Marijuana and Sleep – Can It Help You Sleep Better?

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Do you have trouble falling asleep? Does it feel like you have tried every tip, trick, and gadget to get a peaceful night of rest and yet still struggle to drift off? If that is the case, you might want to consider trying marijuana to help you sleep better.

There is plenty to know about cannabis, and if you have never used it before, you may be skeptical. Therefore, we will help you navigate the science behind marijuana and how it relates to sleep. Plus, we will answer other important questions you should know before consuming it.

What Is Marijuana?

Marijuana[1] comes from the dried leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant. Within marijuana are two primary compounds, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

Initially, cannabis had been used as an herbal remedy. Experts estimate it originated in Asia around 2500 years ago. The plant would eventually make its way to Africa, Europe, and the Americas.

The criminalization of marijuana in the United States began in 1937[2] with the Marijuana Tax Act. However, by the end of the 20th century, some states eventually enacted laws making exceptions for medical use, starting with California in 1996.

In recent years, more states have begun loosening their laws to also make recreational marijuana legal. By 2019, eleven states, along with Washington D.C., legalized recreational cannabis use.

In a 2019 Gallup poll[3], 12 percent of Americans responded that they smoke marijuana. People aged 18-29 were most likely to use it. Additionally, men were more likely to consume cannabis than women.

Illustration of a Man Smoking Weed Before Bedtime

CBD vs. THC

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), THC is the psychoactive – or mind-altering – ingredient in marijuana, giving a person the “high” feeling. CBD, on the other hand, does not produce a mind-altering effect.

The Science Behind Cannabis for Sleep

When taken in small doses, health experts[4] say THC can act as a sedative, helping you relax. People who have difficulty turning off their brains or letting go of a stressful day may find marijuana particularly effective for falling asleep faster.

THC could also expand the amount of time you spend in slow-wave – or deep – sleep. Deep sleep is essential for the consolidation of memories.

However, additional research suggests a link between marijuana and REM sleep, the more active sleep stage when dreams typically occur. The findings propose that cannabis use decreases REM sleep. If you are a long-term cannabis user and suddenly stop consuming it, you may find that you experience an increase[5] in REM sleep.

Some folks choose to solely use CBD for sleep to avoid THC’s psychoactive effects. As a result, CBD has gained popularity as a nighttime sleep aid. You can purchase CBD products in numerous forms, including oil, gummies, capsules, oral sprays, vape pens, creams, and gels.

Animation of CBD Oil Drops Falling from Cannabis Leaves

CBD is found to alleviate insomnia by treating[6] several causes of it. The first is anxiety, a mental health issue that can cause the mind to race and make it difficult to relax and fall asleep.

CBD may also be an option to help reduce symptoms of chronic pain, another cause of restless nights. Research suggests applying CBD oil to the skin could lower pain and inflammation from arthritis. According to Harvard Health, CBD side effects include nausea, fatigue, and irritability.

In addition to helping sleep-related issues, CBD has been found to reduce the number of seizures in more severe pediatric epilepsy syndromes such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS). Epidiolex[7] is made from a purified form of CBD and is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat seizures in patients with either Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome. However, that is the only CBD-based drug formally approved by the FDA.

A recent cannabis consumer study[8] showed a 34 percent increase in cannabis use right before bed from the first to the second half of 2020. As a result, many cannabis and CBD companies have created strains and products marketed explicitly for better sleep.

Side Effects of Using Marijuana

Marijuana can affect people differently. For example, if you rarely consume cannabis or never have it, you may experience side effects differently from regular users.

In addition to feeling relaxed and in a “high” state, you could experience the following symptoms[9].

  • Heightened Senses
  • Laughter
  • Altered Perception of Time
  • Increased Appetite
Woman Having Belly Cramps Eating Chips Illustration

Different Strains of Weed

The two main marijuana strains[10] are Indica and Sativa. When these two are combined, a third category, hybrid, is created. Each strain produces different effects on the consumer, mainly due to the THC content and the amount and types of terpenes (fragrant compounds) present.

Indica

Indica is known for its calming effect and is considered the best strain to help people fall asleep. According to Leafly, Purple Punch, Ice Cream Cake, and Zkittlez are examples of well-known Indica strains.

