Cannabis has long been used to aid sleep. A frequent lack of sleep can have a significant impact on mental and physical wellbeing. But using cannabis requires caution, not least because it is currently unclear whether the drug has proven benefits for sleep.
Several states in America have recently allowed healthcare professionals to use cannabis as a treatment for various medical conditions. Others are also currently considering their position on the medical use of cannabis.
With the legislation around cannabis use rapidly changing, the question of whether it can help with sleep is becoming ever more critical.
Cannabis is known to induce a state of relaxation and drowsiness that could help to induce sleep.
Research on the possible sleep effects of cannabis date back to the 1970s, but high-quality studies are scarce because of the drug's legal status.
The ongoing changes in the legality of cannabis are being driven by changes in attitude and by a greater understanding of its potential medicinal use.
There are many different components found in cannabis. The two most commonly studied elements are:
- Cannabidiol (CBD): This is a non-psychoactive compound, meaning that it does not induce the highs associated with cannabis.
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC): This is a psychoactive component that causes many of the feelings of being high.
Most medical research has focused on CBD, which has several proven health benefits.
What do the studies say?
A study in 147 participants with and without sleeping difficulties found that cannabis use reduced the time taken to get to sleep in both groups.
The research team noted that, at the time, PTSD was an acceptable condition for medicinal cannabis use in five states, and cannabis use for medical reasons was growing in the U.S.
The study concluded that many people with PTSD used cannabis to help them sleep. But the long-term consequence of the habit was not known, and more research in this area was needed.
But a 2017 review of the scientific research into cannabis use for sleep and sleep disorders concludes that the overall picture is far from clear and more studies are needed.
A study, using rodents only, found that CBD could induce a deeper sleep state in rats that researchers had subjected to anxiety.
But an earlier study in humans found that CBD produced a more alert state, while THC acted as a sedative.
A further 2016 study found that daily cannabis use had a negative impact on sleep quality in young adults who had no reported sleeping difficulties.
Again, the researchers in this last study concluded that more large-scale research was needed to assess the true impact of cannabis on sleep.
To further cloud the picture, much of the current support for cannabis as an aid to sleep is anecdotal. So, further investigation is needed to find out if the benefits are real or not.
It may also be the case that cannabis is only helpful for people with sleep disturbances, such as insomnia.
People sometimes smoke cannabis with tobacco, which is a known carcinogen.
It is also possible for cannabis use to become addictive and for it to have a negative impact on mental wellbeing, particularly in people who may be susceptible to anxiety or other mental health problems.
Taking cannabis to sleep is not a natural method of inducing sleep, and it can lead to a dependency on the drug.
For more long-term solutions to problems falling asleep, people may want to try some of the following natural methods:
- going to bed and getting up at the same time each day, including weekends
- ensuring the room is dark and quiet when trying to sleep
- avoiding the consumption of large meals within an hour before bed
- exercising regularly each day
- avoiding caffeine, especially close to bedtime
When taking cannabis medicinally for sleep, it is best to choose a method that is most comforting. This can vary from person-to-person.
People should consult their doctor for advice on how best to take cannabis if they are considering its medicinal use for a sleep problem.