Cannabis, CBD, and Sleep
If you’re one of the millions of people who have trouble sleeping, you may have considered a cannabis compound, such as CBD. Some say cannabis compounds are helpful, but more research is needed. And they might not be legal, depending on where you live. Look up the laws to know what’s allowed.
What Does the Research Say About Cannabis?
Also known as marijuana, there’s growing interest in the health benefits of cannabis, specifically cannabis compounds. Two cannabinoids that get a lot of attention are:Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The compound in cannabis that makes you feel high. Human-made versions are used to ease nausea and vomiting from cancer treatment. Cannabidiol (CBD). A compound in cannabis said to have anti-inflammatory and anti-seizure properties. It does not make you feel high.
Research results on cannabis and sleep are mixed. So far, there haven’t been many controlled studies to show that THC, CBD, or a combination of both can boost sleep quality, says Bhanuprakash (Bhanu) Kolla, MD. He’s an associate professor of psychiatry and psychology and a consultant for Mayo Clinic’s Center for Sleep Medicine in Rochester, MN.
But some studies show promise. That includes a small one on dronabinol, a human-made version of medical THC. Early research shows it might help with obstructive sleep apnea. But “at this point, we do not recommend the use of cannabis products for treatment of sleep apnea or other sleep disorders,” Kolla says.
Ryan Vandrey, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimoe, looks at how cannabis use affects sleep. He says there’s evidence that THC can help you fall asleep faster in the short-term. But “there’s a big gap in our knowledge” for how cannabis affects overall sleep quality long-term or if it can help people with sleep disorders.
Michelle Sexton, ND (naturopathic doctor), assistant adjunct professor in the department of anesthesiology at the University of California, San Diego, helps people use cannabis to manage certain health conditions. She says those who use THC to ease pain often report longer sleep time. “They’re not waking as much,” she says.
Sexton sees some real-world benefits from THC products. But when it comes to cannabis research on sleep, “the body of literature is pretty small.”
There’s some evidence that nabilone -- another human-made form of cannabis -- might help ease sleep problems related to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Vandrey says people with PTSD often say they have fewer nightmares when they use cannabis. “A lot of folks report not remembering dreams,” he says.
A lot more research is needed to know if CBD can help with sleep. Vandrey says people who use it to manage other health conditions -- anxiety, pain, epilepsy -- often say their sleep gets better. But he says we don’t know if that’s from the CBD itself or because the compound helps in other ways.
“We can try to piece together a story,” Vandrey says. “But it’s really an incomplete picture at this point.”
Risks of Using Cannabis
Your brain and body get used to the chemicals in cannabis or other drugs. You’ll have to use a higher dose to get the same effects. With repeated use, cannabis might not help you sleep as well, or you might find it hard to snooze on your own.
“What commonly happens is people get into a pattern of using cannabis -- whether it’s a high THC or high CBD hemp product -- on a daily basis for an extended period of time,” Vandrey says. “Then, when they go one night without it, they can’t sleep.”
You’re not likely to overdose on THC or CBD, but here are some things to think about:Withdrawal. Long-term cannabis use can cause sleep problems when you try to quit. Vandrey says that includes insomnia and the return of vivid dreams or nightmares. Dizziness or balance problems. If you have to get up to pee at night, Sexton says to give yourself a minute to see if you feel stable. If you have a walking aid, make sure you use it. Trouble thinking clearly. Heavy cannabis use is linked to problems with memory, learning, and attention. Health problems. Smoking any substance can hurt your lungs, heart, or blood vessels. Substance misuse. Cannabis is less addictive than alcohol or opioids. But people who use it every day might get a cannabis use disorder. Tell your doctor if you want to stop but can’t. They’ll help you quit.
Don’t use cannabis products if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. The drug could affect your baby
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