The drowsiness that cannabis sometimes produces is often considered a side effect, but for a number of users, it is the only thing that enables deep, healing slumber.
Many users swear that marijuana helps them overcome their sleeping problems, sometimes even the toughest of insomnias.
Sleeping disorders are actually omnipresent in everyday life.
One study suggested that one in three young adults between 18 and 25 suffer from some form of sleep deprivation.
Is this something we should worry about?
The answer is a resounding yes.
Sleeping problems can lead to a number of other health issues and getting professional help is crucial for maintaining overall health.
A common solution for insomnia and other sleeping disorders are prescription sleeping pills which can put you to sleep in minutes.
Sleeping pills, medically known as “sedative hypnotics”, are usually prescribed by doctors for short-term use.
Sleeping pills are addictive.
This is why many patients are looking for another solution.
I’ve been having sleeping problems myself for nearly a decade.
I am naturally a very light sleeper and every little sound wakes me up. Sometimes, I toss and turn in my bed for hours. This can be exhausting and frustrating.
I can’t even remember the last time I slept through an entire night without waking up at least once… unless I take a few puffs before going to bed. Then I sleep like a baby.
So, why should we take addictive medication when there is gentler solution for a good night sleep?
Here’s what science says on marijuana and sleep
The research on the effects of marijuana on sleep is still very limited, with divided opinions and equivocal conclusions. Recent studies concerning marijuana and sleep were conducted with small group sizes, and researchers themselves point out that more clinical trials are necessary to confirm whether marijuana helps with insomnia.
Most patients reported that they fell asleep faster and easier, and didn’t wake up during the night.
The time it took them to fall asleep was reduced, on average, by an hour.
However, there was one unpleasant side effect — the weed hangover.
Whenever subjects received higher doses of THC they reported hangovers the following morning.
The study, confirming the experiences of recreational users, found that taking too much cannabis before going to sleep can produce uncomfortable side effects, such as being sleepy throughout the following day.
Furthermore, taking too much cannabis could make it more difficult to fall asleep in the first place, due to marijuana’s biphasic effect — low and high doses can have completely different effects in different users.
A study from 2013 looked into the sleeping patterns of 17 participants suffering from sleep disorders and apnea (disrupted breathing during sleep) after using dronabinol (artificially made cannabis). (2)
After three weeks of incrementally increasing the dose of dronabinol, the researchers concluded that THC (as a compound) was safe to use, and that it significantly reduced breathing difficulties and enabled higher-quality sleep.
One of the latest studies on the same issue had a similar conclusion to its predecessors. In this study, however, the test subjects were regular cannabis users, instead of people who had no relevant history of cannabis use.
Thirteen men who used marijuana daily were given 20 mgs of THC during the day. The results were also promising:
All subjects fell asleep more quickly but also felt sleepier the next day.
Now that we know that studies give us the green light to go ahead, it’s time to find out…
How exactly does marijuana affect sleep?
When we sleep, we go through four cycles, the last of which is the REM (rapid eye movement) phase.
Here are the sleep phases:
- Half awake stage — the first 10 minutes of falling asleep.
- Light sleep stage — heart rate slows down and body temperature drops. It’s a little bit harder to wake up from this stage.
- Slow wave sleep (usually called deep sleep) — begins 35 to 45 minutes after falling asleep. Waking up from this stage usually results in feeling groggy for a couple of minutes after.
- REM phase — this is when we dream. REM occurs about 90 minutes after deep sleep and lasts for about 10 minutes.
So, how does marijuana influence our sleeping patterns?
Basically, it all has to do with the interaction of cannabis and our endocannabinoid system (which we’ll refer to as the ECS).
The ECS is a network of endocannabinoid receptors and activators — a cellular system that has an important role in our body.
This system regulates things like pain perception, anxiety response, sleep, general calmness of the mind, appetite, peripheral energy metabolism, and it provides neuroprotection (in fact, cannabis is proven to relieve epilepsy in a number of different studies). You can read about the many functions of the ECS in this review. (3)
Studies have shown that once THC kicks in, the time needed to fall asleep reduces, which leaves patients more time in the third, deep sleep phase.
Deep sleep is very important for our recovery, it is when our body regenerates and produces energy for the following day.
As a result, using marijuana before going to sleep helps us spend less time in the REM stage and more time in the healing, deep sleep stage.
It’s no wonder that people who use cannabis often report not remembering their dreams.
However, this may cause a “dream pile-up”, or commonly known as the “REM rebound” effect.
After they stop using cannabis, some users experience very intense dreams for the next few nights or weeks, depending on the individual. Fortunately, this phenomenon wears off and everything goes back to normal pretty quickly.
Besides cannabinoids, there are other substances in cannabis that have a role in regulating sleep cycles.
Terpenes are the chemical compounds which give all plants their enchanting aromas and which contribute to the healing properties many plants possess.
Cannabis is no exception.
There are more than 80 terpenes unique to cannabis, some of which are nature’s very own sleep remedies.
One such terpene is linalool.
Linalool gives marijuana its unique smell but it is also present in other plants such as lavender, mint, and coriander. Studies have shown that linalool aids in relieving insomnia, as it has sedative effects which produce deep relaxation.
If you’re not familiar with the role of terpenes (such as linalool) in medical cannabis, I suggest you hop over to our interactive guide to 15 cannabis terpenes.
