How Consuming Cannabis Affects Your Sleep
Originally published on Ismoke media (June 2017)
It will come as no surprise to the initiated amongst you that the consumption of Cannabis before bed will have you sleeping on a cloud of smoke and will often result in you getting a great night’s sleep, but is this really the case? Cannabis affects your sleeping pattern, your dreams, and the length and quality of sleep that you get after you light up before heading off to the land of nod.
Cannabis has long since been utilised to not only induce a good night’s sleep in its recreational consumers, but also medicinally to treat varying sleep disorders, such as RLS (Restless leg syndrome), Sleep Apnoea, and one of the most common sleep complaints, Insomnia.
The traditional treatment model for Insomnia has been a short burst of opioid-based medications, but these drugs, unfortunately, come with a raft of rather severe side effects, as well as a high risk of abuse and dependence and are too often insufficient to help many patients relieve their symptoms.
As medical professionals are now more aware of the dangers of opiate addiction, patients tend to be now treated psychiatrically in the hope that behavioral therapies will address the issues that have created and continue to cause their condition and potentially addictive pills being strictly a last resort.
Another common complaint is the length of time it takes to fall asleep, and the inability to remain asleep once they’ve dozed off again – this was, until recently, mainly treated with opium-derived sleeping pills. A study found that sleeping pills although growing in popularity seemed to have a much smaller effect on the user’s sleep cycle than first thought. On average the pills only add 11 minutes of sleep time and shorten the time it takes to fall asleep by a mere 13 minutes.
It hardly seems worth the side effects with such a low risk/reward ratio, especially when THC has also been shown to help reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and the length of time that the consumer remains asleep for without the varying detrimental side effects of its pharmacological counterpart.
There is less evidence on the efficacy of using CBD to treat sleep disorders. A study found that when researchers administered CBD to Rats during their waking state it increased wakefulness. CBD has also been found to help with somnolence, a state of or strong desire for sleep, or sleeping for unusually long periods.
There doesn’t seem to be studies of any combination of CBD and THC but it’s not a giant leap to assume that the combination of CBD and THC, when added with one of the below-mentioned terpenes, couldn’t make a great sleep-inducing strain with other medicinal benefits to the consumer.
Another Cannabinoid worth mentioning is CBN (Cannabinol). This has been shown to be the strongest sedative cannabinoid discovered so far.
Steep Hill Labs state that 5mg of CBN is as effective as a 10mg dose of Diazepam one of the drugs often prescribed to treat Insomnia. It is worth noting that ingesting cannabis means it is broken down by the liver and turns the THC into 11-OH-THC (11-Hydroxy-?9-Tetrahydrocannabinol) which is thought also to produce a sedative effect on the consumer but again there is little academic evidence of this and the primary evidence is anecdotal.
The evening consumption of Cannabis can also help other types of patients to get a good night’s sleep. Pain patients, for example, can also benefit greatly from a nightly intake of Cannabis allowing for continuous and consistent dormancy during the night allowing the patient the maximum amount of sleep to facilitate a sound slumber through potential discomfort and pain, enabling them to awaken feeling re-energised and well rested.
Evening Cannabis consumption can also be exceedingly useful for dream suppression as well, which is rather useful for PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder), BPD (Borderline personality disorder) and other trauma-based mental health disorders. Cannabis is effective because it can help to suppress potential nocturnal trauma, memories, dreams, and nightmares which could cause the unconscious patient to relive their trauma upon waking, leading to an opening of old wounds and an incredibly difficult waking state filled with anxiety, distress, confusion and emotional volatility.
There is further evidence that Cannabis aids sleep in the fact that a Cannabis pharmaceutical company in the states called CannRX is teaming up with iCAN, the Israeli-based Cannabis pharmaceutical company to produce the world’s first Cannabis-derived sleep aid. The product which will be branded as “ican.sleep” will be made from plant extract and be made available in a spray form in countries with a Medical Cannabis infrastructure. There is no confirmed release date yet for “ican.sleep” but the producers anticipate it to be available later this year or early in 2018.
