, cannabis has very minimal side effects.  The cannabinoids in the cannabis plant enter the body and interact with the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system. THC binds to the same receptors as anandamide, an endocannabinoid that aids the body in falling asleep.  THC has a similar effect to anandamide when binding to the receptors in the endocannabinoid system thus creating the drowsy, sedating sensation often associated with the cannabis “high.” For many people, this “high” can help them to settle into sleep.  

CBD has a bit more of a complex relationship to sleep.  While some CBD consumers have reported that CBD helps them sleep, many more consumers have reported that consuming CBD gives them energy and focus. “Many of my patients report either better energy or sleepiness on the same high-CBD/low-THC plants,” Dr. Michael Maskowitz reports. “Most, however, feel more energy on high-CBD cannabis” (Birnbaum, Leinow).  When using cannabis for sleep, many people turn to high THC indica strains, but many people also report an increase in energy or brain activity which prevents them from sleeping. This fact shows that the effects of cannabis are body chemistry specific and what works for one person, might not work for another. For those who get an energizing or stimulating effect from high THC cannabis, “CBD tends to work well-providing relaxation and calm for the mental as well as the physical body.  For these people, CBD taken at nighttime as part of a bedtime regimen produces a restful sleep, not the alertness produced in the daytime. This bidirectional effect of CBD is a result of balancing of the endocannabinoid system” (Birnbaum, Leinow). Determining which type of body chemistry you have and whether THC or CBD will be an effective sleep aid for you will take some experimentation. It is also possible that with the balancing of the endocannabinoid system, the effects of these cannabinoids may change over time.  Finding a regimen that works for you and adjusting as needed is the best approach for using cannabis as a sleep aid. When beginning to experiment with cannabis for sleep, start with a low dose and move up from there. We suggest increments of 5 mg. If one cannabinoid gives you energy, try balancing out the effect with the other until you find the amount that works for you. 

Although the different cannabinoid compounds in cannabis may have different effects on consumers, it is clear through both scientific and anecdotal evidence that cannabis does promote sleep in a large group of consumers. THC seems to have the most efficacy with promoting sleep due to how it interacts with the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system.  CBD has either a sedating or stimulating effect depending on the consumer’s specific body chemistry. Different ratios of THC to CBD may also have efficacy, but more research is needed to understand the true effects of these ratios with regards to sleep promotion. If you have trouble sleeping and are thinking of using cannabis to help you sleep we suggest trying out edible products, as they tend to have a more sedating effect than inhalation or topical delivery methods.  They also have a longer duration of the effect which can help you to stay asleep longer. Start by using only THC or CBD and seeing how these compounds affect you on their own before mixing the two together. Once you have an understanding of how they work with your body chemistry you can then begin to make adjustments to find the correct amount of these compounds that will help you to sleep. It’s important to keep an open mind through this process as there can be some trial and error involved.  Once you have found what works best for you, you can begin to have the good night’s sleep you have been missing.

Work Cited

Tringale, Ronaldo, and Claudia Jensen. “Cannabis and Insomnia.” Beyondthc.com, 2011, www.beyondthc.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Tringale-Jensen-20111.pdf.

BIRNBAUM, LEONARD LEINOW, AND JULIANA. CBD: a Patient’s Guide to Medicinal Cannabis-Healing without the High. READHOWYOUWANT COM LTD, 2019.