Indica or Sativa for sleep?
It’s easy to answer this question by remembering a piece of ancient cannabis wisdom:
“Sativa during the day, indica at night.”
Sativa is like coffee. It boosts your energy and focus while sparking up your creativity.
Indica calms and sedates, but it also produces the “couch-lock” effect.
So, if you are looking for a strain to help you fall asleep faster, stick to indicas.
In general, Cannabis indica has high levels of THC and CBD, and it also has a unique combination of terpenes, all of which produce a soothing effect on the processes in our brain, including sleep.
Indica is best used at night, right before sleep, and is also commonly used for treating pain, a symptom which often goes hand in hand with insomnia.
THC or CBD for sleep?
There are a number of cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, but the two most common are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
Strains low in CBD and high in THC produce a cerebral high, while high-CBD strains make you relaxed but clear minded.
Recreational marijuana users usually smoke to get high and feel euphoric, and they often stick to strains that are higher in THC. There are specially bred strains that are made to be as THC-heavy as possible.
These strains will probably keep you awake for a while, so avoid them if you are looking for a sleep solution.
Marijuana that’s high in CBD is mostly used in treating anxiety. Anxiety is often one of the key issues keeping us awake at night, so perhaps the right CBD strain could also provide you with enough relaxation to help get your sleeping schedule in order.
If you’re suffering from lack of sleep, you should stick to indica strains that are rich in CBD, and aim for a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD.
10 best strains for sleep disorders and insomnia
Depending on your overall health and the cause of your sleeping problems, it can take some time to find a strain that’ll work best for you.
Marijuana affects us all differently, so you will have to do your own bit of research and try out different strains.
As I outlined above, you should stick to indica-dominant strains with no more than 20% THC. You don’t want to be too groggy the next morning, right?
Keep in mind that the following strains are recommended for nighttime use because they’re almost all “downers”.
Here are some strains that’ll help you go into a deep slumber:
Northern Lights (THC 16 – 21%)
Northern Lights is one of the favorites among sufferers of sleeping disorders, as it is very effective in treating insomnia. It will make your body numb and lazy, so be ready to be put away to bed almost instantly. It’s also great for stress relief. If you are a beginner, make sure to keep the dosage low.
Pink Kush (THC 20%)
Pink Kush is very high in THC, so even the smallest of doses will put you to sleep immediately. This is a hybrid, with a sweet and flowery taste, and is one of the best natural remedies for sleep when you need it the most.
Blue Cheese (THC 20%)
A great strain to end your day, Blue Cheese has a sweet berry and cheese taste. If you get the dosage right, it’ll give you a relaxed high. It’s also slightly uplifting and will boost your appetite as a bonus.
Lavender (THC 27%)
Lavender is an indica that is proven to relieve sleeping disorders. It will bring forth a body relaxation, followed by slight euphoria, which gradually puts you to sleep. With its high THC content, Lavender is one of the most potent strains, so take it easy the first time around.
Skywalker (THC 15-23%)
This strain is best used after a long day, when you just want to chill a little bit before going to bed. Once it starts to wear off after the initial short wave of euphoria, Skywalker will leave your body sedated and peaceful — ready for a good night’s rest.
LA Confidential (THC 19-25%)
This indica is high in THC and puts most users to sleep after just an hour or two. LA Confidential is also good for treating pain, stress, and anxiety, and will undoubtedly leave you feeling utterly lazy and relaxed.
Afghani (THC 15-20%)
What you can expect from Afghani is a heavy couch-lock followed by a deep sleep. It is considered to be a classic, mostly for its blissful high and heavy sedation. Patients often use it for treating pain and insomnia.
Granddaddy Purple (THC 17-23%)
Granddaddy Purple is an indica with a very sweet and fruity taste and after a quick influx of euphoria, it will lull you to sleep. It is very popular among medical users for its pain and stress relieving properties.
Grape Ape (THC 18-21%)
Simply put, Grape Ape is perfect before hitting the sack. It produces full-body relaxation and will carefully guide you into a deep sleep. Grape Ape has sweet and fruity flavor and a grape smell. It’s also very promising as a painkiller.
Bubba Kush (THC 14-22%)
Almost a pure indica, Bubba Kush is very powerful body-relaxer and will make you feel lazy and weightless. Its couch-lock effect is strong, making it perfect for those having trouble falling asleep.
If you have difficulties sleeping and would rather avoid conventional pharmaceuticals, marijuana could just be your next best bet. Take note that, before you start using it as a replacement for conventional drugs, you should consult with a qualified medical professional.
If you’ve used cannabis for treating sleep disorders, please leave a quick comment below and share your experiences.
- Pranikoff K, Karacan I, Larson EA, Williams RL, Thornby JI, Hursch CJ; Effects of Marijuana Smoking on the Sleep Eeg. Preliminary Studies; Journal of Florida Medical Association; March 1973; 60(3):28-31.
- Bharati Prasad, Miodrag G. Radulovacki, David W. Carley; Proof of Concept Trial of Dronabinol in Obstructive Sleep Apnea; Frontiers in Psychiatry; January 2013; 4:1.
- Pacher P, Bátkai S, Kunos G; The Endocannabinoid System as an Emerging Target of Pharmacotherapy; Pharmacology Reviews; September 2006; 58(3):389–462.