“Sativa strains” and “Sativa hybrid strains” are known to have an uplifting, energetic and euphoric inducing effects on the consumer, and so they aren’t typically recommended for aiding sleep. High THC containing Indica strains have been anecdotally found time and time again by patients and consumers to help combat sleep issues and assist in a good night’s sleep.
Although it has not yet been confirmed it is theorised that Indica strains are best at aiding sleep because of the arrangement of terpenes in Indica dominant strains, and that’s what gives them their well-earned sedative reputation.
It is thought that cannabis contains over 200 terpenes, although many of these are found in trace amounts and may have negligible, if any, effect at all, here are two rather important terpenes I’d say that are worth keeping in mind when consuming Cannabis to treat sleep disturbances.
Identifiable by its Earthy and musky tones, often with a hint of fruity flavour, it is the most dominant compound found in Cannabis and can make up to 60% of some strains, it is not only anti-inflammatory but also a muscle relaxant and when combined with large amounts of THC have been shown to have a sedative effect this could possibly contribute to the tired/stoned feeling often attributed to Indicas.
Steep Hill Labs reports that Cannabis samples with more than 0.5 percent Myrcene will exhibit Indica type effects, while those with less than 0.5 percent would excibit effects associated with Sativa. A study by GW Pharmaceuticals in 2008 investigated the pain-relieving properties of Myrcene. It found that the terpene also exhibits an analgesic effect that works in the body in a similar way that opium does, only without the potential for abuse and addiction.
Linalool which is identifiable by its floral, citrus and candy-like aroma has been used for thousands of years as an anxiolytic and also as a sleep aid, most commonly by the inhalation of evaporated Lavender or other similar floral oils.
Linalool is a remarkable terpene it has been found to show properties of an Analgesic, Anti-depressant, Anti- Epileptic, Anxiolytic, Anti-psychotic, Anti-Inflammatory as well as a rather effective relaxant and sedative. To best maximise the sedative effects of Cannabis consume it with other naturally occurring terpenes such as chamomile, Valerian root, Lavender, Melatonin, St Johns Wort, and Mandarin.
The majority of Cannabis consumers when they take either a prolonged tolerance break or quit consuming Cannabis mention that the cessation in consumption leads to the return, with a vengeance of vivid and wild dreams. This phenomenon is known as REM Rebound. This is thought to be because of the consumption of Cannabis which is believed to lead to less time in REM sleep, the final stage of the sleep cycle and so when they quit the REM sleep cycle increases. (Random fact about dreams: it is thought that each dream lasts between 4 to 20 minutes!)
Although consuming Cannabis appears to reduce the amount of time you spend in REM sleep, it increases the length of time that you’re in deep sleep. Deep sleep is one of the earlier cycles you go through when you fall asleep and is thought to be important in repairing the body. It gathers energy for the next day, aids growth, boosts the immune system and repairs muscle and tissues.
Dr Hans Hamburger, a Somnologist from the Amsterdam sleep centre-
“Every night, you go through about four or five sleep cycles. Each cycle takes about 90 minutes, during which you go through different phases. There’s superficial sleep, deep sleep, and finally REM sleep. During that REM period, you have most of your dreams. You don’t usually remember your dreams if you continue sleeping. The last REM period just before you wake up takes the longest – and you’ll only remember the dreams you had in that time if you wake up during it. If you don’t wake up during the REM period, you won’t remember a thing.”
“You only remember the things that happen while you’re awake. We don’t remember the things that happen while we are sleeping, because we’re in a lowered state of consciousness. That has something to do with the fact that when you’re asleep, you’re processing the memories of things that happened during the day and essentially filing them away in your brain.”
There is still no definitive answer as to why we dream, let alone the importance of the activity. Ultimately the ability to remember your dreams is not an indicator of the frequency of which you dream, so it is rather difficult to ascertain whether consuming Cannabis actually prevents REM sleep from occurring or simply allows for a more prolonged deep sleep cycle and a shorter REM cycle that remains uninterrupted until waking.
It is still, therefore, in my opinion, highly debatable as to whether Cannabis consumption truly has any effect on the REM sleep cycle other than the length of time spent within it and whether this is in any way detrimental to the consumer in either the short or long term is still unproven either way.
So as is far too often the case, much more research is needed to understand how the complex phenomena of dreaming and the consumption of Cannabis interact.