Sativa

While Indicas are suitable for nighttime use, Sativas can be more beneficial during the daytime. This type of strain creates a “high” that is more energizing.

Leafly adds that this Sativa strain could jumpstart creativity as well. Examples of Sativas include Green Crack, Tangie, and Maui Wowie.

Hybrids

Hybrids, as the name suggests, are a combination of Indica and Sativa elements. Mixing the two allows the user to experience both sets of effects.

Hybrids are also usually labeled as either Indica-dominant or Sativa-dominant. GG4, Wedding Cake, and Runtz are considered popular hybrid products.

How to Use Cannabis for Insomnia

How you choose to consume marijuana to foster better rest is a matter of personal preference. You can either inhale or ingest marijuana. As far as dosage[11], experts suggest starting low, mainly if you are eating an edible.

Edibles

People who are not used to smoking may feel uncomfortable inhaling marijuana, and therefore, they may choose to have an edible instead. Edibles are foods or beverages infused with marijuana. People can find various edible cannabis products such as gummies, chocolates, tea, and brownies.

However, when you consume marijuana through a food or beverage, you should feel the effects slightly later than you would from inhaling. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that it takes about 30 minutes to an hour for the effects to appear. The reason for this delay is that the marijuana has to first go through the digestive tract.

Ingesting cannabis also results in less THC in the bloodstream compared to inhalation. However, the experts warn that people unaware of these facts could inadvertently consume too much because they think the edible is not working.

Animated Image of a Lady Sleeping after Taking Natural Remedies Tea, Oils, Pills

Smoking

The other option is to smoke cannabis. People can do this in several ways, including using a joint, blunt, bong, or pipe.

That being said, inhaling any type of smoke, including marijuana, could disrupt the lungs. Therefore, anyone with a respiratory condition such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) should avoid smoking cannabis.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should you smoke weed before bed every night?

Although occasional marijuana use could improve your sleep, Delphi Behavioral Health Group warns that prolonged use could worsen sleep. Long-term cannabis use could lead to a decrease in deep sleep along with irregular REM sleep patterns.

They also say that marijuana withdrawal symptoms may include increased REM sleep and more limb movements while at rest. These symptoms could last up to six weeks.

Can marijuana help with sleep apnea?

A 2013 study[12] found a link between marijuana use and improvements in obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) symptoms. There are two ways that cannabis could alleviate sleep apnea.

The first is that marijuana helps the body maintain normal biological functions while sleeping, such as breathing. This effect, in turn, reduces the number of episodes of disrupted breathing.

Secondly, marijuana regulates the delivery of serotonin to help keep throat muscles dilated enough for a clear air pathway.

In the study cited above, the sample size was relatively small. Therefore, more extensive, more complete studies would need to be performed to conclude whether weed could cure sleep apnea.

Illustration of a Man Snoring While Sleeping

Is marijuana a drug?

Marijuana comes from the flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant, and therefore, it can be confusing to understand whether this is considered a drug. However, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA[13]) refers explicitly to marijuana as a “psychoactive drug.”

While opinions on cannabis use continue to evolve, health experts still encourage users to be cautious with this substance just as they should be with other products such as alcohol and tobacco. Even though marijuana could help you achieve a better night of rest, there are also significant risks that you should know.

Cannabis can impair aspects of athletic performance such as timing, movement, and coordination. Whether you are a professional, student-athlete, or part of a recreational athletic group, you need to consider how marijuana could affect your physical abilities. In some cases, organizations may not allow marijuana, and you may have to either discontinue use or avoid cannabis during sports.

Just as alcohol can compromise your safety on the roads, so can pot. According to SAMHSA, individuals under the influence of marijuana can experience slower reaction times, weaving in and out of lanes, poor coordination, and trouble reacting to sounds and road signals. So for your safety and the safety of others, avoid getting behind the wheel if you consume marijuana.

SAMHSA also stresses that pot use could affect both your personal and professional life. For example, researchers have found a link between marijuana use and an increased risk of relationship problems, worse educational and career outcomes, and decreased life satisfaction.

What happens if I take too much?

The chances of a person fatally overdosing on marijuana are incredibly slim. However, there are adverse side effects that could happen when you consume too much of it.

