Sleep is an essential part of maintaining mental, emotional, biological and physiological balance. Without proper sleep, it can be difficult to function and the ability to perform even menial tasks is diminished. For some, insomnia means falling asleep, but not staying asleep. For others, insomnia means having difficulty falling asleep; and for some, it may mean experiencing a combination of both sleep disruptions. Regardless of the specifics, insomnia is a valid health concern for millions of people. In 2017, The Center for Disease Control and Prevention listed lack of sleep/insufficient sleep as a public health concern.
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The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) defines insomnia as a disorder characterized by chronic complaints of unsatisfactory sleep, despite having an adequate opportunity to sleep. Insomnia complaints can include difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, waking up too early, and/or having sleep that is not refreshing. NSF Surveys have reported that as many as one-third (30 – 40 percent) of the general U.S. population suffers from insomnia; about 10-15 percent of all U.S. adults report having severe and chronic insomnia that affects their daytime functioning.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) estimates that nearly 30 percent of adults get less than six hours of sleep each night. The APA cautions that not getting enough sleep can have many adverse health effects. The consequences of poor quality sleep or not getting enough sleep can include, but not limited to, fatigue, decreased energy, irritability and problems focusing. Additionally, moods and decision making can be effected and sleep problems can lead to and compound depression, anxiety or both. Furthermore, “lack of sleep and too much sleep are linked to many chronic health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes. Sleep disturbances can also be a warning sign for medical and neurological problems, such as congestive heart failure, osteoarthritis and Parkinson’s disease.”
Sleep improvement is a primary motivator for many patients who are utilizing medical cannabis. Even mainstream media has profiled the medicinal effects of cannabis. Psychology Today (PT) recognizes that the effects of medical cannabis are caused by the action of chemicals known as cannabinoids that activate cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system. The primary cannabinoids responsible for the characteristic psychological effects of marijuana are THC (Tetrahydocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol). “THC is the only cannabinoid found in marijuana that has direct psychological effects but its effects may be modified by the action of cannabidiol and perhaps other cannabinoids as well,” PT reported. The PT article examines the Roehrs and Roth study (2011;2015). The bioscientists (Roehrs & Roth) give some information about the possible effects of cannabis on sleep, how doses effect patients uniquely and which phases of sleep are directly effected:
“Low doses of THC (4 to 20 mg) mildly decreased REM sleep in both regular users and nonusers. Interestingly, deep sleep was increased when cannabis was initially used but this effect disappeared after repeated use. With high doses of THC (50 to 210 mg) REM sleep was decreased in both regular users and nonusers. Total sleep time was not affected but deep sleep was decreased. When THC was stopped some rebound in REM sleep was found with reduced sleep time and increased time to fall asleep.”
A 2014 study by Hawaii Journal of Medicine and Public Health surveyed 100 users of medicinal cannabis. The overall response rate was 94%. The mean age was 49.3 years and the median age was 51. No data was collected on sex or race/ethnicity. Almost all respondents (97%) used medical cannabis primarily for relief of chronic pain. However, Other reported therapeutic benefits included relief of insomnia (45%). The researchers, Webb & Webb, concluded that “cannabis is an extremely safe and effective medication for many patients with chronic pain. In stark contrast to opioids and other available pain medications, cannabis is relatively non-addicting and has the best safety record of any known pain medication (no deaths attributed to overdose or direct effects of medication). Adverse reactions are mild and can be avoided by titration of dosage using smokeless vaporizers.”
Whereas opiates target the central nervous system, Cannabinoids similarly, and naturally, affect the user by “interacting with specific receptors.” Once medical marijuana is ingested, the receptors are opened and the medication begins to provide relief to patients.
Cannabinoid Receptors, referred to as CB1 and CB2, are an essential part of the human body’s endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system consists of cannabinoid receptors all over the body. This system enables a connection between body and mind, signaling to all other systems when something feels good or bad. When the body is defensive against trauma, this system begins to fail, resulting in physical, mental and/or neurological conditions.
The endocannabinoid system also controls most responses within the human system including memory, sensory, neuroendocrine, metabolism, and cognition responses. This system tells humans when they are hungry, tired, scared, sad or happy.
A report published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) states that “acute administration of cannabis appears to facilitate falling asleep and to increase Stage 4 sleep.” This report, also published by the NCBI, recognizes that Stage 4 tended to increase with medical cannabis consumption.
Medical marijuana research and patient reporting clearly support the notion that sleep is improved with the use of cannabis. As with all medications, medical marijuana effects each person uniquely. Speak to a certifying medical marijuana physician to receive a recommendation.