According to the CDC[14], a person who overdoses on cannabis may experience confusion, anxiety, paranoia, panic, a rapid heart rate, delusions or hallucinations, high blood pressure, and severe nausea or vomiting. These symptoms could also cause the user to hurt or injure themselves unintentionally.

Furthermore, the CDC warns that combining alcohol and weed[15] could cause you to become more impaired. For those taking prescription medications, you should consult with your physician before using marijuana to ensure the substance will not hinder the medicine’s effects.

Animation of Addicted Man Having Nightmares

How long does marijuana stay in your body?

The National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that marijuana’s primary effects last one to three hours. However, THC traces can remain in the body for up to several days.

You should also consider this as it pertains to your current job or a potential new employer, who may not permit the use of marijuana and require regular drug screenings. If you are unsure, consulting with the company’s human resources department could help minimize any confusion on what is allowed.

Who should not use marijuana?

Even though many folks may safely and comfortably use cannabis, experts stress that certain people should not consume this product. Firstly, children and teens should never use marijuana.

According to Consume Responsibly, marijuana’s effects on brain development remain unclear. One study[16] found that long-term cannabis use lowers the amount of gray matter in the brain, the area responsible for processing information. So instead, experts recommended waiting until young people are at least 21 years of age to use marijuana.

Even though cannabis may not be as addictive as cigarettes or alcohol, anyone vulnerable to addiction should avoid it. You should also keep this in mind when using marijuana for sleep, so you do not risk becoming dependent on it. According to SAMHSA, one out of six people who use this drug before 18 could become addicted, and one out of ten adult users can become addicted.

Those living with mental health issues are also advised to steer clear of cannabis use. According to Consume Responsibly, there has been evidence linking marijuana to worsened psychosis, depression, and schizophrenia symptoms.

Lastly, pregnant women should not consume cannabis while they are expecting. The chemical compounds in marijuana could harm the child and their development inside the womb. In addition, research[17] suggests marijuana could lead to low birth weight and concentration difficulties down the road.

Animated Image of a Woman Having Fear of Going To Sleep Tablet, Mobile

Sources and References:

  • [1] “What is marijuana?”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 7, 2018
  • [2] “Marijuana”, History, October 10, 2019
  • [3] “What Percentage of Americans Smoke Marijuana?”, Gallup, 2019
  • [4] “Guide to Marijuana and Sleep: Effects, REM & Current Research”, Delphi Behavioral Health Group
  • [5] I. Feinberg, R. Jones, C. Cavness, T. Floyd, “Effects of marijuana extract and tetrahydrocannabinol on electroencephalographic sleep patterns”, National Library of Medicine, 1976
  • [6] “Cannabidiol (CBD)-what we know and what we don't”, Harvard Health, April 15, 2020
  • [7] “FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products, Including Cannabidiol (CBD)”, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, January 22, 2021
  • [8] “Staying Well by Falling Asleep with Cannabinoids”, Brightfield Group, March 8, 2021
  • [9] “What are marijuana's effects?”, National Institute on Drug Abuse, July 2020
  • [10] “Find the perfect strain for you”, Leafly
  • [11] “Know your limit”, Consume Responsibly
  • [12] Bharati Prasad, Miodrag G. Radulovacki, David W. Carley, “Proof of concept trial of dronabinol in obstructive sleep apnea”, Frontiers, 2013
  • [13] “Know the Risks of Marijuana”, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, August 12, 2021
  • [14] “Is it possible to “overdose” or have a “bad reaction” to marijuana?”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 7, 2018
  • [15] “What are the effects of mixing marijuana with alcohol, tobacco or prescription drugs?”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 7, 2018
  • [16] Giovanni Battistella, Eleonora Fornari, Jean-Marie Annoni, Haithem Chtioui, Kim Dao, Marie Fabritius, Bernard Favrat, et al., “Long-Term Effects of Cannabis on Brain Structure”, National Library of Medicine, 2014
  • [17] “What You Need to Know About Marijuana Use and Pregnancy”, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 16, 2018
Content Writer | + posts

Jill Zwarensteyn is a content writer for Sleep Advisor and is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.

Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.

She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.

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